I haven't forgotten this blog. I've been busy, but I haven't forgotten. I will start blogging another book soon. In the meantime, a few notes on an article in the Chronicle: The basic point of the article is that students learn more if they are tested frequently. Given that constant practice and review and effort seem to be essential for success in any endeavor, I find this unsurprising and uncontroversial. Although I don't give a large number of tests in my classes, I do give assignments before almost every class, so that students are always reviewing something or thinking about something or preparing something, and so that I always know how they are doing. I think this practice is more or less in keeping with the point in the article.
In the physics community, one doesn't see a lot of attention to frequent tests in presentations on pedagogy. It is, admittedly, generally noted that frequent practice is good, and regular "reading quizzes" are often specifically named as a good practice. However, frequent testing doesn't get a lot of attention. To the extent that something similar gets attention, it's generally called "Just In Time Teaching", which has the virtues of calling to mind a business buzzword (always important if your goal is to sell instructional materials and consulting services) and lending itself to an easy acronym (JITT). The basic idea of JITT is to give online quizzes before class, so that you know coming into class what the students are getting and what they are struggling with, and can adjust accordingly. It's an inoffensive, sensible concept. It is not, however, as trendy as flipped classes, peer instruction (which is promoted by a famous guy who has his picture on the cover of a book), etc.
My hypothesis is that frequent testing and practice, while recognized as sound practices, get less discussion and attention for three reasons:
1) You can't make much money off of telling professors to give more tests and quizzes and homework assignments. There's no manual to sell, no workshop to give. We already write tests and quizzes and assignments, and we can write more.
2) Giving more tests and quizzes is more work for us (work that many but not all of us are willing to do) and more work for students (who will complain). Admittedly, some of the more conscientious students will actually thrive with more frequent feedback and critique, but those who fall behind will stay behind. The results will probably be more bifurcated, and sharply bifurcated results make it harder to justify the "Gentleman's C's" upon which the continuance of the system depends.
3) More tests and assignments may be a sound practice, but they don't inspire fervent discussion because they don't hit the same cultural resonances as questions of interactions and the role of the expert. We can get passionate in debates about the role of the expert, but we don't have the same passionate views on frequent quizzes and homework assignments. Admittedly, high stakes standardized tests arouse passions, but those tests are administered by outsiders, come with financial stakes, and visibly intersect with disparities that are rooted in thorny social problems . That's very different from giving a weekly quiz in your freshman course.
And thus we come back to some of the major themes of this blog.