Review: “If I Only Had One Question: Partner Quizzes in Middle School Mathematics”

The authors of “Partner Quizzes” have followed the advice of the Assessment Principle in the NCTM Principles and Standards by developing and administering assessments which are “not limited to individual, graded, end-of-unit examinations” (Danielson and Luke, 2006). In the middle of a unit, students work in teams of two and produce one quiz for each individual over two days, obeying strict rules of collaboration. According to the authors, “Partner quizzes are useful as formative assessments that help us to monitor and adjust our instruction during the remainder of the unit.”

The authors state explicitly two crucial advantages of these assessments: they demonstrate that working together is important, even (especially) during assessment; and they provide an environment in which “discussion is essential to doing good work.” They claim that because of the structure of the activity, the questions are “deeper and more complex than on an individual assessment.” These characteristics would make the assessments attractive to any teacher.

The process has three strict rules:

  1. Partnerships are completely private and exclusive. Teams are only to work with other team members. The teams can choose their own work style, but there are strict consequences for collaboration outside the team.
  2. Each team is allowed to ask the teacher exactly one question during the quiz.
  3. Teams work on their quizzes on Day 1, and then submit both copies for teacher input. The teacher selects one quiz from each team and provides cryptic feedback, meant to provoke further discussion during Day 2 without guiding the students too directly.

The authors find the “one question” rule valuable because it forces the teams to ration their requests, eliminating the superficial questions such as “What is an outlier?” in favor of the deeper questions such as “Can there be two outliers?”

The article includes two sets of actual quizzes, revealing within one class a range of understanding and sophistication that seems typical of any classroom. The authors analyze the student work as well as the feedback and revision process, making a relatively complex system almost easy to understand.

I’m eager to try this out in my classroom for all the reasons cited above. Certainly this isn’t the most important reason, but I’d like to see my students step up and not ask the same procedural question five times in two minutes. On a slightly deeper level, I’ve been looking for a way to pull the introverts and outsiders into the group so they can participate – and learn.

References

1. Danielson, Christopher, and Michele Luke. (2006, November). If I Only Had One Question: Partner Quizzes in Middle School Mathematics. Mathematics Teaching in the Middle School, 12(4), 206-213.

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