Tuesday Tips: Why Discussion > Reading Quizzes

Discussing Students-001

Perhaps there is a literature teacher out there who has only students who read all the assigned material prior to class.

Oh wait, we live in the real world. With actual human beings.

As someone who was once an actual teenager, who is generally smart enough to “fake it til I make it,”  and who has made it through a few (not many, I promise!) classes with minimal reading,  I’m a really good detector of fakers in my class.

I, of course, have seen how much richer my class experience is when I complete all the reading for a particular class. As a teacher, I am purposeful about the reading I assign, and I want my students to actually complete the reading.

Preferably before class.

But again, this is the real world, and some people are always going to be full of good intentions and little follow-through.

So let’s say that kids don’t come to class prepared. How do I respond? What are my options?

Here’s a common practice: I could give them a  quiz. However, this is a punitive move, and ultimately my goal has still not been accomplished. After the quiz, probably not involving the text, the students may receive poor grades, but they have still not done the reading.

If I spend 20 minutes in class on a reading quiz, that’s 20 minutes not spend with the text. That’s a lot of class time spent still not doing the reading.

And, quite frankly, that’s an hour of my life that will be spent grading these quizzes based on little to no reading. Waste. of. time.

So let’s say instead that students come to class and have to talk to each other about what they read.

Let’s say the teacher isn’t going to tell them what to think about the text or even ask any guiding questions at all about the text.

Let’s say a student who didn’t read comes into that situation, a situation where she is expected to ask questions and make observations based on the text and her own reading. What do you think you will see?

Here’s what I see:

If I look at the discussion circle, I see kids with their nose in the book trying to come up with something, anything to say.

If I look at the observation circle, I see kids with their nose in the book trying to come up with something, anything to write down on their papers.

In other words, I see kids reading for most of the class period.

I ask you, which of these assessments, quiz or discussion, is harder to fake? Which takes less of my precious time? Which forces a decent quantity of actual reading?


I rest my case.



  1. Interesting idea! Have you found that this approach does result in a higher level of reading and participation? Could you provide further details on how you structure the discussion? Also, how do you take into consideration your introverted students (having just read your other post about introversion)?

    Thank you for your excellent ideas!


    1. Yes. I have found that the reader level and the level of interaction with the text are so much higher than I have ever received with quizzes.

      If you look at the category “Classroom Discussion,” which you can (I hope!) access from the main menu on the home page, you should find all the posts I’ve written so far about discussion. I have a post on assessment that should come out tomorrow!

      I actually find that introverts do really well in this type of discussion because they appreciate the structure and they appreciate the level of the conversation. Introverts like conversation about deep topics–it’s small talk that stresses us out! And the structure of the discussion helps them express their ideas. We also spend a lot of time talking about how to prepare for discussion, which is vital for introverts.


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