November 20th, 2008

When Students Don’t Do the Reading


Students not doing the reading or other assigned homework—I’ve already done more than several blog posts on the topic and lots of articles in the newsletter. Hopefully all the “coverage” has offered grist for your thinking and new strategies worth trying. Despite all the previous “coverage,” I’m still finding there is more to be shared on the topic.

I’ve just finished reading Terry Doyle’s new book Helping Students Learn in a Learner-Centered Environment and would definitely recommend it to folks interested in learner-centered pedagogies (it can be ordered at

In a chapter on promoting independent learning, Doyle asks why students are unprepared to learn on their own. He uses reading assignments as an example. “Students don’t do their reading and other assigned prep work because, based on their experience, they believe that teachers will discuss any important information included in the readings during class.” (p. 67)

How does he know that? Well, Doyle facilitates faculty learning communities where faculty explore a range of instructional issues. Doyle has each faculty participant identify a student consultant. He recommends selecting one majoring in the faculty member’s content area. Faculty then consult with that student on those instructional strategies and approaches the faculty member is considering implementing. (Isn’t that a great idea?) The faculty learning community invites all these students to a session during which students share their thoughts about teaching and learning. During that exchange faculty always ask the students why so many of their classmates don’t do their reading assignments. “The nearly unanimous answer, and this comes from some very bright and motivated learners, is that students don’t read the material because they feel confident the teacher will always review the important points in the textbook during lecture. They often add a comment about teachers loving to talk.” (p. 67)

It doesn’t take a lot of intellectual insight to come up with a way to fix that problem. Now, most students also don’t read because they aren’t very good at it and so expecting them to get what needs to be gotten out of the reading on their own will be a daunting task that few will complete successfully. So, students will still need help, but does it really help them learn how to read when what they need to know from the reading is regularly reviewed in class?

—Maryellen Weimer