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Author Topic: Brief "assignments" to make sure students do the reading  (Read 8099 times)
history_grrrl
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« on: December 23, 2012, 1:55:19 AM »

Last year I read My Freshman Year, the book by the cultural anthropologist who went undercover as a first-year undergrad at her own institution to find out what the hell really goes on. It was most enlightening. Among her various insights, the author points out that most students will only do the reading if there is some specific course requirement that necessitates doing it, or if there are negative consequences for not doing it.

Most of my classes include weekly small-group seminars where we discuss readings, and I'm bound and determined to get students to do the damn reading. I'm toying with a few ideas. Last year I started having students fill out worksheets that I've designed to help guide them in reading primary and secondary sources. I came up with this not just to ensure that they do the reading but also to facilitate a certain kind of skill development. This seems to work pretty well. In one class, I required one-page "reaction papers" on the weekly readings, but often those were pretty bad, simply describing the readings' contents, if that. (I think if I do that again, I will provide a specific question for students to answer.)

I'm posting about two things:

1. What methods have people found most effective to ensure that students do the reading -- and try to think about it in more than a merely summarizing way?

2. What "reward" (e.g., percent of the grade) do you assign to these things? In my first attempts, I've just treated these items as part of the weekly seminar participation grade (using a plus/check/minus system, not really a grade). But I'm thinking they may require their own share of the grade, if I want to be explicit that these count as part of the grade (thereby reinforcing that the reading must be done). I don't have a lot of room to maneuver given the other assignments, but maybe I do need to drop one short paper in favor of distinct grading for this. Any insights?

I hope what I'm asking is clear; I'm feeling a bit fuzzy at the moment. Thanks in advance, as always.
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hegemony
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« Reply #1 on: December 23, 2012, 2:23:40 AM »

I give three quizzes per term and they all have specific multiple-choice plot questions on them.  If they haven't done the reading, they get them wrong.  I let them know early in the term that these are coming.  If it seems as if people are slacking off on the reading, I also have a 5-minute in-class writing assignment at the beginning of the class sometimes.  Sometimes it's just "Summarize the reading in one paragraph."  Sometimes I ask them to answer a specific question about the reading.  These don't count for a letter grade but they count toward the class participation grade.  And when someone seems to be falling behind, I ask them questions in class. "Mike, can you tell us why X happened in the reading for today?  Unsure?  Were you able to do the reading for today?  No?  Okay, we're going to rely on you to know the reading extra-well for next time.  Now, Sarah..."  And I write down the name conspicuously.  Then next time I make sure to ask that student detailed questions about the reading -- and the time after, to make sure keeping up wasn't a one-time thing.  After a few rounds of this, most of the students stay on track out of sheer fear of fumbling for the answer in front of the whole class. 
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summers_off
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« Reply #2 on: December 23, 2012, 8:38:54 AM »

I, too, am struggling with this issue.  This Fall semester I had my students write weekly 1-2 page essays responding to a question relating to the readings.  It was effective in getting them to read (for the most part), but I have to say it was a huge punishment for me.  It was soul-numbing to have to grade them closely every week (so as to justify the letter grade).  I am going to spend some time this break trying to think of another way.  I hope some great ideas pop up here on the forum! 
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thenewyorker
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« Reply #3 on: December 23, 2012, 9:17:24 AM »

I, too, am struggling with this issue.  This Fall semester I had my students write weekly 1-2 page essays responding to a question relating to the readings.  It was effective in getting them to read (for the most part), but I have to say it was a huge punishment for me.  It was soul-numbing to have to grade them closely every week (so as to justify the letter grade).  I am going to spend some time this break trying to think of another way.  I hope some great ideas pop up here on the forum! 

This was my experience as well. I learned that providing questions on the readings also insured that they not only read what I assigned, but pulled the information from the essay that I needed them to. They not only do not read, they don't know how to read. It did help tremendously. But all that grading just about killed me. I really slacked off near the end of the semester because I just could not keep up. I am also re-thinking my approach for this coming semester.
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hegemony
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« Reply #4 on: December 23, 2012, 9:18:33 AM »

I managed it by making the essays only one paragraph and by "grading" them with either a check, a check plus, or a check minus.
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drjennycrisp
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« Reply #5 on: December 23, 2012, 9:46:03 AM »

I do daily reading quizzes, two or three short (one word)factual questions and one "what do you think" sort that I intend to be my first discussion question of the day. To preserve class time, I limit student to two-three sentences on the discussion question.
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polly_mer
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« Reply #6 on: December 23, 2012, 9:55:24 AM »

I asked a similar question on a different thread this weekend.  Tips over there can be found starting at http://chronicle.com/forums/index.php/topic,121365.msg2482215.html#msg2482215.

Proftowanda had a particularly good tip with requiring students to cite their readings as part of answering the questions.

