I’m almost halfway through a wonderful book, Applying Standards-Based Constructivism: A Two-Step Guide for Motivating Elementary Students. It has given me a lot of practical advice and it has given me a better understanding of some of my instructional practices and methods and at the same time justifies practices I’ve been doing for years.

I will write more about the Two-Step model later, but today I wanted to briefly reflect on a new method for checking for understanding that I found in the book. In the section on Assessment, the book stresses that teacher observation really is a valid form assessment because (gasp) teachers are professionals and are the most qualified to determine whether and how their students are learning.

The authors describe how you can easily gauge student understanding by having each student take 10 seconds to say one thing they learned at the end of class.

photo courtesy of farleyj on Flickr

Today I tried it with my 1st graders after their first time using MS Paint and was amazed as they stated, “I learned how to use the paint brush,” “I learned how to use the magnifying glass to make my page bigger,” “I learned how to change the color,” and other things. What an ‘ah ha’ moment. In 2 minutes I had a snapshot of the actual learning that had happened during the 45 minute period. I tried it again with my 5th graders who had started typing stories. They shared, “I learned how to change my font,” “I learned how to put my heading in the middle,” and other statements that really helped me understand whether they had met the learning objectives of the class period. (They had.)

Part of the success I had today was due to the fact that I had clearly outlined the learning objectives at the start of the period and limited them to a few observable behaviors (put one space between each word, center a heading, use return key, use capitals and periods).  I was easily able to know whether the students had learned what I wanted them to in a matter of minutes.

I am still amazed by Geoffrey Canada‘s bold statement that he was a ‘Master’ teacher in his 5th year of teaching. I feel like this year, my 6th year of teaching, I am finally ‘getting it’ when it comes to assessment. It’s a messy process, but I’m loving it.  I can’t wait to see what I’m working on 6 years from now.


  1. Gerald Aungst


    MB, I'm interested to hear from you in a few weeks when you've been using this 10-second strategy consistently in your classes. I'm wondering how your students' responses will change over time as they realize that you're going to ask them every day and the reflection becomes an automatic (and embedded) part of the classroom culture. Please report back and let us know!

  2. AyaAcademy


    I love your use of reflection at the end of a lesson. Can't wait for you to share the 2 step process.

  3. jhuistemurphy


    Instead of an exit slip try a google form and a smart phone – http://philosophywithoutahome.blogspot.com/2010/1
    You can even create an easy check list, but I think it would be more valuable at least for the students to start developing critical thinking skills and ask them why or how did you learn this specific skill?

  4. Reply

    Thanks for the ideas everyone. I only have 45 minutes a week with some of the classes (I teach about 300 students a week) so writing an exit slip when we are a paperless lab is a little too time consuming. As for the Google Form, I love the idea of being able to record notes into a smart phone, but I worry that the time it will take to enter information will be too short. I'm curious, as Gerald brings up, to see how their answers change as the year progresses.

    For now, at least I am getting a quick snapshot as to whether students are 'getting' the learning objectives I want them to master.

    And maybe someone will show up at my door with an iPad…….. 🙂

  5. Reply

    Mary Beth,

    Thanks for sharing! Your posts have reminded me to go back & revisit this book. Having read it a while back it sounds like I need a refresher. I appreciate looking at it through your eyes!

  6. Guest


    This sounds like a great idea, but I am wondering whether you can really gauge the understanding of an entire class with this method. I can imagine that many students will simply repeat what they heard others say, and really didn't have an understanding of the concept at all.

    Or, you may simply have students parrot back the objective, which is typically written on the board in our classrooms.

    Teacher observation can certainly be an effective way of assessing whether or not students meet objectives. I don't think you can say the same thing about student comments on what they have learned.

  7. Reply

    This is true, which is why we should never use one form of assessment.

    However, if I notice parroting (which I haven't yet) then I can rephrase the question to be more specific (instead of "what did you learn today"). I also ask not only for what they learned but also what they did. I can also ask probing questions to dig deeper into whether my students understand. I don't always have my objectives posted (I don't have a traditional board).

    As for teacher observation, I find that listening in on student conversation is a great way to assess student learning and understanding. I also have very specific objectives and only one or two for a 45 minute period. Most of my students leave having learned more than just those two, but all usually leave having met the 2 I set.

    It is always a good idea, however, to analyze our practices and to revisit them for efficacy.

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