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09.25.18“It’s the Most Important Tool for Building Relationships,” and Other Insights About Check For Understanding

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Yesterday was one of the most intellectually intense days I’ve had in some time, and I came to realize some important things about Check for Understanding.

I’m going to try to summarize some of them here.

1) Check for Understanding is quite possibly the single most important group of techniques in terms of building relationships with students–I had never fully made that connection before and I suspect many other teachers hadn’t either.

I realized this over the course of a meeting with our TLAC Fellows in which we set out to discuss and study building relationships in the classroom- something my team and I are interested in studying because we think it’s an important topic and because we think it’s an oft-misunderstood or misapplied topic.

The first thing we realized was that many teachers focused their relationship building efforts on what happens outside of the core teaching–greeting students in the hallway and asking them about their interests.

Far more important and genuine is something we called relational teaching–using the way you teach to build a trusting relationship.  What happens inside the classroom–inside the teaching within the classroom–is the first and foremost driver of relationships. The Fellows were emphatic on this point and on the idea that Check for Understanding, done well, was critical because it constantly communicated a message to each student. We summarized that message as follows:

  • Your success is important to me
  • I believe in you
  • I am highly aware of your progress in this endeavor
  • I will help you succeed


You can see that in this video…. three examples of teachers Tracking Not Watching… where that message is communicated by a process of careful observation of student work and quick feedback.

As an aside two of the teachers here, Denarius Frazier and Tamesha McGuire, are TLAC Fellows and yes that makes us just a little bit proud.

EA.CFU.GRM.’Relationship building.’Clip2792 from TLAC Blog on Vimeo.

Ironically the first clip, while truly wonderful, offers a bit of a distraction. The interactions are warm and endearing but it’s the feedback as much as the warm affect that builds the relationship.

Anyway our takeaway was that relationship building starts in the classroom with attentiveness to the the craft of teaching and with attentiveness to the progress and experience of the learner.  What happens inside the classroom is more profound than the outside the classroom efforts at connections that teachers may make.  Some of those are also valuable.  But without the in-class dynamic none of that moves the needle.  If I am struggling and you go blithely on unaware, well, you can ask me about all the movies you like but…

2) On the way to the train station, I had the opportunity to chat with Denarius about one of our favorite CFU clips.  This one.

EA.CFU.GR11.Frazier.’Remainder.’Clip2594 from TLAC Blog on Vimeo.

Denarius shared how critical his seating plan is to its success.  The two front corners of the room are the places he always starts his observational laps of the room. The first four students he comes across there are essentially a small statistical sample of the room. Two students who often struggle, one student who’s about average and one high performer.

“After looking at four kids’ work I often have a decent hypothesis for how the room over all is doing.  I’m testing that hypothesis already as I work the first column, and by the second column I’m deciding what to do about it.”

He also shared this thought re. the tracking of student work he’s doing–you can see him making notes on his clipboard.

“A lot of people think I’m tracking who got it right and who got it wrong. I’ve stopped doing that.  I now track the nature of the errors I see. When i finish my observations, knowing what they misunderstand rather than what number of kids got it right is much more useful. And that too helps me develop my plan to re-teach as I work.”

Brilliant and fascinating stuff.