Ending the reading/quiz cycle

I certainly didn’t mean for the relationship to end suddenly. It has been tenuous for awhile, various arguments and complaints, but I always thought it was a communication problem. But finally I had to walk away.

In my History of England class, the textbook has been an issue for a long time. The most suitable and available academic text, by the Messrs Roberts, is two volumes, so that won’t work. The class is, unfortunately, only one semester (we have two for the history of the U.S., with a much shorter history). And realistically, even one volume is asking for trouble.

All the books I’ve used, including works by Roy Strong, Asa Briggs, and F.E. Halliday are outdated, out of print, or both. These have been replaced by volumes that sell well in the U.K., but require a previous knowledge lacking in American students: works by Jeremy Black, Simon Schama, and Simon Jenkins. I’ve been using the Penguin Illustrated History, which I love. It’s visual, I’ve written a bunch of quizzes for it, and it’s beautifully written. But students have become less enthusiastic, and it’s outdated now anyway.

Besides, it costs money. All my other classes require only my own pdf textbook, freely downloadable and printable. We are now required to indicate in the class registration system if we have a low-cost or no-cost class, so that automatically creates competition among classes as students realize they can take a class for less money. This was my last class with a textbook that had to be purchased, and it wasn’t easy for the bookstore, or students online, to find an inexpensive copy. So I unceremoniously dumped the textbook, and spend a couple of weeks this summer downloading, editing, and reformatting appropriate pages from the web. Then I wrote matching quizzes.

Canvas is not user friendly when it comes to importing, editing, and reusing quizzes, in any format. It’s test banks are obscure and hard to use. The result of my machinations was a set of single-question, matching quizzes for the new readings, and my old (now five-question) multiple-choice quizzes for my lecture. So I put one due Wednesday and the other Sunday.

Well, now the weekly course page was becoming really cluttered:

I don’t want to go all Copernican on this, but if I were a student it’s starting to look like hoops to jump through, instead of ways to explore material.

So I thought, what do I want them to get out of the reading anyway? My lectures already have a good outline of the main events of English political, social, and cultural history. And the depth is already provided by the documents we “read and discuss” (i.e. annotate in Perusall) each week. These readings are pretty intense for today’s community college students (Magna Carta, Archbishop Cranmer). So instead of adding new readings, it may be better to have them deal with these documents more.

I spent yesterday deleting all the quizzes, both lecture and reading. Instead, I’m having each student submit a “Document analysis paragraph” which uses all the names of the documents to support any single idea they have about the era we’re studying. I made a silly sample paragraph to model what I want them to do:

It’s in the form of a single-question graded survey, which will automatically apply points if they turn it in, so I can read them at my leisure and communicate individually with students who are struggling. And now students are doing, not reading and quizzing.

And thus I’ve broken the entire reading/quiz cycle in one swoop. I didn’t set out to do this — it just happened. But I’m pretty sure I’ll have no regrets.


4 comments to Ending the reading/quiz cycle

  • This sounds so great, Lisa! My Copernican moment like that was when I switched to my UnTextbook some years back where students were choosing the readings… and there was just no way I could match up that process of choice with the way the LMS worked. So I ditched the reading quizzes and switched to the reading notes blog posts, and it was night-and-day different: so much more useful for students and for me too. I hope you will have a good experience with your new approach based on students DOING. Yes!!!

    • Lisa M Lane

      Thanks, Laura! I confess I did immediately want to go in to all my classes and do the same.

  • It strikes me that you achieve in one step several of the “small teaching” suggestions Jim Lang had in his new book, including knowledge retrieval, connecting, and self-explaining. Nice approach!

    • Lisa M Lane

      Hi Britt! I do tend to spend more time these days looking at, critiquing, and changing my own methods than I do reading articles or books about pedagogy, but good to know I’m being trendy. 🙂 I’ll take a closer look at Lang’s book.

      Fighting Canvas’ backward simplicity, like battling the Hays Code, can lead to creativity. I’m still navigating the intersection of the LMS’ deterministic pedagogy, the creation of meaningful work for students, classes that contain too many students per section, and the creation of accessible, friendly, and useful learning spaces. Lang’s ideas about having students practice a range of cognitive skills, even if I come to it unconsciously, are welcome.