The fact of the matter is that most students are not like us; they are not intrinsically motivated to read difficult or challenging academic texts. In my experience at least, students don't see that reading the material before class makes it possible to participate meaningfully in class discussion, readies one to write papers, etc. Students generally don't see a connection between reading and learning, or between reading and other academic tasks. (Or they see these connections, but just don't want to put in the effort.)
Given this, Rob's motto strikes me as correct: If you want students to read, make it hard (or impossible) to avoid.
Here are some of Rob's tips to make it reading unavoidable:
- "Assign appropriate material. Just because you found an 800-page specialty tome to be spellbinding doesn’t mean your students will. Don’t expect undergrads to get excited about most journal articles either; you’ll need to teach them how to approach such dense reading. Seek material that is appropriate for what students need to know — the more engagingly written and short, the better."
- Craft frequent writing assignments to help ensure reading. (Rob also has some advice on to deal with grading a large volume of papers.)"
- "Construct lectures and discussions in such a way that reading is a prerequisite for comprehension. One should allude to materials in the reading — if you don’t, expect complaints that you made students buy things you never used — but don’t waste class time with a point-by-point rehash of the assignment. I often clue students about what they need to pay close attention to in order to understand an upcoming lesson. In that lesson I entertain questions about the reading, but I seldom walk through it.In like fashion, write lectures around reading concepts and content, or spin them in a new direction, but don’t repeat what the readings say."
- "If you give exams, make certain that parts of those exams are based on material that could only have been gotten from the reading."
- "Research and reflection papers should definitely require student writers to grapple with assigned readings."
Rob also mentions a technique I use: quizzes. I'm not a big fan of pop quizzes based on assigned readings. In many of my classes, I make available a short quiz each week via Blackboard. They usually have about six questions, most based on the assigned readings. Students can only take the quiz once, but I give them an hour to complete it. I've found that this approach does compel students to read eventually. No, they still may not read between class sessions, and yes, many of them probably pick up their texts while they do the quiz in order to find the right answers. But I'm not so bothered by that. They end up having to read carefully, the quizzes reinforce their comprehension of the reading, and they get important cues on the sorts of things to read for.
Anyone have any other ideas to make reading unavoidable for students?