Monitoring comprehension in inclusive classrooms

iStock_000021006935XSmallOver the past three years, a team of researchers has focused on finding ways for teachers of inclusive classes to check their students’ comprehension during lessons. Suggestions for monitoring comprehension in inclusive classes is the key component of teacher workshops developed by University of Miami professors: Jeanne Shay Schumm and Sharon Vaughn and special education teacher Michelle Canner Sobol.

In addition to tests, all teachers need informal ways to find out if students understand what they teach, so they can adjust their lessons to meet students’ needs. With the broader range of ability and skills in an inclusive classroom, this task becomes both more difficult and more necessary. Research has shown that the lower a child’s achievement, the greater his reluctance to ask questions. Many low-achieving students are embarrassed to say they don’t understand.

Creating a non-threatening atmosphere so that all students feel comfortable asking questions is important, but students also need to learn and practice self-monitoring skills.

Traditional ways to check understanding include posing frequent questions and using effective questioning techniques such as waiting for an answer, asking high-level questions and being sure to distribute questions equitably around the class. Circulating around the room to check seat work in progress and providing immediate, corrective feedback are effective even when teachers check many students quickly.

Other methods this team has used successfully to enable teachers and students to monitor understanding include:

  • asking students for thumbs-up or thumbs-down after presenting a key concept.
  • calling on individual students to summarize main points at frequent intervals during a lesson.
  • asking students to repeat directions in their own words.
  • asking, “Would anyone like to take a risk and ask me a question ?”
  • giving students a written assignment to summarize or review what they have learned. This might take several forms: lesson reaction sheets, or K-W-L worksheets that record what students know about a topic, what they want to know and what they learned from the lesson.
  • letting students work together to discuss a topic, compare notes from a lesson, or summarize the key points.
  • teaching a guided lecture procedure to help students listen actively, think about a lesson, and then work in a group to decide what is important? taking notes after the lesson is over.
  • giving a fake pop quiz to help students rehearse and review information before a real quiz or test. It can be open- or closed-book, done individually or in pairs, but it must be unexpected and it must not affect the student’s grade.

“Are They Getting It?”, Intervention in School and Clinic, Volume 32, Number 10, January 1997,pp. 168-171.

Published in ERN March/April 1997 Volume 10 Number 2

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