getting students to read
In my course, the required reading is intensive and extensive. Students must read multiple texts that range across disciplines, genres, history, and culture. The goal of this interdisciplinary course is improvement of critical reading, writing, and thinking skills. My students, like many others, live complicated lives. Add to that the fact that many are not particularly good readers or people who like to read, and the result is students arriving in class not having done the reading. When that happens, the teacher becomes the best student in the room. She talks about the text while students dutifully listen—or appear to listen.
The Little Assignment with the Big Impact: Reading, Writing, Critical Reflection, and Meaningful Discussion
Several years ago, I came across the Purposeful Reading Assignment that was reported to encourage students to read, reflect, and write about readings assigned for class. Research (Roberts and Roberts, 2008) and experience tell us that supporting students’ reading, writing, and reflective practices is one of the most challenging aspects of learning and teaching. Although this assignment appeared to be simple, it has proven to be an influential tool for learning and has increased engagement and participation among my students.
Given how difficult it is to get students to do their assigned reading, we continue to share strategies that encourage students to read, that develop their reading skills, and in this case, that also develop their abilities to work with others in groups.
A legal historian by training, I have taught many general education courses that draw students from across majors and disciplines. It is not uncommon for the 21st century college student to become somewhat disengaged with the works of Plato or Kant, and this is especially the case when these readings are complex and/or students are outside their topical comfort zones. As a result, in-class discussion suffers, momentum and dialogue are hindered, and students may feel alienated from the course. This is exacerbated by varying levels of engagement with out-of-class readings, producing uneven student learning outcomes.
The pedagogical periodical Teaching Theology and Religion has a unique section. In fact, many of the discipline-based periodicals on teaching and learning have interesting and relevant features, which is one of the reasons why I continue to bemoan the positioning of so much of our scholarship on teaching and learning in the disciplines. These journals regularly include research findings and great strategies that address aspects of teaching and learning that transcend disciplines.
I’ve found another interesting study of students and reading which dovetails nicely with the research referenced in the July 25, 2012 post. I’m thinking that as the new academic year begins and readings are being selected and assigned, it’s beneficial to keep thinking about student reading attitudes, habits and skills.
I read lots of articles on teaching and learning. Most are solid pieces of pedagogical scholarship; a few are exceptional and I found one of those here lately. I prepared a long and detailed summary of it for the August/September issue of The Teaching Professor newsletter. For this post I’d like to identify several features that make this such an outstanding exemplar of pedagogical scholarship.
“Students can critically read in a variety of ways:
• When they raise vital questions and problems from the text,
• When they gather and assess relevant information and then offer plausible interpretations of that information,
• When they test their interpretations against previous knowledge or experience …,
• When they examine their assumptions and the implications of those assumptions, and
• When they use what they have read to communicate effectively with others or to develop potential solutions to complex problems.” (p. 127)
And don’t we all wish our students read this way!
Getting students to come to class prepared continues to be a challenge for teachers. Regular readers know that we are always on the lookout for relevant ideas and information, and the article referenced below contains some.
The typical college student dreads hearing, “Let’s review the chapters you read for homework.” What generally ensues is a question and answer drill in which students are peppered with questions designed to make clear who has and hasn’t done the reading. In reality, these exchanges do little to encourage deep thought or understanding of the assigned reading. They produce awkward silences during which students squirm in their seats, hoping to become invisible. Other times students decline to answer for fear of giving the wrong answer. Almost all the time a negative tone permeates the classroom during this review. I decided to restructure the way that I approached reviews of reading assignments, and found that by doing things differently, I could change both the tone and outcomes of the review activity. I’d like to share some of the ideas and techniques that I have found useful: