Post-Lesson Reflection: What Do Students Think They Learned?

In the last two blogs, I have focused on strategies teachers can use to 1) assess prior knowledge before a lesson and 2) check for understanding during a lesson. I’ve suggested that teachers build mechanisms into their lessons to collect formative assessment data. That way, they can use that data to design learning experiences that better meet the needs of their students. The third piece to this puzzle is a post-lesson reflection.

The post-lesson reflection is an opportunity for students to pause and assess what they think they have learned in a lesson or series of lessons. It allows them to identify aspects of the lesson that they struggled with or found unclear. It provides an avenue for students to request additional help, instruction, practice, or support before moving on to the next batch of information or a new skill.

Below are strategies I have used to build a reflective practice into my lessons, so I can understand what students think they have learned during a lesson.

1. Sketchnotes

There are few activities more calming than drawing. Most students enjoy any excuse to put colored pencils, crayons, or markers to paper. Sketchnotes invite students to think creatively about how to show what they have learned. This artistic expression of learning encourages students to identify key points and show their relationships to one another in a free-form sketch that is not as restrictive as a concept map. However, if you have students who are not artistically inclined or struggle with sketchnotes, you can provide them with a concept map that provides more structure.

If you are interested in teaching students how to create sketchnotes, you should check out Sylvia Duckworth’s book titled How to Sketchnote: A Step-by-Step Manual for Teachers and Students.

2. Exit Ticket

The exit ticket is a classic strategy that teachers can use to assess what students learned in a lesson quickly. Teachers can combine reflective questions with academic content questions to understand where students are at in terms of their knowledge of a topic or concept. The beauty of using a Google Form to create your exit ticket and collect student responses is that you can easily identify patterns in the data. This makes it more manageable to take what you’ve learned about your students to design the next lesson building on what they know or circling back to review a concept or skill.

3. Tell Me How

It’s tempting to give students a series of problems or a writing task to assess what they learned in a lesson. I prefer to ask kids to tell me “how” they would do something. Thinking through the “how” of how to solve a problem, complete a task, or construct a type of written response encourage metacognition. It requires that students stop and think about what they would do in a series of concrete steps. What strategies would they use? In what order would they employ those strategies? Why is this the best approach?

This provides insight into the student’s thought process, which makes it easier to identify misconceptions or areas of confusion. You can ask students to write out their “tell me how” explanation, type it in a Google Form, or record a short FlipGrid video explaining their approach.

4. Learning Log/Blog

A learning log or ongoing learning blog is a strategy you can use to encourage your students to spend time thinking about a particular assignment. What skills did they employ? What challenges did they encounter? How did they troubleshoot those challenges? What did they learn as a result of working on this assignment? What questions do they have about the work they did? Would additional support be valuable if they were to tackle a similar task in the future?

The goal of the learning log or blog is to help students to:

  • Appreciate their academic growth
  • View challenges as a natural part of the learning process
  • Understand the value of individual assignments
  • Develop their metacognitive muscles

At the secondary level, I like the learning blog over individual documents. A learning blog encourages students to capture their reflections in one online location that is easy to access and review. If their learning blog is part of their digital notebook, they can use these reflections to prepare for their grade interviews.

5. High/Lows

High/lows is a strategy I adapted from my dinner table. When my family sits down to dinner, we often share a high from our day and a low. This started as a strategy to help my young children to engage in conversation at the dinner table, so I could hear about their days at school.

Then I had a moment in class at the end of a long week when I felt like I did not have a good read on the room. I was trying to check in with my class to figure out what they “got” and what they wanted to spend more time on the following week. My students were low energy and just kind of staring at me in response to questions about the work we had done that week. So, I told them to make a circle with their chairs, and we spent five minutes going around the circle so each person could share one high from the week and one low. I asked them to identify one concept, skill, or assignment they felt confident about (high) and one concept, skill, or assignment they were feeling frustrated by or unclear about (low).

As students shared their highs and lows, I made notes on a clipboard. I did not interject with questions or comments. I simply listened. I wanted them to feel comfortable sharing their highs/lows.

By the end of the five-minute exercise, I had a clear sense of what they felt confident about and what they were struggling with. I was able to use this informal data to design subsequent lessons to provide additional instruction, practice, and support for students who identified specific concepts, skills, and assignments as challenging or unclear.

If you have a favorite strategy you use to help students reflect on a lesson or assignment, please post a comment and share it!

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Check for Understanding: What Are You Learning About Your Students During the Lesson?

Teachers often focus on what students will learn during a lesson. Rarely, do we stop and ask ourselves, “What will I learn about what my students know or can do during this lesson?” This is a critical question that teachers should ask themselves as they design the parts of their lesson. We need to build in mechanisms into our lessons to collect formative assessment data.

In my previous post, I focused on strategies teachers can use before a lesson to assess prior knowledge. In addition to determining where each student is starting in terms of their content knowledge or skills, teachers should collect data during the lesson to gauge what students know. That data allows us to make adjustments on the spot or guide the design of the next lesson or sequence of lessons.

