Before, During, and After Thinking Strategies

I’m on a mission of sorts. Not only do I want to provide my students with great instruction for learning, but I really want to improve how my students think about their learning. I’m not sure why or how I really got to this point, but I want students to think and consider their thinking before, during, and after instruction and assessment and use this information to tailor how they approach assessment and studying. We’ve all heard of before, during, and after strategies for answering questions and they are used with success in classrooms around the globe. But, how often do we instruct our students to have conversations internally or with peers with respect to their thinking surrounding these assessments? Not very often, I suppose. 

We provide starter questions so students retrieve information from past lessons to connect with today’s material. We may even stop during instruction to have students assess their understanding. Before leaving for the day, students might even attempt a short assessment to clear up any misconceptions. All of these uses for assessment are great. This is not meant to be a ‘do this instead of that’ article. I do, however, want to provide some ideas to prompt students to consider their thinking about their learning before, during, and after the lesson. Hopefully, you can easily adapt these questions/activities to your students to enhance the great questioning that is already happening in your classroom. As you will see, these prompts will not be considered ‘game changers’, ‘disruptors’, or ‘innovations’ that completely reshape how you instruct in your classroom. Sorry if that’s what you’re looking for. They will, however, provide simple and subtle ways for students to form quality habits for assessing their learning and questioning their knowledge.

Before Thinking

My classes, more often that not, begin with some form of retrieval practice from previous day(s) lessons. They may be tasked with answering some questions that are pertinent to today’s lesson or they may have a simple brain dump to complete. These are activities to utilize in the classroom that have shown evidence of increasing retention of material…and that is great. But, are the students really thinking about what these before lesson strategies show them about their learning (or lack of learning)? The list of questions below represent what I might ask my students during these before strategies. 

What did you know without any assistance?

Did you have to use your notebook or textbook to answer any questions?

Did you need to ask a peer for assistance with any of the questions?

If there was anything you couldn’t answer on your own, what are you going to do with that information? How should that impact your studies of the material?

Do you know why you may have answered some questions incorrectly?

Did you miss instruction due to absences? 

What did you do to get caught up after your absences?

These questions certainly lead to more specific questions, depending on each student’s answers. This is usually a good jumping off point for students thinking about their thinking and learning. 

During Thinking

Much of the during thinking done is more deliberate. Just like the before thinking questions above, these questions are mostly driven by the teacher at the beginning of the semester, with the goal of gradually releasing the opportunity to the students over time. Many teachers and students don’t really think to stop during instruction or studying to consider what they’re doing. They have the goal of just getting done. But, with a bit of guidance, they can slow down and consider what they are doing and how that impacts learning. So, here are some questions I ask during the lesson:

What does this mean?

Does this make sense to you?

What doesn’t make sense to you?

What are you going to do to remedy any confusion you may have?

Does this relate to anything we’ve studied previously?

Does the current material help you to see the bigger picture of previous material learned?

Can you predict what’s coming next?

After Thinking

Having students slow down and momentarily consider the information they’ve just come into contact with is quite important. They often want to simply move on to another task; to simply check the next box so they can be finished. However, having a quick look back at the day’s material or attempting to answer questions to assess their learning can help with identifying holes in their learning they may assume they know. Assumption of learning is a major thief of learning. Here are some questions I ask my students to bring their faulty assumptions to light. Some resemble questions that are also asked ‘before and during’ and that’s okay.

What did you not know without assistance?

What did you believe you knew but didn’t completely understand?

What will you do in attempt to remedy any holes in your understanding?

How will finding out what you didn’t know impact your studying?

Did you guess?

How does today’s material fit into the bigger picture of the entire unit?

These before, during, and after thinking strategies may seem obvious to teachers, but they are not necessarily to students. I know, when I was in high school, I completed tasks because I had to. I put little to no effort into considering why or how this assignment may help me with remembering or connecting the dots of past material to current or future material in class. Some of these questions may seem tedious to both yourself and your students, but remember they need help forming these proper thinking habits for more efficient and effective learning. It is time well spent and I often find when I begin the semester investing in these conversations with students, by the end of the semester, students are doing this on their own. Both instruction and assessment activities become more efficient and effective for learning.  If we’re looking to ‘grow’ self-sufficient learners (and we all should be), these conversations are critical. It is incredible to see a student realize how powerful their thinking about their learning is; how impactful it can be on their past, current, and future learning. 

What questions do you ask of your students to consider their thinking and learning?

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