Still thinking a lot about student feedback around here, and one great way to get a feel for how students are doing and what they are learning is to frequently ask them to show you: quiz them at least once a week.
Depending on your style and level, that might sound like a lot. But the quizzes are routine (i.e. not surprises), generally not long, and have point-values more on par with homework than with exams. And they can be incredibly informative about students’ progress.
Quizzes can take many forms, but just frequently quizzing isn’t enough. Quizzes don’t just generate grades to record: teachers and students need to respond to the results.
Did a lot of the class completely bomb the quiz? Take a moment to listen to what their errors tell you about how you taught the material!
What patterns do you see in who did poorly on the quiz? Did your teaching reach mostly your book-learners but notsomuch your auditory learners? Did only your star pupil (who should’ve placed into the next class up) pass?
How many opportunities did your students have to practice the material and check for accuracy during the lesson?
Do you know that the students understood the material immediately after the lesson, via exit tickets or something similar?
Did students know to study this material?
How did the homework support retention or distract from that particular topic?
How new and/or advanced and/or complicated is the material? Do the students just need a bit more time and exposure?
Most importantly, the purpose of asking these questions is to move forward more effectively, not to feel guilty about a less-than-perfect lesson. We don’t get re-dos, but we do get tomorrows.
Helping Students Adjust
Low quiz grades do not always trigger a constructive response in our students. They may conclude that the teacher is mean and/or terrible, that the course is too difficult, or that they themselves are somehow inherently inadequate.
It doesn’t occur to everyone in the thick of the stress of the semester that poor quiz grades might be helpful indicators pointing toward specific actions they can take to improve their mastery of the material.
The call to action needs to come from the teacher.
Explicit Call to Study – include studying and/or correcting quiz errors as an ongoing homework assignment. Consider offering back a percentage of points for corrections.
Early Warning – remind students that the quiz material will also be on major exams and/or assignments. This was just a first warning that they don’t understand it well enough yet. There is still time to master the information/skill.
Study Skills? – use multiple poor quiz grades as a trigger to speak to students privately about their strategies for taking notes and studying. You can gently point out that what they’re doing isn’t working. You can refer them to various college services, internet and YouTube resources that will help them beef up their skills.
I think especially in ESOL, it can be very surprising to teachers to find out what the students learned well and what they missed.
Quizzing a lot might sound harsh, but if you keep the grades low-stakes and the feedback front-and-center, the results can be eye-opening and useful.