Wootten started class with a quiz and did it in Hall of Fame form

This is the third in a short series of posts about Coach Morgan Wootten’s influence in the classroom for me. It includes thoughts on his coaching lessons but mainly contains reflections on my experience as a student in his classroom where he remains one of the best classroom teachers I ever had.

Morgan Wootten followed what I came to know (and later incorporate) as the “classic” DeMatha class structure: Quiz. Grade and discuss quiz. Direct Instruction, Inquiry, and Storytelling. 
Class always started with a quiz and it was five questions which could be vocabulary and/or reading recall. 

We always just thought that the daily, low-stakes quizzes were given to hold us accountable but that was only partly true. What he was also doing was putting into practice the Testing Effect. We were getting retrieval practice on the important concepts, something Daniel Willingham and others have shown is so important to learning. It’s not surprising that when I think back on it, one of the other great teachers I had at DeMatha, Buck Offutt, did the same thing. I would bet that they knew how important that process was and that’s why they did it. 

After the quiz, we would go over the answers while grading each other’s quiz. In that, there was immediate, corrective feedback (we were able to ask him about the answers) and as we considered the nuances of the answers we were grading, we had to think about how close it came to the correct one, giving us another opportunity to ingrain it in our memory. As Dan Willingham notes, “Memory is the residue of thought.”

We needed to determine the correctness our classmate’s answer and only ask if it was close, but not exactly, correct. He didn’t want us to waste valuable class time. If it was too close, his response showed it: “Besides being exactly what we said the answer was, what was your question?”

Wootten had an added dimension to each quiz, which enabled us to possibly earn a bonus point. It was a simple game where he would ball up a piece of paper and take a hook shot into the trash can across the room. He’d take a practice shot and then we would put a nickel on our desk if we wanted to bet that he would miss the shot and also qualify for the bonus point.  Once our bets were placed, he’d say, “Gentlemen, you’ve got to look, then hook” and take the shot. If he made it, he’d collect our nickels. If not, we got to keep them. Either way, we received a bonus point. All of the money he’d collect during the course of the year was donated to the Send a Kid to Camp fund and at the end of the year a column in the Washington Post would print that Morgan Wootten’s World History classes donated $256.45 (or a sum like to that) to help send DC kids to camp. 


Research has shown that this type of gamification has a positive effect on learning as students consider their answers for the quiz in a state of high engagement. Also, in an admittedly small way, we understood that if we lost that 5 cents it was going to a good cause, and self-transcendent purpose has shown to be a strong driver for student persistence. It may not have been a large factor in our learning but it was really cool for a freshman to see, at the end of the school year, our class name in the paper for helping out.

With a low-stakes quiz to start each class period, we were building the pathways to the knowledge that he wanted us to know.

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