Unpacking Quizzes

Pedagogy, Standards-Based Grading

Video Transcript:

One new thing I did during my last year in the classroom was “unpacking” quizzes. Basically, students are able to preview the actual quiz before they take it.

The results were encouraging, and the strategy promoted good discussion among groups. In addition, I believe student anxiety was reduced as well because there were no surprises about what would be assessed.

What does unpacking a quiz look like? Let’s find out.

Here’s how the process works.

I print out one quiz per group in the class. And yes, it’s the exact quiz students will be taking at the end of the unit. In total, I only needed to print 8 quizzes for my classes because I had 8 groups of 4 in the room.

Next, after we are done with our warm up, I hand out one quiz to each group, and I set a 3 minute timer on my phone.

Once the timer is set, students are released to talk in their groups about the quiz. They are required to put all writing utensils away, but they are allowed to discuss with their group how they’ll approach each question on the quiz.

In addition, I tell the class to think about questions they may have for me as they unpack the quiz in their groups.

Then, after the 3 minute timer is complete, I begin to take questions from the groups, and I answer them for the whole class. During this time, we usually clarify what each question on the assessment is asking and discuss how we might get started on potentially confusing problems.

This class discussion usually doesn’t take very long. Probably 5 minutes or so.

Finally, as soon as we are done with the whole class discussion, I take up all 8 quizzes, and we move on to the day’s lesson. Overall, the unpacking process is very fast, and we’re still able to complete what we need to for the rest of class.

Although it may make you a little uneasy to hand out the actual quiz to your class, I can assure you that it’s a very beneficial thing to do. First, it shows that you trust your students, and that goes a long way in relationship building. Second, it continues to reinforce our belief that math is about more than just trying to get a grade. We’re all working together to grow, and my first priority is not grades. The priority is learning and growth.

Finally, as I mentioned earlier, unpacking quizzes can really help with student anxiety, and it ultimately helps us get the most out of students who have anxiety.

Okay, so when is the best day to unpack a quiz?

I ended up trying two options, unpacking at the beginning of a unit and unpacking toward the end of a unit.

After trying both, my opinion is that unpacking toward the end of the unit is better.

When I first started unpacking quizzes, we unpacked toward the beginning of a unit in order for students to know what was coming and, theoretically, think about what they needed as we went about the unit.

However, I noticed there was much better discussion whenever we switched to unpacking quizzes toward the end of the unit. I think the discussion ended up being better because students had prior learning to pull from since we had been learning the concept for a few days. Therefore, more students had knowledge to share during group time.

In addition, the sense of urgency was greater when the quiz date was soon approaching. When we unpacked early in the unit, students knew they still had several days before the quiz, so they weren’t as urgent. However, the urgency was more apparent toward the end of the unit, and better discussion was the result.

Therefore, my general rule of thumb is to unpack each quiz 1 to 2 days before the assessment date.

I really wish I would have learned about unpacking quizzes much earlier in my career because I was impressed with its impact on my students. Therefore, I want to encourage you to give it a try in your classroom too.

Well, we’re almost done with the section of the workshop about what happens before quiz day. Next up, we have one more video about what daily grades look like. I’ll see you then.

2 thoughts on “Unpacking Quizzes

  1. The idea of handing over an assessment to a student who is not about to take it, and who will take the very same assessment later, stresses me out. Why shouldn’t it? OR, what do you do to keep them from taking advantage of the situation? I saw where you said that you remove writing utensils. Is that all?

    1. Thanks for the question, Michael. It does seem stressful for sure, but I’ve found it leads to great discussions, and it helps motivate students to dial in on challenging problems in class because they know they’ll need it to be ready for the quiz. I think it helps kids focus better too because there are no surprises, and they can tell the content I’m giving them in class aligns with the assessments.

      In order to prevent kids from taking advantage, I have their desks in groups of 4 (this is our set up every day anyway, so it’s nothing new for them), and no writing utensils are allowed. I also circulate the room throughout the time that the quizzes are out and remind them that we’re only talking about strategies and not necessarily what the correct answer is (having them in groups of 4 makes it easier to monitor the process as well). As soon as my timer goes off, I immediately take up all the quizzes.

      Students also know that it’s no use to just have the correct answers when quiz time comes because they’re going to have to show all work and explain anyway. It’s hard to fake that part.

      And I just try to continue to reinforce the culture in the room that grades aren’t important to me, but learning is. My goal is to constantly take down pressure while still pushing them to new levels of challenge. Full credit retakes and unpacking quizzes are just a couple components that reinforce my words that we don’t need to put too much pressure on ourselves while working hard to learn challenging math.

      The positives have definitely outweighed the negatives when it comes to unpacking. I’ve seen very few negatives actually.

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