Checking for understanding and collecting formative assessment data during a lesson can be tricky if the teacher is engaged with a small group or working one-on-one with students. I recommend leaning on technology whenever possible to streamline this process. Technology tools have the benefit of quickly collecting, surfacing, and storing data. Some technology tools, like polling or quiz tools, provide immediate results that can be used during the lesson. Other technology tools can capture and store information for teachers to reference after the lesson. Teachers can use this data to design subsequent lessons to ensure individual students get exactly what they need in terms of follow up instruction, coaching, scaffolds, and personalized practice.

Below are strategies I have used during my lessons to learn about what my students know or can do.

1. Poll the Class with Mentimeter

Polling is a quick way to assess what your students think about a topic, vocabulary word, or problem. I like Mentimeter’s polling feature, which updates in real-time as students select their answers. Simply type the question and options you want to appear on the Mentimeter slide and project it.

Students can use any device to select an option. The results change as students enter their responses creating a visually dynamic experience. You can use the results of the Mentimeter poll to guide the direction of the lesson.


Mentimeter does not allow teachers to view individual student selections, so this strategy works best to get a general picture of what the group thinks or knows.

2. Post a Picture on Padlet

When students are working offline, it’s useful to have them share a picture of their work so you can assess the quality and accuracy. I suggest teachers use a tool like Padlet to have students share a snapshot of their learning. That way all of the pictures are in one place for quick reference.

Math teachers can have students share photos of a math problem. Science teachers can ask students to share images from a lab or STEM challenge. English teachers can ask students to share an image of an annotated poem. These photos provide an overview of where the class is at, while also allowing you to see individual student work.

Another aspect of this strategy that I like is that learning can be shared and made public. Students can see what their peers have done or created. Teachers can design a follow-up activity in which students post comments to each other’s Padlet Wall images, videos, or explanations. This can be used to drive inquiry, reflection, or thoughtful critiques.

3. Quick Check with Google Forms or Schoology

I avoid the word “quiz” intentionally because it is a word the arouses anxiety. Plus, the students’ scores on a “quick check” are not something I would put into a grade book. This is a strategy I use to get a clear picture of what students know. I encourage teachers to explain that a quick check is a teaching tool, not an assessment tool. It is designed to gather information that can help the teacher to identify gaps in understanding and improve the lesson.

Teachers can use Google Forms and run the quick check like a quiz. If they use a combination of multiple-choice, true/false, and short answer questions, the Google Form will grade itself providing immediate data. Similarly, teachers using Schoology can create short quick checks using the assessment tool, which also allows them to include matching and sorting questions that can be graded automatically.

For a quick check, I design questions with one correct answer because I want the software to automatically grade the students’ responses and spit out immediate data I can use. Once I identify where the gaps are, I can pull individual students into a coaching session or design follow-up lessons to support students who need additional instruction, reteaching, and/or practice.

4. Video Check-in with FlipGrid

FlipGrid makes it possible for students to record themselves doing a variety of activities. These video recordings provide insight into what they know or can do. When I was coaching a second-grade teacher, we used FlipGrid to capture a sample of each student reading to assess their fluency. The students selected a passage, read it three times on their own, partnered up and took turns reading with their partner, then recorded themselves reading the passage on FlipGrid. This all happened at a station that was not the teacher-led station. FlipGrid made it possible for the teacher to collect reading samples from every student in a single class period.

Teachers can ask students to:

  • Explain how they solved a problem.
  • Describe the strategies they used to complete a task.
  • Summarize the main ideas from a chapter in a textbook.
  • Make predictions about what they expect to happen in a lab or in a novel.
  • Identify a new vocabulary word and explain it to their peers.
  • Reflect on what they understand as well as what is confusing about a topic, text, or task.

Instead of relying solely on written explanations to assess what students know or can do, video requires that students communicate verbally. For some students, this is easier and for others, it is more challenging. It’s important to mix it up, so that students who struggle to communicate their ideas verbally have opportunities to practice when the stakes are low. On the flip side, it gives students who excel at verbally articulating their thoughts the opportunity to surface their learning that way.

5. Observe and Capture Data with a One Skill Rubric

Observation is one of the most powerful tools in a teacher’s toolbelt. Watching students navigate tasks or engage in conversation with peers can provide a clear picture of their content knowledge and skill set. The biggest challenge is capturing what a teacher sees in the moment, especially when working with a large class.

When I coach teachers, I encourage them to use one skill rubrics to quickly capture data as they observe students at work. For example, teachers who are observing a Socratic seminar or a small group discussion can create a rubric aligned with a speaking and listening standard. In advance of the activity, the teacher must identify the standard they want to focus on, decide on a grading scale, and describe what the standard/skill “looks” like at each level. I use a four-point scale that breaks down the learning into 1–beginning, 2–developing, 3–proficient, and 4–mastery.

