In order to gauge whether or not your students are meeting the objective before you get to the final assessment, it is important to check for understanding along the way. There are several ways to do this, but here are four of my favorites....
1) White boards are fun and highly interactive. I use them regularly. Each student gets a white board and dry erase marker. They are prompted to respond on their white board. After the alloted amount of time you've given them to respond is up, you have them hold up their boards so you can see at a glance if they understood or not. Another variation of that is to have them write on sheet covers. This is especially helpful if you want them to fill in a template/graphic organizer or complete a process. The guide goes into the sheet cover and they fill it in with their answers on top of the sheet cover so the answers can be erased and they are able to do multiple problems. Keeping a seating chart inside a sheet cover handy allows you to mark which students might need more direct support.
2) Physical cues allow you to check in very quickly, just like with the white board. They can be done in a variety of ways. For example, thumbs up/thumbs down is a quick check for understanding. Teach them how to sign the alphabet and they can sign their responses to multiple choice questions.
3) Stop and jot is good way for students to quickly process what they are thinking and give you feedback. I like to pass out post-its to my students. They write down a brief answer to a question and I collect them. I am then able to look them over in a matter of minutes to see where there are gaps in understanding.
4) Manipulatives are great ways to engage your students while you go around to check for understanding. Because they are working through problems with tangibles, it is very easy to see whether or not they are following along. In math there are endless ideas (counting pieces, tangrams, etc.) In reading I like to have them do word/idea sorts. I will give them a set of words printed on slips of paper and have them categorize them. I'll also do this with pro/con debates. I'll put paragraphs on slips of paper, some for and some against a set topic. Then they sort them accordingly.
Checks for understanding are crucial. If we wait until the end of a lesson or unit to see if our students understand, then we are losing valuable time with the students who are confused. There is too much ground to cover to go back and re-teach everything the next day or next month. Being strategic about finding out where there are gaps in understanding is crucial in helping to make sure our students do not fall through the cracks.