Checking for Understanding Using Gestures

Gather real-time data about what students know and are able to do by asking students to respond using some sort of non-verbal sign.
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About this Micro-credential

Key Method

Gestures are a CFU method in which the teacher asks a question and students signal their answers using some sort of visual sign (for instance, holding up a number of fingers, sign language, colored index cards). Unlike many other CFU methods in which teachers make inferences about student learning from a sample of students, with Gestures, the teacher visually records answers from the entire class. Generally, Gestures are most effective when the question is posed in a selected-response format (e.g., multiple choice, agree or disagree, or yes/no).

Method Components

Universal characteristics of effective CFUs

  • What and when to CFU: The check for understanding comes at a critical moment in the lesson; the teacher is intentionally finding out about the “right stuff” at the “right time.”
  • Unbiased inference: The method allows the teacher to make an unbiased (or less biased) inference about objective mastery for the class, through either individual assessment or representative sampling.
  • Instructional adjustment: The teacher leverages the CFU data in the moment to determine the next instructional move (e.g., continue with the lesson, pinpoint a particular misunderstanding, reteach the concept).

Demonstrating universal characteristics for gestures

  • Teachers use Gestures to check for understanding of important content.
    • For example, teachers intentionally check for understanding at key moments in the lesson that are revelatory to students’ progress toward mastering the lesson objective.
    • NOTE: This is different from asking students if they understand (e.g., “Using a fist to five, signal how well you feel about Concept X.”) Student meta-cognition is incredibly important, but it is not the focus of this micro-credential.
  • Teachers use Gestures to make less biased inferences about what students know and can do.
    • Teachers use gestures that are clear and visually distinct.
      • For example: “One finger for agree, two fingers for disagree.” Or “One finger for A, two for B, and three for C.” The key is to have just a few answer options that are simple to remember and visually distinct. (For instance, it is often hard to tell if a thumb is up or down, making that a less effective gesture.)
    • Teachers use strategies to maximize the likelihood that each student’s gesture is his or her own.
      • Teachers can give a crisp in-cue that signals to students when they should make their gesture: “Show me your answer cards when I say ‘three’. . . One, two, three.”
      • The physical placement of the gesture can also be used to minimize opportunities for copying. “Show me your answers in front of your heart. Go.”
    • Teachers use follow-up questions to probe the students’ gestured responses.
      • Strategic questions asked of intentionally selected students can help teachers better understand why students answered they way they did: “Most of the class answered A. Let me hear from someone who gestured B. Why did you answer B?. . . <wait time> . . . Jamal?”
  • Teachers make appropriate instructional adjustments in response to the formative CFU data.
    • For example, the teacher’s next instructional move will be different if the class is evenly split between two answer choices than if only one or two students have the wrong answers.

Research & Resources

Supporting Research

  • Black, P., & Wiliam, D. (1998). Assessment and classroom learning. Assessment in Education, 5(1), 7–74. doi:10.1080/0969595980050102
  • Crooks, T. (1988). The impact of classroom evaluation practices on students. Review of Educational Research, 58(4), 438–481.
  • Cazden, C. B. (1988). Classroom Discourse: The Language of Teaching and Learning. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.
  • Fisher, D., & Frey, N. (2007.) Checking for Understanding: Formative Assessment Techniques for Your Classroom. ASCD: Alexandria, VA.
  • Fuchs, L. S., & Fuchs, D. (1986). Effects of systematic formative evaluation: A meta-analysis. Exceptional Children, 53(3), 199–208.
  • Popham, W. J. (2008). Formative assessment: Seven stepping stones to success. Principal Leadership, 9(1), 16.
  • Wiliam, D. (2011). Embedded Formative Assessment. Bloomington, IN: Solution Tree Press.


  • Lemov, D. (2010). Teach Like a Champion. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass. 88–92.
  • Saphier, J., Haley-Speca, M., & Gower, R. (2008). The Skillful Teacher: Building Your Teaching Skills. Acton: Research for Better Teaching. 194.

Submission Requirements

Submission Guidelines & Evaluation Criteria

Following are the items you must submit to earn this micro-credential and the criteria by which they will be evaluated. To earn the micro-credential, you must receive a passing score for Part 1 and a “Proficient” or “Exemplary” for each element of the rubric in Part 2.

Part 1. Overview questions

(200-word limit for each response)

  • Activity Goals: List your objectives for the lesson in which you used Gestures to check for understanding.
  • Activity Description: Describe the lesson generally and the specific activity or activities in which you demonstrate checks for understanding using Gestures.
  • Optional Context: Please describe any other important context that an external observer would need to understand this lesson or your particular teaching context.

Part 2. Evidence/artifacts

Please submit a link to a video that shows two distinct CFU sequences, along with text analyzing each clip according to the questions below (200-word limit for each clip).

  • Describe each CFU sequence. In each description, please answer all of the following questions.
    • - Why did you choose to CFU at that particular moment of the lesson (that is, given the objectives of the lesson, why CFU at this point)?
    • - How did your use of Gestures allow you to make an unbiased inference about student understanding?
    • - Following the check for understanding, what was your next instructional move? How did the CFU data inform your decision?

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Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International (CC BY-NC-ND 4.0)


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