Tonight’s 15 Minute Forum was led by English teacher, Tod Brennan and focussed on the concept of low stakes quizzes. There were two aspects of Tod’s presentation; the value of low stakes quizzes for memory recall but also the importance of managing the stress levels of our students.
Memory can be defined as ‘learning that has persisted over time – information that has been stored and can be recalled’. In order to remember a fact, our brains have to process information or encode it from the point at which that information was learnt, into our short-term (working) memories and then into our long-term memories. In order, to reuse that information (or memory) we have to retrieve the information. It is at this retrieval point, where low stakes quizzes can play an effective role. Low stakes quizzes can be used as a quick and effective activity at the beginning of lessons, to assess student’s memories of information that had been taught last week, last month or even last year. They are low stakes because the score doesn’t really matter; it does not form part of an assessment or tracking process but does allow a ‘check’ of where the students are with their learning.
However, Tod wanted to discuss the concept of low stakes and whether the quiz truly was ‘low stakes’. As teachers, we view the quiz as low stakes but do our students? Tod used an example of a Year 8 student who experienced a panic attack when asked to go to the library and change their reading book. For that student, the act of changing the book caused an overload of hormones resulting in too much stress. Tod highlighted the fact that anxiety and stress are often irrational to external observers, but inherently linked to the inner thoughts of the student. These thoughts are intrinsically linked to the external experiences of that students. Therefore, not all students will see a ‘fun’ memory recall quiz as stress free.
The research work of Professor Alia Crum has shown that viewing stress as a helpful part of life, rather than as harmful, is associated with better health well-being and productivity. However, too much stress can lead to ‘breakdowns’ and a loss of productivity. Equally, too little stress (or not caring) can be harmful as well, as the student does not see any value in what they are doing. Professor Crum’s work showed that the control group – who were told nothing ahead of the quiz – performed significantly worse than another research group who were told that they were going to attempt a challenging task, but that they were capable of achieving this challenging work. Essentially, we want our students to be in the optimum stress zone, so that performance is maximised.
How can teachers ensure that a quiz is genuinely low stakes?
- First and foremost, teachers should talk to their students about challenge and resilience (rather than stress). By, talking to students about the benefits of persevering with a task and challenging themselves we should see improved performances.
- Developing strategies which take away ‘stress’ points from the quiz will also benefit students:
- use a quiz score sheet at the back of student’s exercise books to allow them to record their scores – rather than asking them to raise their hand if they scored a certain number/percentage
- ask students to raise their hands for questions that they got wrong. This will often lead to students not feeling that they were the only one, but also allow the teacher to identify which areas of a topic need to be re-taught.
- Importantly, teachers need to consider and judge their classes/students to know where to pitch the low stakes quiz. If the questions are too easy, the students will become bored and de-stressed; if the questions are too hard, the students will become over stimulated and anxious/stressed. This is also important to consider when recording the scores from a low stakes quiz, as in some cases a competitive element will actually lead to students placing more value on the activity and reaching the optimum stress level.
Overall, low stakes quizzes have a truly beneficial effect on memory recall and student performance, however it is important to consider the ‘unseen’ stress and anxiety levels that they may place on certain students.
Posted by Martyn Simmonds