Change Quiz-No’s to Quiz-Yes’s

For the first several months of my teaching career, I struggled with finding a method of assessing students’ at-home reading assignments. I couldn’t seem to create multiple choice questions hard enough for the kids just reading Cliff’s Notes and not so hard as to resort to asking about minutia. I discovered the foundation of my answer in Carol Jago’s fantastic book, With Rigor For All (now updated as a second edition).

Before I explain, here’s a downloadable sample for To Kill a Mockingbird: TeacherSoup TKM RQ Ch. 18-19 . It ain’t flashy, but it does its job well. (A motto I use for many things in life: cars, kids’ diapers, my hair.)

For the first reading quiz, I take extra time to explain to students the format, rules, and my expectations for their answers. The rules are simple:

1) Students create a four-square box on their paper. Some kids fold their papers and use the creases as their lines, some kids draw boxes. Either way is fine with me. There’s something about having each answer in its own quadrant that makes reading the answers fast and easy. (Another motto I use for many thing in life: cars, dinner, my hair. Your mama.)  Students should also write the title of the quiz at the top of their paper.

2) I always give students six questions and they can choose four questions to answer. Don’t you hate it when you read something and someone else asks you a question about the one part you can’t remember? So do kids! I wanted to hold kids accountable, but not punish them for lacking a photographic memory. I was also selfishly motivated. Four short-answer questions takes time, but not an unreasonable amount of time.

3) All answers must be written in complete sentences.

With short-answer questions, I could get at the how, why, and what (which normally indicate a deeper understanding of content), as opposed to the when or where (which typically reply on details or basic facts). These questions made students think about their reading and could preclude further whole-class discussion. I could also ask students to identify the speaker and context of a quotation and explain its significance. Every so often, I would ask students to draw a picture and label the details (one of Jago’s ideas).

The four-question format simplified the scoring for each answer: 25 points means you thoroughly answered the question; 20 means you proved you understood the reading but left out an important point; 15 means you read but perhaps forgot some aspects or didn’t fully understand; 10 means your answer shows a partial understanding (scoring lots of “10″s was usually indicated a student was simply skimming, reading Cliff’s Notes, or only completing part of the reading); 5 points means you didn’t read but maybe lucked into getting credit for some small detail; zero means totally wrong or left blank.

When students finish, they turn in their work and start a new assignment or get a head start on that night’s reading. If a kid isn’t writing anything down, that’s a good opportunity for me to have a one-on-one conference about why he hadn’t read or why she didn’t understand the reading and discuss how we can solve the problem next time.

I gave my students a reading quiz nearly every day following a reading assignment. The quizzes were meant to reward students for doing the reading by giving them the opportunity to prove their work and also to underscore the importance of the reading. How could I teach the book if the kids weren’t reading the book? In that vein, I also used the quizzes to guide my instruction. (“Why did half of the class miss the question about the fire at Miss Maudie’s house?”) If I decided not to give a quiz, I didn’t tell the kids beforehand; for the next quiz, I would just combine two night’s worth of reading.

These quizzes really reveal who knows the text, who’s struggling, and who’s trying to yank a teacher’s chain. I’ve been known to write “Don’t waste my time” on a few quizzes that were full of Grade A Horse Manure. Alternately, I’ve congratulated kids on answers that taught me something.

Whether you teach English/Language Arts or not, I hope these ideas assist you in your teaching and your students’ learning.