Updated: Nov 14
The concept of whole-group instruction is simple: a teacher imparts knowledge, presents content, or conducts a lesson to an entire class of students at the same time. In elementary school, this often takes place on a cozy rug, or in front of an easel or board. In high school, the format tends to shift toward a lecture-style approach, where students are seated in rows, while the teacher delivers the content through slides and poses questions to the entire class. Whole-group, or direct instruction, is efficient in terms of content dissemination, as it can reach a large number of students simultaneously.
However, there lies a fundamental challenge in whole-group instruction—its limited capacity to assess individual student understanding and cater to the unique needs of each learner. As a result, gaps in comprehension can widen over time if not addressed.
Assessment during whole-group instruction is essential. Rest assured, it is also possible.
Below are three ways that teachers can quickly gauge student understanding before, during, and after direct or whole-group instruction.
Before: Identify Prerequisite Background Knowledge
Incorporating background information into whole-group instruction is essential to ensure that all students have a foundational understanding of the topic.
Prior to whole-group instruction, present a visual representation or pose a question that pertains to the subject matter or skill to be taught. This visual or question should tap into the background knowledge students are expected to possess for the lesson. Encourage students to engage in discussions about the visual or respond to the question with a peer. Meanwhile, the teacher should circulate among the students to collect insights from their responses. This information allows the teacher to decide how much time, on the spot, will be needed to reiterate necessary prior knowledge ahead of the lesson.
During: Stop and Check
Ahead of the lesson, determine a stopping point in which student understanding of content will be checked during whole-group. As a frame of reference, a 2016 study found that elementary students were unable to focus for more than 10 minutes. Middle and high school students can sustain focus a little longer.
The stopping point will give the teacher an opportunity to assess individual understanding of the newly learned content. Through students' verbal or written responses, the teacher acquires valuable insights into any misconceptions or misunderstandings students might have. Subsequently, the teacher can decide on immediate remediation strategies, like encouraging students who comprehend the material to share their responses, or offering individual feedback. It is understood that after direct instruction, more comprehensive meetings will take place with students.
Research supports that giving students an opportunity to engage in peer-to-peer conversation can lead to new learnings and understandings. Following the conclusion of whole-group, pose a question to students and have them discuss the answer with a peer (face partner or shoulder partner), or even 3-4 of their peers (Round-Robin style). Ask students to share what a partner shared. Encouraging students to collaborate, discuss, and explain concepts to their peers not only reinforces their understanding, but also creates a supportive learning community within the classroom.
All of the information should be used to remediate, create small-groups, or provide learning tasks with varied levels of support following the whole-group instruction.