During a school visit a few years ago I encouraged the staff to adopt common classroom routines to help their students be more successful. During my presentation to the staff, one teacher challenged me. He felt that committing to common classroom routines school-wide was “taylorism”. This particular teacher made it clear that he had no interest in adjusting his classroom protocols. He started each class with a quiz and felt that it motivated his students to pay closer attention in class, as well as do all of their homework. Even though the number of below passing grades in his classes suggested this tactic was not effective, he wasn’t willing to change anything.
You can read my argument for simple, but shared, classroom routines here. To summarize, my encouragement to this staff was to share best practices. My question to this teacher was if his starting routine really did motivate students then why was it being implemented in isolation? Why weren’t other teachers employing this strategy in other classes on campus?
I have four major issues with the practice of starting with a quiz.
First, we know assessments can produce anxiety in students. This is counter to creating psychologically safe learning spaces which promote and foster learning. When cortisol levels spike it is difficult for students to retrieve information they have learned. If we are hoping to engage and motivate students this is not the best strategy.
Second, starting class with a quiz does not provide the student or the teacher with any constructive formative feedback in the moment. What’s the point of an assessment if it does not help guide an educator’s instruction? What good is a quiz if it does not give students the opportunity to self-assess, identify areas of weakness or misunderstanding, and act on them? Even if a teacher can see that some students scored poorly on their assessment there is no time to adjust the day’s lesson in response.
Third, what if a student arrives to class genuinely confused and in need of clarification? Does this student still take the quiz? How are teachers building trust with their students if they willingly set them up for failure? It is kind of like taking one of those blindfolded trust walks and watching as a student trips on a bench and falls down. I am not advocating for starting with a quiz, but if that is your practice please carve out time to first identify misconceptions, discuss or reteach those concepts, before engaging in a quiz?
Fourth, and most importantly, who really wants the opportunity to fail the moment they start something? After a person, young or old, experiences routine failure, they are more likely to perceive themself as a failure, and possibly give up. Carol Dweck, in Mindset: The New Psychology of Success says it best, “For twenty years, my research has shown that the view you adopt for yourself profoundly affects the way you lead your life. It can determine whether you become the person you want to be and whether you accomplish the things you value.”
Starting with a quiz will not motivate students. Fear will never motivate students.
In terms of assessing students, at the start of class or otherwise, here are my recommendations. Borrowing the words of my friend Bonnie Nieves, “…students learn best when they aren’t being evaluated.” In other words, when you assess your students try your best to make it feel less like a quiz or test or exam. Also, pack as many “no-stakes” assessments into your lessons as humanly possible. There is no fear when it comes to no-stakes assessments. As I explain in my article on seeing classes as teams, teams need practice to get better. No-stakes assessments are those practices in education. The more practice students get leading up to a high-stakes assessment, the more likely they are to perform well and feel good about it.
Finally, be sure your no-stakes, and high-stakes (or any in between), assessments give students the routine opportunity to reflect and self-assess and make sure they provide you with authentic formative feedback. Learning is a journey. Giving students regular opportunities to learn to identify where they are on that road toward competency is critical. When teachers design assessments that provide data to guide and coach students on their journey we all succeed.