Reflection: Routines and Procedures Reviewing "Winter Dreams" & Embarking on The Great Gatsby - Section 4: Closing

 

"Today we're going to have a reading quiz."

This phrase can single-handedly create fear, chaos, groaning, and an explosion of excuses when it's uttered in any classroom.  During my instruction of The Great Gatsby, I will use it EVERY SINGLE DAY that they have reading homework.  To limit the negative reactions, I'm up front with my students about the fact that these quizzes WILL happen.  They won't be random.  In contrast to some of my early reading quizzes though, they are not there to punish students who opt to skip the reading assignment with a punitive score.  They're there to show me who has read the assignment, so in that way, they do provide a reward or punishment for completing the reading assignment.  They do more than that though.  They're there to get students thinking about the text.  They're there to improve discussion.  They're also there to give me a deeper understanding of HOW students are reading the text.  Are they only reading the text for plot elements and ignoring all indirect characteristics?  Are they reading only for main ideas instead of nuances that hold deeper meaning?  This information is so incredibly valuable to me as a teacher, and it's also an important topic of discussion to help students read more effectively. 

I remember taking "reading" quizzes when I was in high school that focused on weird, trivial details from the reading assignment, but my reading quizzes are used much differently.  In my favorite childhood reading-quiz-nightmare story, I remember being asked on a quiz what material the bread pudding bowl was made from in A Christmas Carol.  I don't think I got it correct (maybe copper?), but I remember being irritated by the question in general.  Is it symbolic?  Meaningful to understanding some nuance of the text?  No way!  So why ask?  Good readers don't necessarily read to take in every single detail.  They read to make connections.  I adore The Great Gatsby and I remember that the book Tom reads and discusses at the dinner table was racist and ridiculous, but do I remember the exact name?  Nope.  How about the song that the band played?  Nope again!  Instead of focusing on details that are meaningless, I try to only focus on items that are important in the grand scheme of things.

Despite my hatred for too-detail-specific reading quizzes, I do want to take a minute to say that I understand the place from which they spawn.  Every year I have a handful of students that proudly state that they haven't read a book in high school and that they only read Sparknotes for the novels we teach.  In an effort to make sure these kids can't function, I used to actually take READ Sparknotes, then not ask any questions that students could have found the answers from Sparknotes for!  That was madness, I soon realized, because in addition to helping kids skate through reading assignments, Sparknotes really do cover lots of the main ideas that we talk about in class.  I can see how, if I would have continued down this one-upping-Sparknotes-users path, I could have turned into an overly-detailed quizzer.  I get it.  No judgment.  :)  In reality, I actually always throw in a few answer choices that can be answered by reading Sparknotes only.  Why would I do that, you ask?  Because it offers you even more information about your students.  If you see that students habitually get all the questions wrong but your Sparknotes-inspired ones, that's a pretty good (and trixy!) indicator that that particular student is using Sparknotes in place of reading.  That's a great trail of evidence that could lead to a very productive conversation with that student or parents of that student.

Ultimately, I believe that my latest version of reading quizzes is by far the most effective way to measure student engagement, generate discussion, and meet the demands of the Common Core.  Some of my questions are multiple choice, but even these questions have been changed to focus on WHY or the EVIDENCE that supports answer choices.  (If you attempt to make all of your quizzes all-essay-based, you'll go mad, so eventually I'd recommend reconsidering all quizzes this way to both promote complex thinking and allow you to do your job as a teacher while remaining sane!)  Some students will push back at this new breed of quizzing, and some parents will jump on board when they start seeing their child's first few quiz scores.  Most of my students come to me trained with the idea that they can pass reading quizzes with Sparknotes or by skimming the reading assignment, so those students take a while to latch on to the truth--that they must actively, critically read the assignment while taking notes in order to do well on the in-depth assessments.  This is precisely the attitude we want to cultivate in our learners, so I'd strongly recommend pushing through the irritated students and parents and demanding that your students rise to the higher expectations.  Do parents really want their kids to be able to pass your quizzes without reading the assignment?  Without considering it?  What does that say about your quizzes then?  You WANT them to work for it.  When students begin to approach their reading assignments this way, the whole class will immediately improve because the quality of their preparedness for class has improved.  

In summary, Common Core is raising the bar on what we expect our students to do.  It's still important that teachers have avenues for quick and meaningful feedback (like reading quizzes), but we need to make sure that these quiz assessments are really giving us the answers we're seeking about students and that they are useful for students as well.  

  Updating Quizzes for Common Core Alignment
  Routines and Procedures: Updating Quizzes for Common Core Alignment
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Reviewing "Winter Dreams" & Embarking on The Great Gatsby

Unit 9: Is Gatsby Really so "Great"?
Lesson 1 of 12

Objective: SWBAT discuss the theme and debate characterization in "Winter Dreams" in preparation for our analysis of Fitzgerald's novel using visual character maps.

Big Idea: If only Fitzgerald’s leading men had “bros” to sit them down to say, “Hey man, don’t be a psycho & lose yourself--she’s crazy.” #golddiggers

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nick carraway visual character map
 
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