Friday, September 2, 2011

An Idea from My Boss

If you read much about education, you will quickly see many of the same general ideas suggested over and over as beneficial. “Create teams” is one that many experts recommend. “Use the last few minutes of class to review and tie concepts together” is another. “Stress peer education – encourage students to teach each other” is a third that I often read. “End your class with a positive experience” is also common advice.

However, one of the problems of teaching is that turning general ideas into practical classroom activities is often harder than it sounds.

My boss here at the Robins School of Business is Dean Nancy Bagranoff. For the first time in a few years, Dean Bagranoff is teaching a class this semester. She has an “Introduction to Financial Accounting” section every Tuesday and Thursday morning with about 25 sophomores.

Because she has been out of the classroom for a while, Dean Bagranoff and I have been having a few conversations about teaching and how to help students learn. As is often the case, I’m probably learning more from these conversations than she is.

Recently, she described an idea that she uses in her classes. It was one of those epiphanies I love to have. As soon as she described the idea to me, I knew that it ought to work quite well in virtually any class. I’m a strong advocate that we need to pass along excellent teaching ideas so that they get wide exposure. So, here goes.

--Occasionally, with about 10-15 minutes left in the class period, hand out a short quiz with questions covering the current class material. Give each student 6-7 minutes to provide answers and then take up those answers.
--Immediately, pass out the exact same quiz questions again and put the students into teams of 2-3. Each team has to come to a consensus answer for every question. After a few minutes, take up only one answer sheet from each team.
--Half of the quiz grade comes from the individual answers. Half of the quiz grade comes from the group answers.
--Each time you do this end-of-class exercise place the students into different teams.

There are so many good things about this assignment that I am not sure where to begin.
--Students are rewarded for their own personal learning because their individual quizzes count as half of the grade. No one can just coast on the work of a teammate.
--Students must operate as a team and help each other learn in order to come up with their group’s answers. The members of the team have to arrive at a consensus answer. If one student believes the answer is True and the other believes it is False, they have to work as a team to arrive at one answer.
--The students who do poorly on the individual quizzes don't just walk out of class feeling stupid. They have the chance to improve their grade in the group exercise and will probably be very engaged.
--Because the group answers will hopefully be better than the individual answers (two heads should be better than one), students leave the class with a positive feeling--toward the class and toward themselves. There is a lot of “ah, now I see what is happening here.”
--The quizzes serve as an overview of what was covered that day. The quizzes provide an end-of-class review for that day’s class.

Whether you are teaching anthropology or zoology or anything in between, this is an exercise that should prove to be beneficial. Try it.

Even bosses can have good ideas.

A quick personal note – three days ago this blog site went over 37,500 page views since it started early in 2010. I just want to thank everyone who has mentioned this blog over the past 20 months to friends, relatives, acquaintances, coworkers, bosses, enemies, and total strangers. Without having your help in spreading the word, my guess is that no one would have ever seen this blog. Thanks! Truly!


  1. Great idea, Joe, and I will encourage it in the Osher classroom where we don't really spend enough time (hardly any time) reflecting on what folks actually learned (because of no grades, no tests, etc. Hope all is well with you and yours - - would love to get together for a coffee some time and catch up. Best, Jane

  2. Oh, I forgot that I am using a blogger name here - - that last post was from me - - Jane Dowrick, Osher Institute. J

  3. Joe,
    I just knew I liked that Dean of yours! I also suggest this: you can have the group take their quiz on a special form that gives them instant feedback on the correctness of their answer. REad about these forms here:
    I have used these before and they are really effective for the task you are describing.