I graded my second set of quizzes from a class this afternoon. I know a lot of folks find reading quizzes infantalizing, and I sort of get it, but I don't think being asked questions is infantalizing, especially if you've got reason to know the answers. I also think it's incredibly important for college students to learn to keep up on readings, take good notes (my quizzes are open notes), look up words in a dictionary, and read questions carefully. And it's really painful to try to hold a discussion with people who aren't at all prepared. So I give quizzes, especially early on in the semester.
I try to give quickish quizzes, about three questions, the first one or two very focused on a definition or the main point of a reading. For example, I might ask, "What does [author's name] mean when she uses the term [term that's defined in the text] ([page number in text of definition])?"
And then I try to give a question that calls for some thought and justification. For example, I might ask something like, "which of the items [the author] lists do you think is most important and why?")
Mostly, my students did well, full credit on all three questions. Some didn't answer any questions correctly.
It's always interesting to ask why someone didn't answer questions correctly, especially on an open note reading quiz. I never worry if I ask and someone says s/he didn't have time to do the reading, or didn't take notes because the TV was on, stuff like that. I figure the student has an opportunity to learn my expectations and can make decisions about how to proceed. And I recognize that I'm not exactly the center of the world, and that students have lots of other classes and responsibilities.
I confess that I find it a little irritating when a student who hasn't done the reading writes a BS answer, because it feels like it takes more time to read the BS than the student bothered to spend on the homework. I'd much prefer a student just write a short note saying s/he didn't do the reading, sorry. My feelings aren't hurt, and my time isn't wasted.
I worry way more that some students don't actually have the reading skills to be in college; maybe they can't really process the class readings even though they've put in effort. I don't know quite what to do about the problem of inadequate literacy. I don't know how to teach reading skills, even if I wanted to. And I don't know that a student can really "catch up" in college courses if his/her skills aren't basically at beginning college level already.
I also worry about students who can't seem to interpret quiz or exam questions, though I feel that I can help students with these skills (and that it's part of my job to do so). Similarly, I work with students on notetaking skills a little, and try to get them over to talk to the folks at the skills office to help more, if they seem shakey on notetaking.
So now I'm at the point of writing little notes to the students who did very poorly, asking if they missed doing the reading, or if they need help. It's hard to word those little notes well without taking a long time to write them.