November 6, 2020



Tools and Tips for Checking for Understanding

in Remote and Hybrid Settings

Each EmpowerED 3.2.1 features a brief summary of my musings about and learning from multiple disciplines as they apply to leadership in education.


When incorporating checking for understanding strategies into any lesson, the first thing to have in your mind is the outcome or learning target. Since you are checking for understanding of student mastery in relation to that target, you must be crystal clear on the level of thinking required and what you are expecting students to know and be able to do by the end of the lesson. It’s also important to design your lesson with the 10:2 Theory (explained by Paula Rutherford and OCM BOCES, Syracuse, New York) in mind with multiple opportunities for students to demonstrate their progress toward the target throughout the lesson. The three big ideas here focus on strategies to use in our remote or hybrid classrooms to enable the students to show what they know and can do. 


3 Big Ideas


  1. Calling on patterns remain a priority.
    Calling on students is a hallmark of teaching. There is ample research to suggest that there is teacher bias in calling-on patterns including who is called on and how much wait-time is provided to students. Teacher Expectations and Student Achievement (TESA) was created in the Los Angeles Office of Education in the 1970’s and is, arguably, one of the finest training programs available to all teachers and administrators. TESA training is aimed at changing teacher behavior, not student behavior, because much of the expected success of students is based on how teachers behave in the classroom. The NPR Morning Edition clip “Teachers’ Expectations Can Influence How Students Perform.” illustrates the problem. “The Power of Teacher Expectations” in Education Next by Seth Gershenson and Nicholas Papageorge discusses the impact of teacher expectations on college completion.

    The title of the TESA program says it all, doesn’t it? That people will rise to the expectations that others have of them has been known for centuries. This statement is corroborated by John Hattie’s meta-analysis with a .90 effect size. Watch in your own classrooms or ask a colleague to tally for you. Whom do you call on? How many times? How much wait time was afforded to whom? How often do you teach to your T, the front of the room and down the middle? Did you prompt anyone? What did you learn? What does this say about your expectations for your students? What can you change?

  2. Chats, polls, buzz groups, breakouts, and hand raises are great distance learning calling on practices.
    I wonder if outdated and biased calling on patterns persist in remote and hybrid settings. If you’re worried too, take a peek in your classrooms. If you see outdated ways of checking for understanding, offer some of the suggestions from Harvard University’sIn-depth Guide to Using Zoom to Teach Online.” I found the strategies below incredibly useful at helping me to continue to hold high expectations for my students and ask high level questions to check for understanding of all in the (virtual) room.

    • Keep your students in front of you.
      Zoom’s gallery view lets you see thumbnails of usually 25 students at a time (depending on your screen). You can also move from screen to screen to see the next 25. A colleague told me she uses two devices and joins as a student from one and as the host from another. She can see all students at once and gets the added benefit of viewing the class from the student perspective.
    • Discuss transitions. 
      it may be harder than usual for students to know when you have shifted between discussion topics, so be sure to state clear, well-defined transitions.
    • Use Chat to decide calling on patterns.
      Tracking the Chat feature can be useful in deciding which students to call on next – for example, if a particular student notes through Chat that she/he disagrees with the student speaking or has some additional data to provide. A friend said, “The advantage of Chat is that it’s like reading students’ thought bubbles–an advantage over the physical classroom.” Another colleague of mine assigns a student to monitor the Chat and the Raise Hand to make sure no one is overlooked unintentionally.
    • Include role play and debates.
      You can request two students to “role play” a situation like you would in the physical classroom. I use student presentations and ask participants to respond to a shared document with related points/questions.
    • Incorporate warm and cold calls.
      You can “cold call” a student just as you would in the traditional classroom, instead of waiting for them to raise their hand. For “warm calls,” you can message them privately in Chat before you call on them. 
    • Use Raise Hand feature.
      This feature works like the physical classroom. Have students use the Raise Hand feature in Zoom to answer questions. When you open up a conversation to students, you can pause a beat to let a number of people raise their hand and then pick according to whatever calling pattern you want. Call on a student by name.
    • Poll (private or public) class.
      With Zoom’s polling features you can get group results in real time, then reveal them later. Another colleague creates his polls in advance to align with his teaching and just inserts them into the poll feature.
    • Use buzz groups.
      Consider giving students more time than you normally would to formulate ideas jointly in one-on-one conversations (perhaps over breakout rooms or chat) and then have them share those ideas into the broader discussion.
    • Read the room.
      Unmuted students can inadvertently start talking at the same time; you will not be able to read body language easily; and those less inclined to speak may disappear more easily. To address these issues, be more diligent about pausing and asking if anyone else has more thoughts before jumping to the next topic. 

    Access Elizabeth Mulvahill’s article “15 Ways to Check for Understanding” from the We Are Teachers website. This great resource, written pre-COVID, is filled with strategies to check for understanding from red-yellow-green flip cards to white board flashes to quick writes and cooperative learning approaches that are easily adaptable for use in remote and hybrid settings.

  3. Board work can help you check for understanding in remote and hybrid settings.
    If you usually do “board work” as part of a class session, see “Board Work” from the Harvard’s Bok Center for Teaching and Learning for excellent tips, tools, and videos using Zoom as the platform. An excerpt follows:

    • Try the Annotation Tools (text box, free form draw/pen, shapes, and highlighter) to guide students or explain a concept.  This link is an excellent source of all things Zoom related.
    • Screen share a camera input so that two cameras can be used at once during a Zoom meeting, with one focused on your writing.
    • Use the Whiteboard feature, which works best when used with a tablet and stylus.
    • Create a PowerPoint slide or other simple backdrop file on which you can type notes, and share those notes using Screen Sharing. You can consider this like your chart paper and invite the students to add to the slide by co-hosting the meeting.
    • Create a “shared board” — perhaps managed jointly with teaching fellows — using shared Google Drive.
    • Prerecord the illustration as a video, then play it during class.


“Nobody rises to low expectations.”
– Calvin Lloyd, Australian educator


“High achievement always takes place in the framework
of high expectations.”
– Jack Kinder, Author


1 Question

How might the calling on patterns in your remote, hybrid, and in-person classrooms be improved?




About the Author: Marcia Baldanza is also the author of Professional Practices, a Just ASK Senior Consultant. and adjunct professor at Virginia Tech. Until recently she worked for the School District of Palm Beach County, Florida, where she was an Area Director for School Reform and Accountability; prior to that she was Director of Federal and State Programs.










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