I suggest teachers make photocopies of these single skill rubrics, so they have a stack during class. As they observe students engaged in conversation, they simply circle the language that most closely aligns with what they are seeing. I encourage teachers to share this formative assessment data with students, so the students understand where they are in terms of their skills and what they need to do to develop.

Teachers can make single skill rubrics for any standard/skill they want to assess in a lesson. The most challenging part of this strategy is articulating what the learning looks like at each level. That said, the descriptions will save you time and help students understand what they need to do to progress to the next level.

6. Connect the Dots & Share Work in a Google Slide Deck

Give students a list of key concepts, dates, important people, and/or academic vocabulary from a chapter and ask them to “connect the dots” or concepts by creating a flowchart, timeline, or concept map (their choice) to show the connections between the various ideas.

This can be done individually, in pairs, or in a small group at a station. When students are done, ask them to take a photo of the visual they have created and insert it into a shared Google Slide deck. That way, it’s easy for you to reference the students’ work in a single location and the slide deck becomes a resource for the class.

If you have a favorite strategy you use to check understanding during a lesson, please post a comment and share it!

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Assessing Prior Knowledge: What Do Your Students Already Know?

Designing a one-size-fits-all lesson assumes that every student is starting from the same point. The reality is that students enter our classrooms with varied skillsets and prior knowledge. If teachers assess their students’ knowledge before diving into an explanation, lesson, or unit, they might be surprised by the wealth of experience and information that students bring into the classroom.

I had the pleasure of working with teachers in Texas this week. During the workshop, we explored strategies designed to assess prior knowledge (pre-lesson), check for understanding (during the lesson), and encourage students to reflect on their learning (post-lesson). I realized I had not written a blog about these strategies. I am dedicating the next three blog posts to discussing strategies teachers can use to collect informal data before, during, and after a lesson. The more teachers build mechanisms into their lessons to collect data, the more likely they are to adjust their lessons for learners at different levels.

Below are strategies I have used to gauge what students know prior to a lesson or unit. For any of these strategies to be effective, students must feel safe taking risks. Even though they may have some previous knowledge, they may not feel confident that they are “right.” I explain that these strategies will help me to understand what they know about a topic, so I can tailor the lesson or unit to their needs. Students need to know that they will not be graded or judged based on the accuracy of their answers.

1. Concept Map

Give students a concept map with a topic, problem, historical event, or person’s name. Then ask them to fill in as much information as possible using the structure of a concept map, like the one pictured below. Alternatively, students can create a free form concept map linking key ideas and information to a central topic.

2. Online Discussion

Unlike a class discussion in which only a handful of students get the opportunity to share their ideas, online discussions give everyone a voice. You can post a discussion question online using Google Classroom or Schoology and give students 5-10 minutes to describe what they know about a topic, concept, problem, historical event, or famous person. Ask them to describe where they learned this information–a conversation with a parent, a book or movie, another class, or from life experience. 

3. Carousel Brainstorm

Put posters with a word, concept, or problem in each of the four corners of the room. As students move around the room, the goal is to add their thoughts, ideas, and prior knowledge to the posters. If you use big pieces of poster paper, students can write the information directly on the poster. Alternatively, you can print the topics on computer paper and ask students to write information on post-it notes and stick them on the wall.

If you post math problems around the room, ask students to explain how they think they might solve each problem. What strategies would they use? Why?

4. Three Things…Word Association

Ask students to share the first three words that come to mind when they hear a topic, concept, problem, historical event, or famous person’s name. Asking students to share the first three words they associate with a topic can reveal a lot about what information or misconceptions they are bringing into the learning environment.

You can have them share these words offline with post-its or post them online using Mentimeter. Mentimeter will transform their responses into a real-time word cloud. Words that are entered by multiple students will appear larger in the cloud amplifying the common associations that students are making. Teachers using Mentimeter cannot view individual student’s contributions to the word cloud, so this activity works better to read the room in terms of prior knowledge.

5. Two Minute Talks

Pair students up and ask them to spend a minute each describing what they believe they know about a topic. Encourage them to explain where they learned that information. During these quick chats, you can circulate around the room observing and listening. It amazes me how much I learn by simply watching students and listening to their conversations. In just a couple of minutes, I get a clear sense of who has prior knowledge on a topic and who does not.

6. 90 Second Brain Dump

Teachers who enjoy quick writes can give students 90 seconds to write everything they know about a topic. I use a Google Form for these quick brain dumps so that the students’ responses are shuttled to a Google Sheet. That makes it easy to skim their responses or use Control+F to search for keywords to see how frequently they occur in the sheet. This provides insight into what the class knows about this topic, but I can also look at individual responses to gauge a specific student’s knowledge of the subject.

If you have a strategy you use for assessing prior knowledge, please post a comment and share it! I love hearing what works well for other educators.

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