Monday, February 02, 2009

The Upside-down Pop Quiz

Remember pop quizzes? "Class, take out a sheet of paper. I assume you've all read Chapter Three. So let's play the Read-My-Mind Game, also known as Gotcha! Bwahahahah...." Even if you'd done the homework and read the chapter, you never knew if what *you'd* gotten out of the chapter matched what the teacher thought was important. Oh, how we hated them.

A couple of years ago I was designing a new course with a History professor, and inspiration struck. Instead of punishing students for not reading the book (or not getting the "right stuff" out of it), why not provide a positive incentive? We want them to read the book. What do they want that we can provide? Grades! A simple transaction, really: You do what I want, I give you something you want. It's worked for generations of parents and corrupt government officials (until they get caught, anyway). It's called BRIBERY: Read the textbook, and it's worth a letter grade to you.

So we turned the pop quiz on its head. We created untimed, open-book online quizzes for the text chapters we assigned. The questions came directly out of the book, and were designed to be answered while looking at the text. (After all, life is an open-book test.) The quizzes were posted on the class website (Blackboard) the week before the discussion of the readings. Students could take the quiz as many times as they wanted. The feedback to incorrect answers directed students to the appropriate page of the text. We did not give the correct answers. The sum of all the quizzes amounted to 10% of the final grade.

Questions were a mix of high-level, conceptual, big-picture items that required students to integrate ideas across an entire section, and nitty-gritty detail questions that could not be answered apart from the text. Case in point: The text contained a passage from an original source document listing government jobs in Massachusets in 1690. The list included baker, brewer, collector of tithes, person to keep dogs out of church, rebuker of boys, and so on. So we put this question on the quiz: "According to the text, all of the following were government jobs in Massachusets in 1690 EXCEPT..." and then we listed the jobs above, inserting the red herring, "Admonisher of young ladies." Sounds reasonable, but it wasn't listed in the text. (I suppose colonial girls were better-behaved than their brothers.)

Now, I guarantee you, if you ask a question like that on a closed-book test, the students would be lighting torches and sharpening pitchforks, and with good reason. Expecting students to memorize a list like that is completely unreasonable. But it's perfectly reasonable to ask them to read that paragraph closely at least once, in order to kickstart a class discussion of colonial attitudes about the role of government.

Ok, fine, sounds great. Innovative teaching strategy, hoo-hah hurray, golf-claps all 'round. But does it work?

Yes. Emphatically so.

The data showed that most students took the quiz more than once, some up to four times in order to improve their scores. The time-stamps on successive quiz attempts showed how students were driven to the text, forcing them to ferret out the answers. The instructor could see which questions the students had missed, showing which concepts needed extra attention in the lecture and discussion.

In class, the discussions made it very clear that the students had read the assigned chapter, and read it carefully. And since the quiz questions reflected what the instructor thought was important, they were all on the same page regarding both the big ideas and the details. The instructor didn't need to spend time rehashing the chapter content; it became a starting point for the discussion.

So, I commend the upside-down pop quiz to you. Give it a try, and if you'd be so kind, let me know how it works for you.


Jenna Ream said...

I love it.... the use of assessment to promote learning,now there's a novel concept! What I like most about it is how it teaches HOW to read a text- guiding the questionning, reading, questionning re-reading process that supports learning the ideas and more importantly familiarizing yourself with where the information can be found when needed again in the future. You refer to life as open-book. I so agree! In the first week of each class I teach we have 'Reading Bootcamp- or How to Read For This Class'. I am going to add upside-down pop quizzes to build on and recycle that focus throughout the semester. Thanks for the articulate and entertaining expression of a great idea!

Anonymous said...

How do you ensure that students aren't simply sharing answers with each other?

SkyDaddy said...

Good question. I don't. In fact, if a group of students want to take the quiz together, great! My quizzes are typically taken from a pool that's at least twice the size of the quiz, so the likelihood of two or three students getting even mostly the same questions is pretty low. The point of the quiz is not to assess their learning (though I do that in order to see if I need to do any touch-ups at the start of class) but to given them an incentive to be guided through the book. While I haven't (yet) done any rigorous study of whether final grades improve as a result of using this approach, anecdotal evidence from other faculty suggest that students come to class prepared.

Nancy said...

I think this is a fantastic idea! I hated pop quizzes and I am a terrible "test taker". This would definitely inspire me to read a book that I wasn't interested in. I think if a child is a "cheater" they will find a way to "cheat" but if a child really wants to learn this will make it much more fun and desirable for them.

Davis Academy Earth Science - Katie Healan said...

