A few years ago, while we were reading Outsiders aloud, I was about to give them my usual “reading check” type quiz to make sure they were following along, thinking about what we’d talked about, connecting the literary terms to the examples in the book, etc. I can’t quite remember what my inspiration was (probably just to throw them for a loop like I like to do), but I decided to let them “cheat.” My quizzes on the books and stories we read are always open book, but this time I told them they could take the quiz, not only open book, but “open mouth.” I told them they could talk about the questions and answers as much as they want in any way they want, and decide however they want to, which of the answers to choose.

“You can share what you know…or not. You can decide whether to heed the wisdom of the group…or not. You just can’t lie. You can’t knowingly tell everyone the wrong answer on purpose.”

One class that day came up with the name Quiz for Dummies. The rest of the periods thought that was a little “mean,” so we’ve stuck with Open Mouth. The kids love it, and I love to watch. I only use it for when we read in class together, so they’re all starting from the same point. The few times I tried it after homework reading assignments, we found it created a subculture of freeloaders, who would just skip the reading and try to gauge the correct answers by the discussion. So now I only use it to reinforce what we’ve just been reading and discussing.

Each class handles it differently. In some, one person will take charge, and march them through, polling the class and demanding consensus: “All right, #1, who’s got something for #1? B? Who likes B? Agreed? OK #2.” And so on. Some classes disintegrate into little tribes of kids who sit close by (I haven’t allowed them to move yet because I’m a control freak, but maybe…) and collaborate. The most fun to watch are the ones who demand “What does Leah (or Kai or whomever they perceive to be the “smartest”) think? Leah, what’s #6?” Some kids ignore the fray and click* in their answers, keeping their own counsel, as they used to say. One class this time was close to silent, as though I hadn’t given them permission to talk. It’s really fun to watch how each class evolves its own personality. And I learn a lot about them.

Then, when we go over the answers, I can point out which kids had the right answer but weren’t listened to, or why the herd followed the wrong path, so to speak, or show them how wise they were to listen when Sarah read the passage from the book that changed their minds about an answer.

You’d think every kid would get 100% or close to it. Ummm. That’s not how junior high works.

(*Oh, I guess I better explain clickers sometime.)

Here’s today’s Mental Floss.