Thursday, December 2, 2010

Collective Mini-Quizzes

One of the greatest things about teaching is how much I learn from my students. In my Hispanic Civilization class, we write 4 mini-quizzes throughout the semester. This semester, a student suggested that the last mini-quiz should be done as group work. I was very resistant to the idea but the students were so enthusiastic about experimenting with this new format that I agreed to give it a try. This was a fantastic group of students who have worked very hard to make the course successful, so I wanted to do something nice for them.

To my surprise, the collective mini-quiz format worked great. I was afraid that in a group with one smart student and two weaker students, the smart one would be forced to do all the work, while the weaker students would just snooze and update their Facebook pages. However, I was forgetting about how much peer pressure means at that age. Weaker students didn't want their stronger group-mates to know that they were weaker, so they worked hard to make a good impression on their peers. In a collective search for an answer, students shared information that each one of them had and arrived at a result that was often a lot better than they could have produced individually.

Of course, the group format was not obligatory. I remember how much I always suffered as a student when forced to take part in any group activity. I told the students that they could work individually if they preferred, and several of them chose that option.

For me, it was a revelation that collective work on a mini-quiz could produce great results. It's normal to project one's own feelings on everybody else, so I always believed that this kind of an assignment would be a waste of time in a lecture course. (In language courses it is, of course, completely different because almost every assignment is a group one.) Now, I will be experimenting with the collective min-quiz format on a regular basis.


sarcozona said...

As a very strong student who has participated in similar activities, I've always been pleasantly surprised at what the 'weaker' students bring to the activity. Maybe I started knowing all the answers already and could have completed the activity faster, but our group results tend to be more interesting or reflect a broader set of problem solving approaches. And sometimes I've just learned to appreciate how hard my peers might work for something that's easy for me.

Anonymous said...

When I was in nursing school, the woman who sat next to me was failing after the first semester. I started a study group (pretty much just to keep her going; I was doing fine) and asked her to lead it. She overprepared for our study sessions and really excelled at re-covering the material we'd had in class. She achieved a low B average by the end of our 2 year program and passed the certification exam on the first try.

That was an eye-opener for me; I really thought she was going to fail, and there was no reason for it. She was great in the hospital setting but just couldn't do the written work and did poorly on tests (my problem was just the opposite; I struggled with time management on the hospital floor).