Spork gave a series of good links to teaching with a different mindset (I won't link but starting with the first link I posted, you can see Spork's links in context).
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anisogamy
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« Reply #7 on: December 23, 2012, 10:23:58 AM »

I gave 8 or 9 unannounced pop quizzes and dropped the two lowest grades in an intro class this past semester, hoping that it would be an inducement for students to do the reading. My students performed abysmally on them, and their performance was only slightly to moderately better by the end of the semester than it was in the beginning. Most upsettingly, there were several cases where I could see that the students had technically done the reading without absorbing any of the critical material from it, as they addressed extraneous details but couldn't answer questions that dealt with the substance of what they had read. I did retrospectively have a colleague look over my quizzes after a few such baffling rounds, and she thought that the difficulty level ranged between very easy and completely reasonable for a pop quiz. It was really frustrating.
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thenewyorker
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« Reply #8 on: December 23, 2012, 10:32:31 AM »

....the students had technically done the reading without absorbing any of the critical material from it, as they addressed extraneous details but couldn't answer questions that dealt with the substance of what they had read.

Yes. Thanks for the ideas thus far and the link to the other thread, polly.
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ursula
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« Reply #9 on: December 23, 2012, 11:41:37 AM »

When I teach a lecture/discussion class where it's important that they've done the readings, I have an assignment or quiz on the assigned reading every week.

I usually do it by having a question, based on the readings, that they must answer in one-two pages.  When it's an assignment to bring to class for submission, they can do 2 pages; when it's done at the beginning of class, it's one page.

These are worth 1% or 1.5% each of the final course mark, so that the reading quizzes or write-ups are never more than 15% of the final.

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westcoastgirl
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« Reply #10 on: December 23, 2012, 11:53:13 AM »

I do daily reading quizzes, two or three short (one word)factual questions and one "what do you think" sort that I intend to be my first discussion question of the day. To preserve class time, I limit student to two-three sentences on the discussion question.

This is what I do. I call them Reading Discussion worksheets. They serve as fodder for discussion. It also gives them a few minutes (even if they haven't read) to gather their thoughts, try to formulate answers, etc. I hate cold calling and this is how I avoid it. They know the hammer is coming down, and they know I will take volunteers first, but I'll quickly move on to random people. Sure, there are still gaping mouths that finally stammer, "Um, I'm not sure" but I think this method helps to minimize this. Depending on the material, I do open book or closed book. I then collect those (or not) and that serves as the attendance and participation marker for the day.
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ranganathan
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« Reply #11 on: December 23, 2012, 12:06:42 PM »

There's a very interesting chapter in the "Team-Based Learning in Humanities and Social Sciences" book that I am currently obsessed with that shares how one professor modifies TBL for her freshman composition students:

1. Assign reading
2. Give 3-5 writing prompts for homework, with the expectation of a paragraph or so answer for each.
3. Break students into groups of 5 or so and have them answer the same prompts as a team. **Important- students have to know this will happen in advance.
4. Then, discuss the prompts as a class.
5. Collect and grade individual AND team efforts.

The author says this works very effectively and her colleagues who have borrowed that technique report similar success.  The peer pressure to contribute to the team encourages students to do the reading, and discussing the same reading three different times helps with comprehension.  A bonus is that she also has seen improved attendance.

This chapter is available for free through Google Books for those wanting more details.

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prytania3
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« Reply #12 on: December 23, 2012, 12:10:54 PM »

I give really easy quizzes on the reading. For example, I'll ask five questions that are fact based and obvious (if you did the reading). Answers are one to five words, so grading is easy. In the end, I count quizzes as 20% of their total grade...and 20% is a substantial chunk.
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prof_twocents
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Did I miss anything important?


« Reply #13 on: December 23, 2012, 12:17:26 PM »

1. Assign reading
2. Give 3-5 writing prompts for homework, with the expectation of a paragraph or so answer for each.
3. Break students into groups of 5 or so and have them answer the same prompts as a team. **Important- students have to know this will happen in advance.
4. Then, discuss the prompts as a class.
5. Collect and grade individual AND team efforts.

Sounds wonderful, but massively intensive on grading. Wish I had a 2-2 load with small classes to pull it off. Any suggestions for people teaching a 4-4 with anywhere from 40-50 students per class?
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helpful
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« Reply #14 on: December 23, 2012, 12:31:55 PM »

A colleague gave a short quiz in the first 10 minutes of class--one or two questions based on the reading. Pass/Fail.  A certain number of fails meant a reduction in their participation grade. If they weren't in class or had no doctor's note for an illness, they got a fail, too.

This both ensured they did the reading and that they arrived on time to class. It's funny but even a 5% mark reduction in the participation grade was enough incentive for students to come on time and do the readings.
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