Verifying Learning: Who Learned the Lesson in These Scenarios?

High fives at Lodge Community School in Evansville, Indiana

By Shannon Pretorius

You have the most amazing math lesson planned for today. It is interactive, engaging, requires student collaboration, and you didn’t even have to spend your own money to fund it. Students will be analyzing classroom objects based on their attributes and classifying them into specific geometric categories.

It’s going so well! The room is buzzing with academic vocabulary, kids are working well together, and as you walk around asking everyone if they are doing OK, only one group needs your help. You are a rockstar!

60 minutes later, students complete a four-question exit ticket before leaving for recess. You leaf through their answers with great anticipation…

Then comes the blow

2/4, ¼, ¾, 2/4, 0/4…WHAT HAPPENED?! The lesson was perfect! It was aligned to the standards, it was engaging for the kids, all the materials were prepped ahead of time, there were no unanticipated disruptions, and there were no groups that had to be disbanded.

There was also no verifying of learning during the lesson.

And just like that, your excitement and energy turn into anger and disbelief. “The kids rushed through the questions because they wanted to get to recess. They had so much fun during the activity that they didn’t want to take the time to answer the paper/pencil questions.” The list of excuses and blame overcome you like rushing waves of an angry ocean.

Teachers spend hours planning and preparing their lessons. They check standards, content limits, and pacing guides. They review resources, gather materials, collaborate with peers, create common assessments, and carefully group students to set them up for success. But there is one key component to the lesson that is frequently underestimated.

Verifying learning in the moment—during the activity

This critical step is what will prevent the disappointment this teacher experienced. Disappointment that we have all experienced as teachers. Verifying learning is a process where teachers plan specific questions and observations to conduct while students are working on their tasks.

Targeted assessments of learning that prove or disprove mastery of the learning target: These are the outcomes that you are expecting students to show.

Consider this alteration to the scenario above:

While students are actively engaged in the planned activity, the teacher grabs her clipboard. She has a list of student names and has identified the expected success criteria for the learning target. Basically, the teacher has determined how she will know that students have achieved mastery of the standard components.

(Side note: LSI has developed a Standards Tracker that makes this work super easy and efficient. Learn more here.)

She scans the room to determine whom to check in with first. She chooses a group that appears to be struggling to get started. As she listens and observes, she quickly realizes why the team is struggling. They are lacking the geometry vocabulary necessary to complete the activity. She asks a simple question.

“What resource might you use to support your understanding of the language of the shapes?”

The kids look at each other and soon decide that they can use the glossary in their math books. One student suggests they use their math journal notes. The teacher moves on, noting for each student on her clipboard that vocabulary for the standard was “not met.” She moves on to a group who seems fully immersed in the activity.

As she approaches, she hears one student challenge the thought of another. Soooo tempted to step in and solve the disagreement, she stops short of approaching the group and just listens. Each student justifies their answer based on understanding of the concepts. Each student is using the necessary math vocabulary.

Ahhh… there it is

They figured it out. One student copied a piece of the information incorrectly. She looks at her clipboard and marks those two students as “met” for the appropriate pieces of the standard and then makes a note next to the second student’s name to review the steps to checking your work.

Moving on to the next group, the teacher sees that, although the students are working hard, they are having a difficult time with the attributes of the shapes. They understand the process for the activity, but they are not proficient enough with their knowledge of shapes to piece the activity together.

She stops and spends about 3 minutes asking questions and working with the team to help them along. Then she asks one of the kids from the last group she visited to come explain how he completed the first part of the task. She makes a note on her clipboard to come back to check progress toward the standard.

She continues on, focusing on some students or groups more than others, based on her data collection from other completed activities related to this standard. By the end of the 60 minutes, right before recess:

  • She already has a log of who met the standard during that particular activity, who is in progress toward it, and who has not yet met it
  • She already clarified misconceptions and provided some students with further support
  • The exit ticket responses are simply verification of what she just saw during the activity and one more piece of data to confirm individual mastery of the learning target

Who learned the lesson in the first scenario? How about the second?

Verifying learning is planned, intentional, and succinct

It means responding to student misconceptions and academic needs in the moment. It is knowing what you are looking for and making instructional decisions, right then, using that information. No time wasted, no time lost.

In the first scenario, 60 minutes of instructional time was used for the lesson. Additional time will be used to analyze the exit tickets for misconceptions, then time will be needed to plan another lesson, and reteach of the content will likely take place tomorrow, with the whole group, in another 45-minute lesson.

In the second scenario, 60 minutes of instructional time was used, assessment analysis is already complete, and misconceptions and re-teaching has already happened, so tomorrow the teacher will move on while continuing to support the couple of kids who need more instruction.

Ready to adopt powerful, evidence-based monitoring techniques in your classroom? Join us this summer to learn directly from Dr. Dylan Wiliam at the Formative Assessment National Conference.


“High-five” image courtesy of  Evansville, Indiana teacher Trisha Bee. Thank you!


As an LSI Staff Developer, Shannon brings 16 years of experience in education in both West Michigan and South Florida. She has taught in a self-contained setting for students with emotional and behavioral disabilities and in both pull-out and inclusion settings, servicing students with varying exceptionalities. Her passion is serving and supporting students with disabilities and promoting high expectations for all.

Connect with Shannon on LinkedIn: Shannon Pretorius

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