Save time with these three spectacular digital strategies to check for understanding


Teaching life shifted when schools shut down in March 2020. Suddenly teachers had to learn how to teach 100% online. As I’m sitting to write this, it seems as though online to in-person flip flopping is coming to an end for most schools around the country, but who really knows for sure. I learned through the whole online teaching process digital strategies to check for understanding were going to be very absolutely necessary.

I never have been the greatest at looking over student work to check for understanding. Sure, I’d walk around and try to catch mistakes, but I’ll be the first to admit it shouldn’t have been my only strategy. And looking at papers to check for understanding just took so long!

COVID Made Me Do It

Pro tip: If you have an iPad, use the free Notability app and connect it to your digital classroom platform to scaffold digital worksheets!

When I was forced to use digital tools during COVID, I realized I could see what kids did and didn’t understand as they were completing their work, and quickly! I could suddenly help kids in the moment instead of waiting two weeks after we moved on and I was finally catching up on grading.

I realized that I had to teach heredity and genetics completely online. I’m a fairly techy person, but how was I going to teach such a vocab heavy, somewhat confusing topic online and keep kids accountable? Teaching heredity vocab and Punnett squares online really helped me see the variety of ways I could digitally check for understanding. Let’s be honest, it’s easy to type answers into a Google Doc. It’s not so easy to make a Punnett square!

Even as schools opened up through the pandemic and we did more in-person learning, I still used these digital strategies to check for understanding and great tools to help me keep track of their progress instantly. While schools now are less likely to move fully online, these tools work great for snow days or digital learning days! 

These three digital tools help save me time and sanity, and I still use them all the time!

1. Boom Cards

If you have not learned about Boom Cards, let me explain them quickly. It is basically an interactive Google slide with features like drag-and-drop, type, multiple choice, and others. The advantage to Boom Cards is it automatically grades each box so you don’t have to sort through 25 individual Google Slides presentations in order to grade each one.

I find most of my Boom Cards in stores on Teachers Pay Teachers, but there’s a Studio option to make your own. If you click on this link, it will show you how to make your own boom cards set.

What I can actually see from Boom Cards

I love that Boom Cards are easy to assign in Google, and I get analytics for individual students. I can see what the students’ score is, how long they spent on the deck, what questions they got wrong, what their answers were, and how long each attempt took them. As a bonus, I can see this in real time. When I see several students are struggling or getting a specific question wrong, I can redress it very quickly.

If you want to see more about progress monitoring with Boom Cards, you can read about it here. The author of the blog I linked is primary teacher, but the analytics breakdown is the same.

The solution for your “get it done fast” students

I found that I had students who would rush through, get wrong answers, skip cards (we all have that kid who will click random things to “complete” it. My solution is to tell kids they needed to have an 80% or higher since they can redo it multiple times, with the clarification that if they had tried and done it three times, they could send me an email. I then look it over to see how to help them.  

The boom learning subscription is $25 per year for multiple classes and up to 150 students. I believe I had like 172 students and I emailed them and asked if that was okay, they told me as long as it was in my roster in Google Classroom that was fine.

Pros: Creative, easy to find, cheap

Cons: Some students rush, Decks don’t always take long to get through

2. Formative

Formative is my all-time favorite teaching tool, and I will never teach without it again. Period. I will start by saying it is $15 per month, but it literally saves hours per week. I’m not exaggerating. I can assign something to kids 10 minutes into class and it can be graded with feedback and sent back to them before they leave. 

As far as digital strategies to check for understanding, Formative is what I have dreamed of for years but didn’t know how to make! Go check out my blog 7 Reasons You Need Formative In Your Digital Classroom!

There are two options for creating assignments. First, you can click the + button on the top of the screen and you’ll be able to add one of 6 types of teacher directions and one of 17 answer options. You’ll begin to build the assignment right onto a blank page. Second, you can upload a PDF and overlay those answer options by clicking on top of the PDF.

Auto-Grading In Live Time Is True Magic

Most of the answer options are auto graded instantly. There’s even a way to auto grade short answer and essay questions.

