Campus: Seattle University

4. Debriefing Weekly Quizzes

Educator: Greg Mason, Associate Professor of Mechanical Engineering and PACCAR Chair
Context: In-class; Control Systems MEGR 4380
Keywords: quizzes, class discussion
Student Activity Time: 15 minutes

Students immediately reflected on the difficult concepts included on their weekly quizzes.

Introducing the Reflection Activity

Oftentimes, homework assignments are a difficult way for students to demonstrate their knowledge, and can be time consuming for instructors to grade. In order to encourage students to use homework assignments as an opportunity to study instead of focusing on earning a grade, an educator offered weekly quizzes. Immediately after the short quizzes are completed in class, the educator facilitates a debriefing conversation. The purpose of this activity is to help students to identify challenging concepts immediately after completing a quiz and to support students’ accountability of the course content in a consistent and meaningful way.

At the beginning of the term, the educator explained the weekly quizzes, schedule, topics, and the contributions to the final course grading structure. The educator also set the expectation that students offer some answer in the debriefing process after each quiz is completed. After students took the quiz, the educator moderated a reflective conversation with students. To make the discussion interactive, the educator selected one student to explain the first step to solve the problem. If the student knew the first steps, the educator moved on to another student for the next step. If a student was unsure of the next step, the educator asked the student to describe a previous step. As the entire problem is worked by a sampling of the class, students have an opportunity to reflect, and make connections and meaning of the material on the quiz.

As a result of the weekly quiz debrief, students report increased motivation to stay on track with assignments and reading anticipation of the quiz and the possibility of being called on during the debrief conversation. Students also report increased efficiency in their preparation for class, as achieving a grade for the homework is no longer the top priority. Students also collaborated in class to help each other solve the quiz problems or difficult concepts in the class discussion period.

 Recreating the Reflection Activity

Step Description
1 Provide students with a schedule of weekly quizzes and topics.
2 Administer the quiz to students and collect the quiz.
3 Offer the students 1-2 minutes to reflect on the topics that they got stuck on during the quiz.
4 Re-teach and discuss the parts of the quiz that are difficult.
5 Open the classroom for discussion of difficult parts of the quiz.
In the words of the Educator: Tips and Inspiration

Prepare students for the quiz. Right before every quiz I give students a chance to relax. Giving students a post it note to write down how they feel can help them relax. For the last ten years, I’ve always read a poem before the quiz. I say, “Here’s your 30 seconds of peace and quiet, you don’t have to listen to a word I’m saying, but it’s your chance to settle down.” Students have commented that they like it because it helps them clear their heads before the quiz. Giving them time to stop and not think is just as important as stopping and giving them a chance to think. It also really helps the students feel more comfortable, so that the atmosphere is helpful for the reflection after the quiz. 

Make the discussion count. Doing the discussion right after the quiz makes a big difference. Students generally remember what they just wrote down, what they were confused or stuck on, and having a discussion about the problem right away helps to alleviate some of the stress of thinking about the quiz and ignoring the rest of class. A lot of the feedback I get from students, either in person or on the evaluations, say that the activity, taking a quiz and immediately debriefing, helps to keep them on track with the material. I keep the discussion short, 15 minutes or so, but they have a chance to talk to a neighbor, or think about what they did or didn’t do on the quiz. The small part of their final grade also helps to offset the midterm and the final.

What was the inspiration for the reflection activity? As an instructor, you spend a lot of time grading a test and honestly, who cares? We need to give students their grades based on something, but test scores aren’t always the best way to do that. Homework falls short too, because they can do homework together, or simply copy the solutions and it’s not an indication of whether they know the material or not.

Debriefing the quiz weekly, in class, really helps to get the class on the same page with the material. A few years ago, I would just do the solution in class right after the quiz, but it’s just not as helpful for the students who don’t really know what’s going on. This year I’ve been using the quizzes in a different way in order to help the students who aren’t doing as well. I call on specific students to help reveal topics that the whole class may be struggling with. At the same time, I create an environment so that students know that they should have an answer of some kind. Saying I don’t know won’t make me move on to another person.

Another reason I do this activity is because I realized how much time is simply wasted in class. I don’t like standing up and just lecturing or giving assessments just to give a grade. The past few years I’ve intentionally giving students homework where I’m easy on the grading and oftentimes just give them the solutions ahead of time. Their job is to work through it and come to me when they get stuck and then have weekly quizzes to make sure they stay on track. Usually students just take the test, you grade it and return it to the students, and they just look at the grade and move on. They don’t really get anything out of it. Using this quiz approach helps to make sure that they are aware that it is their responsibility to immediately review their work and see where they went wrong, or identify what they didn’t know.


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