Check for Understanding

A tool that I learned back in 2013 from Sharon Bowman’s Training from the BACK of the Room was called “check for understanding”. The basic concept is that trainers are better off checking for understanding over asking if there are any questions before students conduct an exercise.

For example, as a trainer I might explain the instructions such as…

  • Get in groups of 4
  • You’ll collaboratively design a 4Cs map of a retrospective
  • The time box for design will be 20 minutes
  • You’ll be sharing the design with the entire class
  • You don’t need to create any materials, nor do the actual retrospective.

Now traditionally, the trainer might follow this with “Any Questions?” The problem with this is that often people won’t ask questions. Sometimes they don’t even hear you ask this question because they were lost in the details earlier (like thinking about who they wanted to work in a group of 4 with).

Instead, a trainer should “check for understanding”. This approach means asking yes/no or simple direct questions back to the students. Such as:

  • How many people should be in a group?
  • How much time do you have to design?
  • Will you be doing the retro or sharing the design of the retro?

Now every time I have done this, the results are very positive. It makes it super clear what was clear or not – based on how they answer. It helps refocus people on the instructions instead of into the exercise. It generates questions (if needed).

Yet, I have struggled to do this tool because I always am nervous that I sound condescending when I’m asking the questions. I just told you all of this and now I’m quizzing you?!? Despite the results – something felt off for me. Then recently I was giving the TBR course to a company and someone gave me a tip that has completely changed how frequently I can use this tool now. She said I make the questions playful as if I’m the dumb one that needs the information. Sure enough, the minute I could add humor to this tool; I got the results from before as well as laughter and an internal comfort. I only wish she had crossed my path earlier in the past six years of trying to use this tool!

How would you make this tool work for you?

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