Warning: Some of you may find this controversial. But…I still believe that this is an important skill for teachers to look at, and to use: Comprehension Checks.
Like any skill, it can be overused or used without thought and reflection, and in those cases, Comprehension Checks can be poorly received. But….with a little thought, practice and reflection, using Comprehension Checks can be, an amazing problem solver for us.
What is a Comprehension Check?
It’s when we find a way to determine whether or not, or to what degree, a student understands what s/he is hearing and saying.
It might look like this:
The teacher says to the students:
Tengo un problema. Quiero usar la computadora, pero me falta la contraseña. ¿La sabes?
(I have a problem. I want to use the computer, but I’m missing the password. Do you know it?
The teacher asks a student or students one or more of the following as needed:
In English:(expecting answers in English)
Do I need a password or a photo?
Do I want to use the ATM or the computer?
What did I just say?
What is my problem?
What do I need?
What do I want from you?
What is a “contraseña”?
In Spanish: (expecting answers in English or Spanish as indicated by the teacher)
¿Necesito usar la computadora o el telêfono? (Do I need to use the computer or the phone?)
¿Quê necesito …el número de teléfono o la contraseña? (What do I need, the phone number or the password?)
¿Cuál es mi problema? ( What is my problem?)
¿Quê quiero hacer/usar? (What do I want to do/use?)
¿Quê me falta? (What am I missing?)
¿Quê necesito? (What do I need?)
The teacher could also ask students to identify the meanings of words or questions by pointing to pictures or making a gesture.
First, let’s look at why a teacher may want to incorporate Comprehension Checks into his/her daily interactions with students. Later we’ll look at why it’s helpful to do so from the very beginning of the year/semester.
First and foremost, there is a SECRET goal behind the use of Comprehension Checks….
they actually provide additional processing time for some students!!
We rarely address this gift, but Comprehension Checks buy those students just a little
extra time to let the meaning of the sound/text sink in. This is incredibly helpful in a
class with students who have a variety of processing speeds.
2. The most obvious goal of Comprehension Checks is to make sure that the input we
provide is COMPREHENDED, not just comprehensible. I can always hope, as the
teacher, that students have understood what I said, and that, in time, it will be totally
comprehensible, and closer to being acquired. Or, I can assure that the correct
meaning is assigned to what students have heard/read and move them closer to
3. Comprehension Checks provide a way to differentiate. By isolating different pieces of
the input, and asking a variety of students for meaning, we “spread” the wealth. We can
provide opportunity for students who need find meaning a shorter or more familiar chunk
of language to find success. We can challenge our faster processors or more advanced
students while helping others to match meaning
4. Comprehension Checks bridge the gap for students who have been absent for class. It’s
a situation we all deal with. When a student has missed the introduction of a new words
or phrase, Comprehension Checks allow us “pop’ in meaning so that those students can
hear the meaning of language that they need to understand.
5. And……….a way to provide more repetitions if the teacher wants to do that. Now…they
aren’t exactly useful repetitions if the students haven’t already matched meaning to the
sound and the text…but once they have….BOOM…extra reps.
It is very helpful to build in our use of Comprehension Checks from the first few days of classroom interaction in the target language. When they are a natural part of our language pattern, they become less “stilted” and “forced”. Here are a few of the advantages to “training” the class to listen for and respond to Comprehension Checks:
By building these types of questions into our classroom interactions, we naturally create the expectation that we will be checking in….because it is important to us that all students get the chance to work meaning out for themselves.
If Rule # 1 is Listen to Understand, then Comprehension Checks support the message that we absolutely, really and truly want students to listen AND understand….not just look as if they are listening and understanding. Students believe what we do…..not what we say.
By starting the year/semester this way, we can get a better handle on exactly where our students receptive skills are. It gives us nearly instant feedback that we can use to monitor and adjust the input we provide.
Done carefully, differentiating with Comprehension Checks establishes and reinforces these ideas:
All students matter.
The core/main idea of an utterance is of primary importance.
Details add to interest and understanding.
Miscommunication happens, and can (should!) be addressed with grace.