One of the major weaknesses of teaching according to the old paradigm is the lack of planned time (during instruction) to continually gauge learning outcomes through effective feedback mechanisms. Hence, a teacher would go on teaching a lesson for a full period and not know how much of learning had taken place. Without checking for student understanding, it is difficult to know for sure if instructional objectives are met.
For those schools that have got the money, classroom or audience response systems are readily available to efficiently elicit instant feedback from students. A teacher who uses clickers for example, could frequently check for student understanding while instruction is in progress. He does so without interrupting the overall flow of learning.
The teacher simply flashes a quick review question through the main computer. Student view the question in their clicker screen and input their answers. The question is related to the content being taught; hence the system allows the teachers to elicit student feedback in real-time. In a split of a second, the teacher views how many students understood a concept. He also gets a glimpse of how many of them find the concept difficult. This information is projected either in table or graph format.
What if a school does not have the money to invest in expensive gadgets like the clickers? Good news! There is an alternative to clickers. Although the effect of the two may vary significantly, they accomplish the same purpose.
The turn-to-your-neighbour strategy is an unsophisticated way of eliciting feedback from students to gauge their understanding at any given time during instruction. The teacher simply builds the procedure into a lesson at different intervals in the course of instruction. Students are asked to review a concept with another student in the classroom, usually the one seated next to him. It must be emphasized that students share their understanding about what is being taught in their own words – and not merely reflect what is given on the board or textbook. This also helps them to personalize knowledge, which enhances assimilation.
From time to time, the teacher could ask students to work with someone he has not greeted for the day, or someone who was born in the same month, etc. – obviously, this would consume more time. The key is to be creative, without taking away much instructional time.
The advantages of the above-mentioned approaches are many. While using clickers provides visual evidence of student understanding, turn-to-your-neighbour method allows for active participation of students, in relatively comfortable environment, to explore and gauge their own understanding of contents discussed.
Both strategies could be used as powerful diagnostic tools to instantly improve teaching. In other words, teachers could apply corrective measures to move in the right direction in their own teaching while a lesson is in progress (real-time evidence-based instruction). The diagnostic nature of these approaches makes them effective damage-control measures.
Students feel safe and more willing to communicate how much and how well they are learning when asked to provide feedback through these two strategies. These methods are non-threatening and allow students to explore their own comfort zone and stretch it gradually. Without such an aid, more than ninety-five percent of students in a typical classroom do not provide any kind of feedback about their learning. Most of them do so because of emotional reasons – fear of being wrong and unappreciated.
Both clickers and turn-to-your-neighbour could be easily built into lessons as they do not take much time to implement. However, both elicit the kind of feedback that would enhance teaching and make everyone in the classroom happier.