Measuring Coding Progress: 5 Ways to Check for Understanding

Teachers are constantly required to gauge student learning and report on student progress. To do this, we confer with students, do whole group checks throughout lessons, and constantly assess student learning formally and informally.

With coding, teaching resources can be limited, and there aren’t too many teachers that are Computer Science experts on the side. How can progress be measured without the instructor having some level of coding knowledge? A good starting point is recognizing that teachers can (and should!) check for understanding in coding like any other content area.

We’ve put together 5 ways teachers can monitor student progress in coding- checks for understanding that can be applied to coding like any subject:

1. Ask Questions

It’s easy to think that a student using a coding app or program knows what they are doing as they progress through levels. Passing levels does not mean that a student fully understands what they did. Asking students to explain what they are doing requires critical thinking and helps students make sense of what they are learning.

Basic questions to ask students to check for understanding:

  • “What concept are you working on? Tell me more about __ …”
  • “What do you think you should do next?”
  • “What will happen if you do (x)?”
  • “Why do you think (x) is the best move?”

2. Quick Sketch

A visual representation of a concept:

  • Students spend one minute doing a quick sketch of the concept they are learning about
  • Share: In pairs or groups, student explain the concept that they sketched

Teachers can collect sketches, and should listen to students explain to each other in groups.

3. Letter to a Friend

Have students teach a friend about a coding concept they’ve been taught.

Ask them to include:

  • The concept they’re learning about
  • Programming terms and vocabulary
  • One challenge they experienced and had to work through
  • One success they had or their favorite lesson

4. Stuck in the Mud

Write and draw: Students reflect on their biggest challenge in coding and how they got through it. 

Students are very unlikely to breeze through apps and programs without having to try a few times to get through levels. Cultivating an environment that promotes perseverance will help students accept that challenge and failure are elements of success in coding.

 5. Define a Concept

Give each student a post-it, index card, or small piece of paper to write their name and definition on. Have students define the concept they are learning about, and collect it or use it as an exit ticket on their way out of class.


Below, access our examples of student reflections and checklists that you can use to monitor and track progress. We’ve included teacher questions for conferring with students, and checklists for sharing student progress with parents and administrators.


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Teacher of the Week: Episode 3

As a student, what I loved most about school was knowing I was loved and appreciated by my teachers. The experiences I had being cared for as a person by my own teachers shaped the way I interacted with my students when I became a teacher. I was reminded of this last week, when I spoke with Marilou Schantz, of Washington Elementary in Clinton, Oklahoma.

Marilou emanates compassion and love for every student she crosses paths with, and I was inspired remembering how a deep care for students as people can be a driving force in the work of an educator. Screen Shot 2015-09-14 at 7.04.46 PM

Congratulations on being chosen as teacher of the week! Can you start off by telling us a little about your teaching background?

This is my 9th year teaching. I’ve taught 1st grade, 2nd grade, 3rd grade, 4th grade “Gifted and Talented”, and after following my daughter to her school to teach 6th grade, I’m in my second year of 5th and 6th grade science at Washington Elementary!

What do you love most about teaching?

The kids; just getting to love them. I always tell them, “You’re mine, you’re mine forever.”

Why do you think it’s important for kids to learn how to code and develop 21st century technology skills?

To keep up with the world around them. I want to see my kids be able to do anything, and to know that they can do anything. My class motto is, “Don’t say ‘I can’t’ because you admit you’re not trying. Believe you can, no matter what.”

What is one of the most exciting things you have seen happen with coding in your classroom?

They don’t want to stop! They want to do it all of the time.

What are some challenges you have had implementing coding in your school?

Not everyone wants to do it just yet. There’s always an element of being afraid to try it, with anything new. For me, I just dive right in. I’m not afraid- whatever it is, you have to just try it. I tell my kids that and I do it; I show them you have to just try.

What is one coding goal you have as an instructor?

For kids to take it home and show their parents, their friends. Share it, show someone else, be excited about what we’re doing.

We have to ask: How do you make time to take care of yourself during the school year?

I run marathons! I run, I get kids to run with me. I’ve had a few kids do 5ks with me. You have to make time between the time you don’t think you have- you have to do it.

What do you think is the most important thing for kids to take away from their education?

For them to believe that they can be anything, and to believe it whole heartedly. To know that they’re loved, every single one of them. In here, in my classroom, they are all loved and appreciated and they know it.

Lastly, what do you like to do for fun outside of teaching?

I have two daughters, I like to hang out with my girls whenever we  can. We like to watch movies and be together.

Thank you, Marilou! We are inspired by the love you have for your students and the expectations you have for them to reach their potential.

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#KidsCanCode News: Empowering Your Students

Join us for KidsCanCode every Tuesday

Greg Satell astutely points out that the average teenager today has more access to information than even a genius working at a top research facility 50 years ago.  Retaining knowledge is slowly becoming obsolete, but the ability to work with others, collaborate, and understand patterns still remains inherently human. (Via Forbes Opinions)

Considering a BYOD program and looking for the right resources?  The Consortium of School Networking is making knowledge on BYOD programs and mobile learning more accessible through its Mobile Learning Initiative.  Gain some basic insights, and learn how to access their resources in this article! (via MindShift)

Implementing Mobile Learning

What happens when a tech billionaire sits down with an amazing teacher?  Read/watch their conversation as they discuss the Common Core, ELL students, pedagogy, and professional development. (via EdSurge)

Help students realize that owning their mistakes actually empowers them because it provides them with the opportunity to fix their errors.  Great resource for those with a programming curriculum! (via Terri Eichholz & Engage Their Minds)

Read more about the ways three different teachers in rural, urban, and immigrant communities are handling BYOD issues, including trust, equity, and student-centered learning. (via MindShift)


Want to chat more about tech, STEM, and coding?  Join us for our #KidsCanCode Twitter Chat every Tuesday @8pm EST!



#KidsCanCode News: Students & STEM

Join us for KidsCanCode every Tuesday

After a bad perm that left her with thinning hair at the age of 11, Jasmine created her own successful line of all-natural hair products, and has discovered a love of computer science and robotics.  (via Huffington Post)

There are many obstacles facing students and teachers striving for programming education.  Read how these students and teachers are refusing to wait for systematic changes, and are moving towards grassroots development.  (via San Jose Mercury News)

As computer science becomes more available and prevalent to students, both kids and their parents are seeing programming as a beneficial skill and talent, as well as an excellent career option.  (via Los Angeles Times)

After participating in the Engineering Fair, Amber Barron realized that the best way for her to help her fellow students through the same process was to develop her own curriculum.  (via Huffington Post & KUTV2 News)

Ever wonder how Lean Startup methods can be applied to education?  Steve Blank outlines how this is not only possible, but necessary.  (via Huffington Post)

Lean Startup and Education

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