Daily Quizzes: the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly—Part 2

You may recall that quite some time ago, I tried to convince you that giving your students a one- or two-question quiz every single day had a myriad of good aspects. You can check out why I loved this method in Part 1. As a quick refresher, I taught Calculus I four days a week the semester that I employed this method. Now, we’re going to discuss the bad (easily fixable) and ugly (not so easily fixable) issues which I ran into that semester. To keep this post from being a total downer, we are also going to talk about a new experiment I tried the next semester that I taught. 

The Bad:

  • Keeping track of the papers was a nightmare. I had 30 new papers to go through every day and I spent several minutes of my precious class time handing them back to students. I also think the students struggled to keep all of these short quizzes organized. On my end, the fix is to be more organized (always the dream) and to have admitted that my system wasn’t working in order to try something else. To help keep the students more organized with so much paper floating around, I now try to communicate how I organize my resources more openly and that has seemed to help.
  • In the last post, I said that grading was a “Good” but it was also a “Bad.” It felt better when (as planned) I could grade the same day as I gave the quiz. However, that wasn’t always possible. The weeks when I got behind on grading were horrible. I stared at the ever increasing pile of quizzes with dread until I got the courage to tackle it. I don’t really have a fix for this part of grading (it is nearly guaranteed that I get behind in grading at least once during any semester) so perhaps this issue is more of a warning label in case you try this yourself: getting behind in grading is rough.

The Ugly:

  • I really didn’t enjoy giving something called a quiz every day. I think my students felt unnecessarily pressured to master material quickly. A bit of that pressure is good, but some students felt palpably apprehensive coming to class each day for several weeks at the beginning. They felt better after several reassurances that it wasn’t as high-stakes as the word “quiz” would imply. One possible way to fix this is to stop calling it a quiz, but that would take away all of the pressure, which doesn’t seem ideal either.
  • Giving a quiz every day took class time. Sure, the quiz was written to take five minutes, but between passing them out, collecting them, and returning the previous quiz, I lost nearly ten minutes every day. You could fix this by giving these quizzes online before class, but then you lose the opportunity for feedback on the process and some students will use resources other than their brain (regardless of the rules or what is beneficial).

In trying to hold on to the benefits of daily quizzes while addressing some of the issues, I tried something different last spring. Instead of a quiz at the start of each day, I would write the same question that I would have given as a quiz on the board for the students to work on as they came to class and we would discuss paths to solutions together. On Friday, I would give a quiz consisting of questions nearly identical to those we had worked on for the past week. There was incentive to arrive on time since the students got a preview for the quiz, but I didn’t have to keep track of so many papers. The students didn’t have a strong reason to study ahead of time (since no part of this was graded) but we struggled through the problems together, resulting in some really good conversations about the previous material.

This routine came with its own challenges just like any other experiment with teaching style, but overall, I liked the vibe of my classroom with the “warm-up question” structure better than the daily quizzes. Neither of these options is a “one-size-fits-all” solution but both added a lot of richness to my classroom that I couldn’t have predicted.

About Sarah K. Salmon

I am a graduate student in mathematics studying algebraic combinatorics flavored by Coxeter groups at University of Colorado, Boulder. I earned my B.S. in mathematics at Northern Arizona University in May 2014.
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3 Responses to Daily Quizzes: the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly—Part 2

  1. john carter says:

    great post

  2. jeff thomson says:

    where is the good part

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