Don’t Be a Pop Quiz Parent

pop quiz parent

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.

”I don’t.”

”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.”

Understanding Montessori Second Edition

2 Responses to “Don’t Be a Pop Quiz Parent”

  1. Hi – I like the example – but find “in real life” the people like Tom, the Dad, don’t say, oops, I will change. They continue the debate – and feel really uncomfortable, and defensive. or just cut off the discussion with, “this is how I was taught” and will clearly continue the pattern.
    Is there a way to be more clear, about two things –
    1) that dinner is not quiz time, more about chatting, more relaxed topics; (do you do your daytime “work” or answer the boss, at dinner? – for most of us, the answer is no)
    2) a different approach to “teaching” – laying out projects, activities to be completed – but need “research” done – learning – midstream to actually finish the task/project. Thoughts? advise to deal with less aware people.

    • CC,

      Yes, I agree most people aren’t going to change their methods by reading a 500 word article.

      I hope that I’m planting a seed that there may be a different way to approach children’s learning at home.

      Here’s a Kids Talk article about making dinner time enjoyable that might be helpful:

      In terms of a different approach to teaching that is project based:
      I was a Girl Scout, as well as a Girl Scout leader and I love the Girl Scout (and Boy Scout!) handbooks.

      The badges are project based and usually require some period of time to complete. You can’t just speed through a badge. And the badge projects are perfect to do at home.

      For those folks that aren’t aware there are different ways of approaching their children’s learning, be gentle. Throw out ideas and one of those ideas might take root and grow.

      Consistently offer ideas (and that’s what the Kids Talk weekly newsletter does well). Little by little, folks see ideas that make sense for their situation.

      Patience is a virtue.

      CC, hope this helps.


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