Engaging students in reading the text

A weekly quiz on the reading assignment – what do you think?

For years, I have based many class discussions and activities on the assumption that my students will have read the assigned reading before coming to class. In reality, some students had perhaps started reading, but many of them seemed to be totally unaware of the readings at all. So, I started asking them questions about how they approached the reading assignments. What did they do? How did they spend time that week preparing for class?

Students would often tell me that they tried to read on the train or bus – I teach and live in the heart of Chicago and most of my students take public transportation. They also described reading late at night once their children were in bed, or on breaks at work. It became clear to me that very few students spent more than 15 minutes at a time trying to read the text. That was useful information.

To me, it sounded like they were skimming for main ideas rather than spending time getting immersed in the text. I also got the sense that they did a rather passive job of reading. They were not looking for anything in particular and they seemed to be waiting for the main ideas to pop out at them. I did not get the impression that students were using the text as a tool for learning. Maybe, to them, it just felt like a chore that never got finished each week.

At some point, I just accepted that this is the way it is. Students don’t read assigned readings and there is nothing to be done about it! I have heard many other instructors, across various disciplines, say the same thing. Students don’t read. Students are not prepared for class discussions. We would sigh and shrug our shoulders, and say things like “what can you do?”

About a year ago I tried something I never thought I would do – weekly quizzes. I never liked the idea for a variety of reasons: 1) it would be a lot of grading and I’m already swamped with grading, 2) I’m not an experienced test writer so I’m not sure of the best method for designing such a thing, 3) it seemed like busywork, 4) it seemed punitive. I also thought the students would hate it and that I would lose their trust which is something I work hard to build in the first weeks of the semester.

However, it bothered me that students seemed to feel that doing assigned reading was optional. It’s not.

But, I tried it anyway.

In the next few posts, I will share the process with you. I’m going to try to do some reflecting on the process – something I teach and teach and teach, but do not do enough of myself! I hope you will join me and share your reflections too!

For now, I’ll leave a quote from one of my student’s quizzes about Vivian Paley’s book A Child’s Work: The Importance of Fantasy Play.

This book made me realize that fantasy play has a big impact on how children grow. It helped me to want to start opening my eyes and see what children are doing while they play and to really listen to them because children do have a lot to say especially while playing and we as teachers can really learn from what they are doing. It taught me that I shouldn’t worry about what messes they are doing but to let them explore because by always being behind them cleaning up I’m limiting their imagination which also means that I’m not really even paying attention to them.

This was my feedback on the quiz:

I used to do this a lot too! I was always worried about mess. If my room was messy, I thought that meant I was not a good teacher! It helped me when my director told me to stop and observe.


1 Response to “Engaging students in reading the text”

  1. 1 The Flipped Classroom: an experiment | Carrie's Blog Trackback on March 4, 2013 at 9:46 am

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