About Teresa

Teresa Cooper is a 30-something divorced mom and teacher from North Carolina. She has a Masters of Science in Education for Curriculum, Instruction, and Assessment from Walden University and a BA in Psychology with a minor in Creative from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Having struggled with anxiety and depression most of her life and later having birthed a child with autism, she is passionate about spreading awareness and acceptance of mental illness and autism. After 13 years in education, she has a wealth of knowledge to share on education and bonding with children.

You’re a special education teacher, so you know that not all students are created equal. In fact, you know that even within a disability category, you cannot count on students behaving in a “typical” way. I’m sure you’ve heard the phrase, “If you’ve met one child with autism, you’ve met one child with autism.” You can plug-in any disability to that quote, really, and find it true. That’s why it’s important to have multiple ways to check for understanding in a special education classroom. Not all children will understand in the same way, so demonstration of understanding will look different depending on the child or even depending on the subject (because you know we teach everything).

I’ve got you covered on ways to check for understanding in a special education classroom. Just don’t try to use them all at once. That might get confusing!

1. Circulate while students work independently and ask them questions about their work. If you keep a clipboard with a roster, you can jot down notes and either continue going or triage major issues.

2.Homework, if you give it, should not be graded for accuracy, but you should look at it to make sure they understood it and definitely go over it. Students consistently not understanding homework need extra attention.

3.Short Assessments (quizzes) to assess learning that contain no more than five questions can provide useful information to check for understanding before moving on to new concepts.

4.Quickwrite- Have the students write, without stopping, what confuses them most. Tell them to give details.

5.During classwork, have students hold up answers on whiteboards so that you can see if everyone gets it. Caution: Students with processing speed issues may struggle with this one. Give them opportunities for success.

6. Put the students in partners or small groups to discuss key concepts. Circulate while they talk and listen to see if they get it. Add important details, reroute the conversation, or ask questions if they seem like they’re going off-course.

7.Play Four Corners and assign the corners as A, B, C, or D for multiple choice questions. Have students go to the corner of the answer they feel is correct, but make them write it down on their whiteboards first and go to the corner they committed to so they don’t just follow their friends. This allows them to move around the room.

8.Give students opportunities to ask each other questions about what they’re learning. Give them sticky notes, create anchor charts around the room, and allow them to ask questions of each other. The types of questions they ask will assess how well they understand the material themselves.

9.Sketching it out. Have students create drawings or illustrations of the topics covered in class.

10.Socratic Seminars- Even students in a special education classroom, depending on the type of classroom you teach, can have a Socratic seminar. Have them debate a topic and see how long they can keep it going. Jot down what they discuss. Just like with the partner/group speak, you moderate it, add important details, reroute conversations, or ask questions if they seem like they’re going off-course.

11. Create a report. Have the students create a report to give to the class on a topic and use visual aids to help demonstrate understanding. Let them choice how they report out–whether they use PowerPoint, posters, music, or some other creative way to report their findings to the class. Make sure they have a rubric to help them out with expectations on the report.

12.Exit card strategy- You must use a 3-2-1 strategy on this.

13.Three things you found out from the lesson.

14.Two interesting things they may have questions about.

15. One question you still have about the material.

16. Pairs– If your student struggled with a quiz, allow them to repeat the assignment with a friend and see if they get it then.

17. Process- Ask the students to show or write out the steps to complete a process.

18. Thumbs Up/ Down– Simply ask the students to give a thumbs up if they get it, thumbs down if they don’t get it at all, and sideways thumb if they “sort of” get it.

19. Examples/Non-examples- Ask students to give examples and non-examples of the topic/definition.

20. Fill-in Thoughts- Use a fill-in-your-thoughts strategy. This is a written strategy where students fill in the blank. For example, another term for percent change is _______.

21. 5 Words – Give students the following prompt:

What five words would you use to describe ______? Explain and justify your choices.

Ask students to explain the topic in a letter to their best friend.

Twitter Post: Define/Explain __________ in under 140 characters. (This one might become a favorite)

Giving students the freedom to choose how they demonstrate understanding often makes it easier for them to show us what they know. Some kids do better with presentations, while others like to write, and still others like to draw. With this list of 20 different ways to check for understanding in the special education classroom, hopefully your students can show you what they know.

What are some ways you check for understanding in your classroom?


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