Thumbs up / thumbs down

Sometimes a “show of hands” is more than a student wants to provide when being asked about their understanding of a given topic. To check student knowledge with this technique, simply ask the students to close their eyes and rest their heads on their desks. Then ask a series of questions that can be answered with a thumbs up meaning “good understanding”, a thumbs down meaning “no clue/little understanding”, and a thumb to the side meaning “some knowledge/not enough confidence”.

For instance, if you are approaching a section that involves variables, you may want to ask the following formative questions:

“Do you know what the word variable means in computer science?”

“Do you know what the word variable means in mathematics?”

“If a variable can store some important value in your program, can you think of a way that you might use a variable in a program to balance a bank account?”

“Do you know what the term data type means?”

This pattern can give you a classroom picture of which students can help you lead instruction and work with other students, and which of your students will need more time to develop their skills. Writing down a number of questions to ask and then selecting them as needed is a good way to prepare for this kind of assessment. The more often you do this, the easier it will be to implement. You may also find that it reduces your tendency to make assumptions about what students know, or to overreact to student behaviors in class if they aren’t as responsive as you would like them to be.