- Start with the no or low technology options.
- Think carefully about the length of your reading assignments in relation to your learning outcomes. What do you want students to remember about this class in five years? Would you rather students skim a long reading or read twice a short and difficult passage, and maybe be inspired to read the rest?
- Tell students why they are reading in advance. An email works very well for this (See: Utilizing Email). A short podcast (or a voice message on HeyTell) also works well for this.
- If you want to do an extensive examination of the first line of a novel, do it beforeyou assign the reading. Use it as a motivational device.
- Tell students in advance why the ending is important or how the parts fit together. Is there a way to motivate getting to the final chapter without giving away the climax?
- Email students between classes and point out to them a specific passage that you think they should consider, then make sure you ask them to demonstrate in class that they read it. Use the fact that students are always looking for ways to figure you out and learn what will be on your tests. If you tell them to make sure they read something and hint that doing so will be rewarded by a grade–and if you follow through–they will read.
- Encourage students along the way using twitter or email.
- Require students to reflect on the entire reading before returning to class
- Give a reading quiz before every class (see chapter 7)
- Structure class activities or assessment to reward those who did all of the reading. (If you can’t, you have assigned too much reading!)
- Avoid punitive measures like asking students who have not done the reading to leave, or punishing the students who are prepared by cancelling class.
- Coordinate courses across the curriculum. If it is essential for students in your major to understand the importance of Martin Heidegger or Michel Foucault, perhaps this understanding can (or needs to) be built over multiple classes. Maybe your introduction to one key concept can be done in ten pages and that will in turn serve as a motivation for a longer reading in another class.
Using Summary Sites:
Know the competition.
Looking for shortcuts is a smart strategy used by productive people. Rather than blaming students for using these sites, think about your goals, design an assessment or activity that truly meets those goals, and then assign only the reading that you can demonstrate connects with the assessment.
Make specific use of these online tools:
- Convince students to read just a few chapters without knowing what will happen and then look at the summary. (Remember most of them embargoed themselves from the internet, while they were finishing a new Harry Potter book to avoid spoilers!) Ask them to blog about how the experiences are different. What does the summary leave out? You can either pick a specific summary or allow students to choose any one they want. (This latter strategy has the tactical advantage of uncovering their favorite summary sites!) Let them argue among themselves.
- Reverse the process and ask students to read the summary first and then the chapters. How does doing this change your reading experience? Is it less or more enjoyable?
- Ask students to compare summary sites and determine how they differ and what they might be for. Compare this to doing the reading yourself.
Writing to Process and Prepare for Discussion.
- Write a short essay before class (see here-LINK for better prompts)
- Tell students it will be read by other students. Just telling students that other students will read their writing improves both the motivation and the product.
- Share essays online before class on a discussion board.
- Bring essays to class and have students respond in writing to each other.
- Ask two students each week to write “position papers” about the reading. Ask two other students to lead the discussion of the papers.
- Index cards.
- Ask students to copy out a favorite passage on one side of an index card and then explain on the reverse why it is important, funny, unintelligible or meaningful. Bring the cards to class and share.
Better Writing Prompts
Whether trying to stimulate thoughtful papers or good discussions, faculty need to ask questions that are open ended, but neither too broad nor too narrow.
- What does the text say?
Paraphrase or translate a concept into a new context: try “Explain this to a person who has never seen a wheel” or “What might a Martian not understand about this?”
- How do you or others interpret this text?
This is much harder and students will need guidance. Start by giving students a specific context: What did the author mean by this? How might a Christian and a Buddhist interpret this text differently? How might this text appear to a person from a different time period, geography, or scientific discipline?
- How do you understand this text?
Be specific and clear about the difference between student judgments and opinions. Ask “why and “what” questions. “Did you like Hamlet?” is too open ended to generate either much quality or quantity of discussion. “What did you like about Hamlet?” or “Why did you like Hamlet?” are better, but even more specific questions that allow for opinion but require evidence will increase the focus of discussion or papers. “When is Hamlet most sympathetic and why?”
- Why is this text important?
Here again, make the context clear. Why was this an important text for its audience at the time it was written? More importantly, why is this text still important today or for you? Beware that if you do not have a convincing answer to this question, you might not want to assign this reading.
How does this text do a good or poor job of conveying its message? How does the form match the content, or not? This question reinforces the importance of style in the student’s own writing.
- Why is this passage important?
f you want students to learn to take better notes, then require students to explain why they identified something as important and how it relates to the main thesis of the chapter, article, lecture, or video.
- Why is this passage disturbing?
Require students to take a side and argue against the reading. What did the author not anticipate? The best debates and papers come from rich and complex questions.
All of these peer-review techniques force students to value writing as a form of expression and to interact deeply with the material.
• Peer-Review Rubrics
Students reviewing each other (or doing self-assessment) may need a more explicit rubric to use than the one you use. You can find some basic forms and a rubric for peer review of writing at the Writing Center at the University of Washington or the University of Hawaii, Manoa Writing Program. There is an excellent guide to peer review of writing at The Teaching Center at Washington University in St Louis. There does not yet exist a good crowd-sourced peer-review writing site (there is a very rough workaround in Blackboard), but when it does, it will provide students with an easy way to get multiple responses using the same rubric. Using peer review will reduce your workload, and both evaluating and being evaluated improve student writing.
Developed at UCLA, CPR involves some work to set up: you have to write bad, good and excellent sample essays as models. Students start by submitting their own essay. Students then grade the model essays and become “calibrated” as graders based on how closely their grades correspond to your standards. If a student correctly identifies the bad, good and excellent essays, then their grades carry more weight. Once they are calibrated, students then grade the work of other students and themselves. When everyone is finished, students get a peer-review grade for their essay. Thus students learn both by writing and reviewing. This system works especially well in large classes as a way to get students to write essays and get feedback, without faculty having to do any of the grading.
Inkshedding was developed by Russell Hunt and Jim Reither as an adaptation of freewriting well before the computer was standard equipment. Inkshedding was initially a classroom technique in which students would write in response to a question, news event, class discussion or other shared experience. Students would then pass their text to another student who would mark any “striking” passages (something that changes their thoughts on the subject) with a mark in the margin. Passages that accumulated lots of marks would then be transcribed and circulated in the next class for further discussion. The point is to make space for more voices than could happen in a class discussion where only one person gets to talk at once, and to allow an idea to be shaped and developed before being subject to potentially negative assessment. Inkshedding—like any writing—has the potential to allow all students to pursue multiple ideas at once.
Inkshedding can easily be adapted to an online environment. Google Docs, Tumblr, Dropbox or even e-mail can be used to pass papers for multiple students to highlight and comment. A peer or the instructor can then extract the ideas with the most traffic. This could be done more publicly and online as a wiki or as a discussion board. Like JiTT, CPR or any peer review process, the primary benefit is to get every student writing and processing individually before group dynamics enter the mix.