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by Mendy Holliday

You have probably heard of the idea that students need to be working harder than the teacher for successful learning; well, I found the truth of this out for myself quite by accident one day.

I was headed to my English 1302 Composition class when I suddenly realized that I hadn’t made the quiz for the story we would be discussing that day! What was I going to do? I thought about postponing the quiz, but this would put us too far behind, so out of pure necessity, an idea came to me that I had never thought of before…why not have the students write the quiz?

So, I went into class and said “today, class, you will be the ones coming up with the quiz.” I divided them into teams and told them that I’d choose the best team’s quiz, and the winning group wouldn’t have to take the quiz. The students took it in stride, and with more enthusiasm then I’d seen in a long time, they went to work. I moved around from group to group and gave advice and feedback as they worked. They even asked for more time to work on it, so we spent most of the class period and all of the students were engaged and on task.

Now, tests and my quizzes take a lot of time and work to write. I have to know the material really well and think even more deeply about it as I try to come up with good questions, ones that aren’t too easy or too hard and that will lead the students into a good discussion, or into thinking more deeply about the story. That’s a lot of work that I’ve been doing for the students that they themselves could be doing, and as I came to find out afterwards, it’s actually to their benefit and enjoyment to do it.

According to the current research on learning and memory, students need to do something different with the information after they receive it in order to understand and integrate material, so coming up with test and quiz questions is a great thing to do to convert learning into long term memory. It also ensures that students spend quality time thinking about the material.

Students have told me that the goal of making the quiz motivates them to work together and talk seriously about the story in order to understand it, so they can come up with good questions, and that it’s a fun challenge to try to win. And the truth is that after they come up with the questions, they don’t really need to take the quiz because I can see how well they understand by the quality of their questions. But when I bring it up to the class, they actually want to take the quiz their classmates wrote! It’s learning and it’s fun; it’s a win-win situation!