The most effective way to test student understanding is to do it while the lesson’s still going. Take advantage of the moment.

Read on for the reasoning behind mini-plenaries and to take a look at the different strategies click here to try or tweak in your own lessons. All borrowed from old colleagues or various websites and blogs – so thank you to everyone that has in some form of media contributed to the list!

So you’ve reviewed their prior learning, connected the last lesson. You’ve got your starting point. Next you introduce the learning intentions and share the success criteria for the rest of the lesson. You’ve caught David at the back chewing which you discreetly deal with and you set them off on an active task, you’ve checked for their understanding of task and there you go. Job done, you sit down at your computer to do the register, get distracted with emails and at the end of the lesson you pull it all together to realise that actually…they haven’t got it at all.

Don’t just teach it (loose sense of the word from the above description) you have to make sure they learn it!

Checking the learning…why?

It seems obvious doesn’t it? Reviewing the students learning through mini-plenaries and progress checks should be an embedded feature of every lesson. Encouraging students to discuss and share their experiences of learning should be a regular feature via different strategies. Allowing moments of reflection on your part is what contributes to an outstanding lesson. They should be short and snappy i.e. straight to the point and provide you an overview of the understanding that has or is, taking place.

Your reflection on your mini-plenaries should then cause you to react to the level of learning.

Lost and Confused Signpost
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  1. Confused, unsure, no one quite answered the questions as well as you envisaged:

You must go back and fill the gaps – though you’ve taught them once and they didn’t get it so how will you ensure they learn it this time around. Change of tactic needed. Did you plan for this? Excellent teachers will have planned for barriers to their students learning and will have a back up plan (or a diversion) for the stages of the learning journey. Some of this will come from experience but planning is key.

2. Not all of your students have quite got it, but there are some that have:

  • How could you use the students that have got it to help the rest? What do you have in your toolkit?
  • Why did they get it but others didn’t? Post lesson reflection task for you.
  • Did you differentiate effectively? Post lesson reflection task for you.
  • What could you do to get everyone on track? What do you have in your toolkit?

3. The strategies you used checked that all students were ready to move on:

  • Next! To keep the challenge, engagement and progress high move on.


As a reaction to all of the above, take the opportunity to refer and reinforce the success criteria. Where you can, model students work. Whether it is a paragraph about the love between Romeo and Juliet emphasizing the correct usage of capital letters and full stops, a gymnastics sequence focusing on extension and tension or a labelled diagram of a constructive plate boundary.

Ask them to explain what they have done and how they relate to the learning intentions. This could be with a peer or as a class perhaps. Can the students identify the progress? Can they make suggestions of how to improve their work by referring to the success criteria? At the same time they have an opportunity to set new targets – what do they need to do next? – challenge themselves further, be highly motivated and develop their independence.

Checking learningIt is up to you when and the frequency to check the learning taking place in your classroom and should only be done to check understanding and evaluate the direction of your lesson for you to then respond to. If it doesn’t do either then it’s probably a waste of time.

There are so many strategies of how you can check student learning – remember it is a quick review. Click here to find a list of strategies to try in your classroom.

Thanks to those of you that made it to the #15MinForum this week. Hope you found it useful, any questions come and see me.