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May 2015 Tip of the Month: Don't Start Class With A Quiz

Posted by 
Mitch Weathers
May 26, 2015

Tip Of The Month



"Give students a few chances at success before they have the chance to fail. Pack as many celebrated victories into the first two minutes of class as humanly possible!"

A few years ago during a talk I was giving to a school faculty, I was drawn into a heated discussion with a veteran teacher. During my talk I proposed that starting class with a quiz does one of two things: it makes students who know the answers feel good about themselves and engage in the class, or it makes students who don’t know the answer feel bad about themselves and likely disengage.

I explained that if his students were similar to the students I teach, the last thing we’d want to do is alienate the struggling students the moment the bell rings. If we did, we would be far more likely to have classroom management issues. Furthermore, starting class with a quiz would do nothing to inform my instruction that day, that moment.

When I finished my rationale this teacher quickly raised his hand. He explained that he gave homework every night and had a quiz the next day to test mastery. I inquired about the issue of students who did not attain mastery on their homework, and who therefore seemed predestined to fail the quiz. This teacher responded that the threat of a quiz the next day incited motivation in his students to do their homework, and in doing their homework, the students gained mastery. When asked how he assessed whether or not the students had mastery, he answered, “the quiz.” I pointed out that his routine was setting some students up for failure. We clearly were having a bit of a communication breakdown…or standoff.

Trying to gently probe a bit further, I asked about the success rates of his students on the daily quiz. I was not intending to set this teacher up but I knew the students at the school were failing miserably, particularly in his discipline. He acknowledged the poor results, but insisted it was because the students were not doing their homework and that the students were lazy.  Whether I was right or not, and whether it was the students’ fault or not, one thing was clear: what this teacher was doing was not working.

After our banter went back and forth for a little while, we politely agreed to disagree.

If you teach at a school that serves a historically under-served population, failure is the last thing your students need to experience in the classroom the minute that bell rings. If you want to give a quiz, do so later in the period once you have had a chance to clear up misconceptions and re-teach content from the previous class. Give students a few chances at success before they have the chance to fail. Pack as many celebrated victories into the first two minutes of class as humanly possible!

These student-successes must be “celebrated;” if successes are not celebrated—or noticed—by you, the teacher, whether publicly or privately, then for the students they cease to exist.  It is akin to the “tree falling in the forest” riddle: if no one is there to hear it, does it make a sound?  If no one acknowledges the success, did it happen?

I don’t know if this will convince you to start your class with anything other than a quiz, but I hope it does. Implementing a starting routine that is clear, easy to understand, and one in which students can succeed will effect positive change in your classroom and in student mastery. Ensure that this starting routine exposes any misconceptions the students may have regarding the previous day’s lesson. If you need suggestions, try using the Kick-Off question on Organized Binder’s Lifeline (Page B). Just try beginning with something other than a quiz for a week or two and see what happens.

Give your students the chance to succeed before you give them the chance to fail.

Thanks for reading and sharing,


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