Doug Lemov's field notes

Reflections on teaching, literacy, coaching, and practice.

01.17.17How Dani Quinn Uses Show Me to Check for Understanding

Dani Quinn is a math teacher at the Michaela School in London. We recently video-taped her lesson and, in watching, I was struck right away by her Check for Understanding. She constantly used Show Me (technique #5 in TLaC) to assess students as she taught and she used that data to guide her lesson. And she strove to build a culture where students were comfortable learning form their errors- an idea I call Culture of Error (technique #8 in TLaC).  I cut two examples to try to show why and how she was so effective, and oddly I am going to show them to you in reverse order.

First you can see an example of Dani’s Show Me from later in her class.  She’s just finished explaining to students how to raise an exponential to a power and so she asks students to try simplifying (5a4)2.   She asks them to work on white boards so they can share their progress with her easily.  White boards are a tool lots of teachers use to Check For Understanding—and hooray for that; they’re truly a useful tool—but I’d like to focus on how Dani uses them because just using white boards does not in and of itself make for effective Check for Understanding.

Here you’ll see that after students have attempted the problem she works methodically but quickly around the room, giving individualized feedback to students.  Whether they’ve done it right or wrong her tone is even and supportive.  No blaming the students for getting problems wrong, just a quick description of what to do better.  But as she works she realizes that more than 2 or 3 students have made mistakes and the mistakes are consistent.  She’s dealing with class wide misunderstanding.  So she reviews the problem and then asks a question that is subtly and importantly different from what most teachers I think would do here.  She asks, “Who can explain their mistake?” Whereupon Roy volunteers that he multiplied the exponents instead of adding them and this was not correct.  No biggie.

This is to say that instead of asking for a student who got it right to discuss how they did it or to provide additional detail, Dani shines the light on the process of “made a mistake, reflected, figured it out, understand that, ready to keep going.”  Not only does hearing Roy talk about his error help students to see their own mistake but it helps to normalize the process of getting it wrong and then getting it right.  She is building a culture where students are comfortable revealing and analyzing their mistakes.

And then- off they go to do another problem so, as she puts it, they can “get it perfect this time.”

This Show Me was about the fifth Dani had used this lesson but after the break in the clip you can see the first Show Me she used, this one in the warm up when students were reviewing the previously mastered skill of multiplying decimals.  First it’s important to note how powerful it is to keep mastered skills alive by practicing them constantly as Dani does here.  But notice how in this interaction here are two themes. Again you see the fast individualized feedback.  But you also see her building and maintaining her systems.

That is, her broader approach to Check for Understanding and all the sophistication of responding to student errors and building a culture of error requires a simple robust habit to be in place: she assigns a problem, everyone solves it quickly, on her command they hold up their boards, all on cue so no time is wasted and so no one can hide in plain sight… ie copy off someone else or not raise their board. It’s a 100 times easier to make sure everyone has done the work when they all raise their boards together and then put them down as she’s seen their work and responded.   In the first video you see her reinforcing that. Sunny tries to show her board too soon. Dani reminds her to “keep a secret.”  Then students are slow and off cue in holding up their boards so she has them go back and practice executing their part of the system correctly. She reminds them to put their boards down after she’s given them feedback.

A system as strong as this is like an engine: powerful and efficient but needs regular maintenance so I love the way you see in these two clips the power of a strong system and the importance of building and maintaining it with diligence.  Thanks, Dani!

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3 Responses to “How Dani Quinn Uses Show Me to Check for Understanding”

  1. Anna
    January 18, 2017 at 9:25 pm

    This is the first time I’ve disagreed with some of the analysis. I think the individualised feedback makes the pace of the lesson very slow. If I did that with my students, I would lose their attention. Can’t Dani scan the boards quickly to see whether the same mistake is coming on several times and get on with fixing it with the class?

  2. February 26, 2018 at 9:13 pm

    Dani is giving individual feedback to every learner, this will take time. If it is rushed, it will lose its impact and therefore, there is not as much point in doing it. Dani has established a culture in her classroom that supports this process and therefore will not lose any learners attention. I’m sure it happens at times but I am also sure those pupils will be sanctioned.

  3. Jack
    November 30, 2023 at 8:12 pm

    I’m unable to see the second clip. Please could this be reposted? I’d love to see it!

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