Checking In With Students

Mary Overholt

By Mary Overholt, Fleming College

How many times have you, as a teacher, stood at the front of the classroom and asked: “any questions?” And how many of those times have you been met with blank stares, and silence? Have you, like me, resorted to a “Ferris Bueller” reference: “Anyone…? Anyone…? Bueller…? Bueller…?” only to be met, yet again, with blank stares from the much-younger-than-you-even-think-they-are, born in the post-Bueller era, students in the room?


Instead of aging yourself, and possibly running the risk of having students not understanding the lesson you’ve just eloquently delivered (and, of course, had them participate in!), you might instead try a Classroom Assessment Technique (or CAT, if you prefer), a “simple tool for collecting data on student learning in order to improve it” (Angelo & Cross, 1993, p. 25).

There are numerous examples of CATs, which you can find using a simple Google search, or better yet, by checking out our LDS Team website, but one easy example, that I’ve used in my own classes, is the Exit Pass.

Here’s how it works: At the end of a lecture (or after a specific chunk of content is delivered, or really whenever you think it’s important to gauge students’ understanding…), give students a small piece of paper (or ask them to pull one out of their notebooks), and ask a specific question, aimed at getting an idea of whether or not they have understood the content.

Some possible questions are

  • What was the main idea of the (last section of the) lecture?
  • What connection can you make between today’s content and the reading? last week’s lecture? another course in this program?
  • What question do you still need answered?
  • Or a content-specific question that they should be able to answer correctly.

Give students a set amount of time to respond to the prompt/question, and ask them to complete it individually. Students need not sign their name; since they’re submitting it on their way out, you can collect them as they leave. This makes it a low-stakes activity for students, and truly formative assessment.

You’re now armed with a literal pile of information about your course: based on what your students have written, you can see whether or not they’re getting the concept, and can adjust your instruction accordingly. Do you need to go back over a certain topic that’s still unclear? Do they have questions you can address in your next class? Or can you happily skip ahead to the next topic, confident that you’re all on the same page? Either way, address the exit pass at the beginning of your next class. Consider sharing insightful answers, answering specific questions, and giving students and idea of where the class stands, so that not only do you know how students are doing, but they will, too.

Do you have a CAT that you like to pet… Er, I mean, use with your students? If so, share it in the comment section below!


Mary Overholt is a Teaching & Learning Specialist in the Learning Design & Support Team at Fleming College. She also teaches in the School of General Arts & Science. She has a B.A. in English & Math, a B.Ed., an M.A. in English Literature, and is well on her way to completing an M.Ed. in Curriculum Studies.

Angelo, T. & Cross, K.P. (1993). Classroom assessment techniques: A handbook for college
. San Francisco: John Wiley & Sons.

Featured image: https://unsplash.com/@mattbotsford CC0


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The Open Faculty Patchbook Copyright © 2017 by Mary Overholt is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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