I love that I can see students working IN REAL TIME.  I can see what question they’re on, what they’re typing as they’re typing, and I can see whether they got it right or wrong. Formative codes the answer as green, yellow, orange, or red based on the type of question and whether or not you chose to include partial credit.

Flexibility with Show Your Work

As far as checking for understanding with Formative, there are so many options but I think the most flexible is the Show Your Work tool. 

By adding a show your work tool, students either draw or type onto a blank canvas to give you an answer. You could also add a background for students to type and draw on top of. Check out the picture to see how this turns out on the teacher end! 

Earlier I talked about how Formative helped me teach heredity digitally. It’s a very vocabulary heavy topic, and all I could think was how do I even start this? To introduce the vocabulary, we took about 20 minutes of notes. Using the show your work answer choice, they uploaded photos of their notebook before the end of class. Next, they had to work through a few multiple choice and short response questions to see if they got it!

While this was great for long-term digital learning, it’s also an option for single snow days or digital learning days!

Watch Them Change Their Answers!

To give you a less specific example to a digital classroom, I love using the show your work feature to assess Punnett squares. I give students Punnett square practice problems and ask them to show their work inside of the box. They can click wherever they want and type their answers. I can watch my screen and see students doing this in real time, so if they are doing something incorrectly, I’ll say, “Hey Shane, be sure to use the alleles with As, instead of Bs.” I can see students delete the Bs and re-write the answer with As!

How Much Time Do You Waste Opening Google Slides?

After students are complete Google interactive slides, they can upload a photo of specific slides to the Show Your Work box. Stop spending time scrolling through… let’s say 112 Interactive Google slides assignments to make sure students completed them. In answer box 5, upload the slide number 7 that says, “Punnett Square Practice.”

Here is the coolest part! While you are grading, you can look at every single one of your students question 5 at one time. And you can batch grade them too! Select multiple answers and use the slider on the right to grade them all at the same time! TALK ABOUT TIME SAVER! 

I I know I talked about Formative a ton, but it really is an incredible tool. Including Formative into your digital strategies to check for understanding is a must. I highly recommend it to any teacher in any grade. There is a 30-day free trial when you sign up for the free account.

Pro: Literally everything. Plus they’re always adding new features.

Con: Price per month (although, I think it’s worth every ounce if time I get back)

3. Teachermade

The third tool I used to digitally check for understanding is called Teachermade. It’s pretty similar to Formative, but it is a little more clunky and a little less flexible. For example, you can still upload a PDF as a background and overlay questions on top of it. That is huge! I know I have so many pre-created curriculum PDFs or something that’s not in a digital format I got from TPT. It’s nice to pop digital question boxes on top of the PDF. Most of these questions on Teachermade are still auto graded. There are nine student answer options that include matching, multiple choice, short answer, and more. 

Teachermade is a great option if you don’t have $15 per month, but I don’t find the website as easy to navigate. For example, I can see every student’s individual paper (remember, autograded!), but I can’t see every student’s question number 5 at the same time. And as far as I can tell, there’s no way to see live student work. They have to submit work before you can see their score. With that said, it’s still an amazing auto-grading tool that gives you fast feedback. 

The Teachermade PRO account would definitely be the way to go, as the free version limits you to 100 student submissions per month.

Pros: Cheaper than Formative, Auto Grading

Cons: Less features than Formative, harder to navigate

Are you ready to use digital strategies to check for understanding?

These three tools help me see where students are struggling and how I can help them so much faster than traditional paper pencil. Boom cards are great, and then I would suggest choosing between formative and teacher made for more flexibility in using your work sheets you already have in a digital way.

I know none of these tools are free. Good programs rarely are. If you’re struggling to come up with financing for these programs, reach out to your admin (I showed mine how Formative worked and he loved it – we ended up with a site license!) Ask if they can get you some funding. If that’s not an option, ask PTO. Oftentimes, this is something that they will spend money on because it directly benefits students in your class.

These three tools gave me great digital strategies to check for understanding so I can see where students are struggling and how I can help them so much faster than traditional paper pencil, even while students are in class with me! Boom cards are great, and I would suggest choosing between Formative and Teachermade for more flexibility in using your worksheets you already have in a digital way.

Digital Learning, Middle School
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