Making my quiz a better opportunity to learn

Today I did something that I’ve never done in almost 20 years of teaching.  It isn’t original – the kids told me that their science teacher does this all the time.  But for some reason, today was the first time the idea clicked for me.

We’re taking a quiz on properties and equivalent expressions.  For most sixth graders, variables are very abstract and confusing, so combining like terms can be a train wreck.  Based on how long they spent on the practice quiz yesterday, I expected the one-page quiz to take all period.  However, 10 minutes into the quiz, I could tell it was not even close.  I could also tell that there were a lot of mistakes being made.  So, inspiration struck, in the form of a blue highlighter.

I told the kids that, contrary to my strict “No one leaves their seat during a quiz or test” policy, they should line up next to my desk when they finished.  I quickly scanned their answers, highlighting the problem number on any problem where the answer was incorrect.  I did not provide any other feedback.  Students then returned to their desks to take another shot at those questions.  The next time they turned it in, I took it to grade later.

My hope is that by knowing what they did correctly, they could identify their mistakes.  In essence, I was thinking that they could learn from their own correct work and lift themselves up by their bootstraps.  We’ll see how effective that was when I sit down to grade them and when we continue studying tomorrow.

There were a lot of factors working in my favor.  My largest class is 17 students, so I never had a long line waiting.  Students at my private school are extremely well behaved, so there was no talking or pushing in line. Combining like terms is a simple enough topic that I could scan the answers quickly without using an answer key.

The students were a little confused (“You mean then we get a better grade?”) and very appreciative (“You’re the nicest teacher ever!”)  I work hard to develop a culture that values learning from mistakes in my classroom.  I hope that this is one way my students see my actions speaking as loud as my words.

If you use similar techniques, I would love to hear from you in the comments.  I’m sure that there are refinements I could use to make this more effective for my students.

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