How to flip your class with quizzes in 5 steps

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Measuring a student’s knowledge state is the typical purpose of quizzes in education. Can these short tests do more?

Quizzes have long been used as a “stick” in education. Did you ever scramble at the warning from your own teachers during class,  “y’all better do your work…or else…I am going to give you a quiz!”

Of course, most educators use quizzes for a more evolved reason. Rather than quiz as punishment, we use the mini-tests to check in on our students before a more substantial, high stakes exam or assessment. Indeed, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, a quiz is by definition a test of knowledge.

Recent research in cognitive science tells us that the power of quizzing students extends far beyond simply measuring a learner’s knowledge state at a given moment in time. Quizzing, it turns out, provides a robust learning effect in and of itself.

Memory researchers Roediger and Butler (2011) note: “Learning is usually thought to occur during episodes of studying, whereas retrieval of information on testing simply serves to assess what was learned.” Their studies suggest that the very act of trying to retrieve information from memory (as you do on a quiz), dramatically improves long-term retention of that same content.

I tried using quizzing as a teaching tool in my graduate education course at The University of Texas at Austin the past two semesters. Instead of a series of lectures, I pushed most of the direct instruction out of class and to the students. Below, find my protocol and some implementation tips.

5 step protocol for flipping learning with quizzes 

Step 1: Design an out-of-class assignment for students to complete. Select key videos, readings, podcasts, etc.

Tip: Pick content that aligns tightly with what you want students to learn and remember.

Step 2: Design a short quiz for students to do before every class meeting

Tip: Make sure the questions direct your students’ attention to exactly what you want them to learn. This is the most important part of writing a good quiz question. In other words, if you don’t care if students remember the names of characters, don’t ask them questions about that on a quiz.

I ask my students two inferential questions that require them to think about and recall what they had watched or read.  I never ask verbatim questions that students can simply find in the readings and repeat back to me.  Finally, I close the quiz with this feedback question: What did you find confusing or difficult about what you read? If you didn’t find anything confusing, what did you find interesting or what do you wonder about. Also, I always give credit or points for completing these exercises. (For more on this method, see Just-in-Time Teaching.)

Step 3: Review students’ responses, provide feedback if you can, and then design a quiz on the same content to deliver in the first part of class

Tip: This quiz can be harder and longer than the pre-class quiz. Remember, only ask questions that direct students’ attention to what you want them to learn. The quizzing effect is powerful and you want to use it to your advantage.  My course ran for 3 hours, so I planned the quiz to run the first 45 minutes. I prepared and delivered the quizzes using the University’s learning management system (Canvas).

Step 4: Deliver the quiz during the first part of class

Students in my course taking a quiz with me observing.

Students in my course taking a collaborative quiz and me observing.

Tip: Check out this post on writing effective questions. Also, I used the collaborative testing option (team-based) in Learning Catalytics to run my quizzes. This actually allowed me to run the quiz twice in the same class session, for a total of three acts of retrieval for the same set of content. Also, if you are using collaborative testing, you can make the questions even more difficult as students tend to converge on the right answer in groups.

After the first quiz, always mix in a few isomorphic questions from previous quizzes. Isomoprhic questions are those that test the same content or concept but are not verbatim duplicates from the previous quiz.

Step 5: Give feedback on correctness

Tip: Retrieval practice may only work if students actually recall the content successfully. A bunch of failed attempts to retrieve something won’t promote the kind of learning you want. So providing feedback on correctness is important. This feedback can be delayed (when everyone is finished taking the quiz) or it could be immediate (after each question, if using a tool or technology that allows you to provide immediate feedback). If you aren’t running collaborative quizzes, Peer Instruction offers a terrific way to facilitate a feedback session.

Bonus step: Provide an out-of-class, self-paced quiz for students to complete

If I had not run out of time and energy in my course design phase, I would have added this step. After class work would further ensure the opportunity for successful retrieval events, and thereby the potential for better learning and long-term retention. Best part? Most learning management systems and definitely Learning Catalytics allow you to auto-score quizzes to limit the time spent on grading.

Try flipping your class with quizzes to drive, not measure, learning 

Have you tried flipping your class, but the effort fell flat because students didn’t come prepared? Have you spent time creating engaging resources for students and failed to see the impact on student performance you expected given all the hype on the power of the flipped class? Have you flipped your course and students are still not reaching their highest potential on high stakes assessments?

Try adding quizzes before, during, and after class to help your students learn best.

Learn more about retrieval practice in last week’s TTYN post  or at retrievalpractice.org. 

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