At the neighborhood barbecue, I squirmed in my lawn chair. I was embarrassed, not so much for myself, but for Erica, the six-year-old at our table who was being grilled by her father, Tom.
”How much is 6 times 9?”
Searching for the answer, Erica looked up at the pavilion ceiling, then down at her fingers as she remembered a mnemonic device for the multiples of nine.
”Who was the 16th President of the United States?”
”What is the capitol of Nevada?”
”How much is a quarter, a dime, a nickel and a penny?”
”At what temperature does water freeze?”
Every answer brought forth another question. Erica’s dad corrected any inaccuracies, and he later rephrased the question for a second go-round.
This wasn’t dinner. This was double jeopardy. The clock-ticking music in the background was the only omission.
When the dinner plates were cleared the inquisition stopped. ”Dessert must be a cease-fire period,” I thought.
”Tom, do you quiz Erica every night at dinner?” I asked.
”Yep,” Tom answered. ”I get the questions from a set of cards. Erica gets 10 new facts a day, and we review 20 more.”
My discomfort with all these questions stemmed from the idea that this pop quiz was to impress me with how smart and knowledgeable Erica was. It appeared, though, that the questioning was not unusual.
”How do you quiz the children in your classroom?” Erica’s mother, Julie, asked.
”How do you know what they have learned then?”
”I watch them work,” I said, ”and I listen to their questions. I talk to them. I try to challenge them with activities where they can express what they know through writing, drawing, dancing, doing plays, cooking and other projects. Their work is the test.”
”What do you mean?” Julie’s eyebrows furrowed.
”Think about when you’re cooking dinner. If you have someone asking you how many ounces in 1/2 a cup, where does cinnamon come from, how long do you cook chicken, how much protein is in a cup of rice, what would you think?”
Julie said, ”I guess I would think they were trying to gather information.”
”And if someone asked how to make a roux, julienne carrots and deglaze a roast, what would you think they wanted?”
Tom started to laugh. ”I’d think that they were trying to impress me with the fact that they went to French cooking school.”
Julie said, ”I think I see what you’re trying to get at. We should let Erica ask the questions. That all our quizzes trying to figure out what she knows doesn’t really help her learning. Our questions are about what we know, like we’re a fancy French chef, and not what she wants to learn.”
”Exactly,” I said. ”It’s Erica’s own questions that are the ones that will create the strongest learning for her.
”If we’ll listen,” Julie said.
”Oops,” Tom said, ”I guess I’ll have to stop being a pop quiz pop.”