I think that this is an amazing idea and would love to adapt this concept for my middle school science students. As one who always struggled with decoding a textbook, this is something that would have helped me tremendously, and I believe that it would work for my 6th graders as well.

As I brainstorm about incorporating the Upsided-down Pop Quiz into my teaching, the following questions come to mind (sorry to bombard you):

1. Do you know the average amount of time your students spend on these assignments?
2. Did students work strictly at home, or did you ever devote any class time to this?
3. Did you personally read all of the responses and give feedback, and if so, was this a huge time constraint?
4. Did you set up each quiz so that students could no longer access them on discussion day, or did you continue to keep them available?

SkyDaddy said...

1. Do you know the average amount of time your students spend on these assignments?

I didn't have the timer going, but almost certainly less than an hour per week, assuming they'd read the chapter. The quizzes were typically 20 questions. If they'd read the chapter, the questions were generally pretty straightforward.

2. Did students work strictly at home, or did you ever devote any class time to this?

The only class time I took was to clarify concepts that a majority of students missed. The whole idea is to free up class time by using the text as a baseline of common knowledge.

3. Did you personally read all of the responses and give feedback, and if so, was this a huge time constraint?

I read all the incorrect responses, since it was possible that a student's answer was reasonable though incorrect. The feedback was automatic - just a reference to the page number.

4. Did you set up each quiz so that students could no longer access them on discussion day, or did you continue to keep them available?

They became unavailable at the start of class. I then made them available again in order to review for the midterm and final exams.

joan blumenfeld said...

I think that this is a good idea. Often, in order to avoid the reading of the text, my students only answer the questions at the end of the chapter that were assigned, or define words in the chapter as they supposedly read the chapter. However, although I keep emphasizing that they need to read the book, because of time constraints, or lack of interest, they don't read the whole chapter. I often feel that even though I have assigned the readings, I have to "spoon feed" what the chapter says to my sixth graders. They become too dependent on my doing this. The upside down quiz, if posted soon enough, would insure that they do the readings. Often, when I give a pop quiz, it is too easy because I am just trying to see IF they read the chapter, rather than what they got out of it. I would love to try this. I also like the idea of "reading boot camp" mentioned in one of the response posts. A combination of boot camp and the upside down quiz would be a great way to start the year.

SkyDaddy said...

The funny thing is, the USPQ is in fact spoon feeding the chapter to the students. The quiz focuses students on the aspects of the chapter that you think are relevant.

This is Not A Bad Thing. It tells them what Big Picture ideas are important, and what Little Tiny Details that you think are interesting.

Now here's a twist to try: For extra credit, have the students write their own questions. The payoff for them is that you'll use the "good ones" on the unit test, midterm, or final. Then they go digging for more interesting details, or thinking big for more Big Ideas (like how this chapter relates to previous chapters).

Devious, you say? What's wrong with that? :-D

Suzanne said...

I love this idea. I too feel that spoon feeding what I want my students to get out of the book is not conducive to them really them owning it and understanding it for themselves. I really love your last idea about kids creating the questions because kids love being the "teacher".

Mrs. Hamlin said...

Great idea.

Mrs. Hamlin said...

What quiz maker did you use so that it pulled from a vast array of questions and generated more than one quiz?

Linda said...

Great idea, I will have to put some thought into how to adapt this to my math classes. Getting them to use the textbook to look at examples and them apply them assigned problems would be a good way to utilize this concept.

Anonymous said...

Sounds interesting. I wonder how it would work with math.

SkyDaddy said...

@Mrs. Hamlin - In some cases I or the instructor write the questions; in other cases they come with the textbook on an instructor's Cd, or can be downloaded from from the publisher's website, or installed along with other content in a Blackboard course cartridge.

Kenny said...

I think that this is great, teachers need to improvise and come up with new ways to assess our students. Innovative teachers make for more interested learners and there is nothing wrong with trying something new, especially if it works!!!

Janet said...

I hate giving (and hated taking) pop quizzes, so I like the idea of The Upside-down Pop Quiz. But I am not sure what makes this different than a worksheet or review questions that lead students only to the information you ask about.
Maybe I missed something. i.e. I didn't read as carefully as I should have--typical of most students.

SkyDaddy said...

Hi, Janet. I'm curious - how did you find this nearly two-year old post?

What's different (apart from the novelty factor of an online quiz where you are required to have the book open, and you can take it as many times as you want) is that the student who retakes it has to answer ALL the questions again, not just the ones they missed. So, they have to process all the information over again. And if you draw questions from at random from a pool, it gets even better.

Several of the faculty I work with have been using this for a while, and they love it. The students come to class really knowing and understanding the material.