It’s a perennial problem for teachers. You plan a great lesson around today’s short story, but it turns out two-thirds of the students haven’t read it. What do you do? Do you kick out the slackers? Give them class time to read it? Give up and do something else? As a follow-up to last week’s post on how we can teach students to be willing, if not enthusiastic, readers and writers, I’d like to throw a question out there from frequent commenter CrysHouse. She asks, How can we use class time effectively if students don’t do the reading before they come?
I have a couple of techniques. I have them do some written homework based on the reading, homework that they must then use for the class activity. It counts for credit, they have to show it to me before we begin, and if they haven’t done it, they have to leave class, because they can’t do the day’s work. Of course, I’m in a privileged spot here – most teachers can’t throw students out of class – but you could have students work on their own to complete the homework, and receive no credit for the class work they miss as a result.
I have been known, if it seems like no one has done the reading, to designate today’s work as a graded test. They have to work alone to answer some questions or write a short response. This, of course, makes more work for me, because then I have to grade the things. It also doesn’t sit well with my most idealistic principles about separating grades from behaviour issues. However, it’s pretty effective in impressing the importance of the reading on them, and at least then we can do some work with the reading the following class.
I don’t like the coerciveness of either of these approaches. What’s more, because we do a lot of group work, the fact that some students haven’t read is often obscured, because their group mates cover for them and resent both them and me. If all work were individual, it would be easier to allow natural consequences to reveal themselves – you won’t get much done if you haven’t read before class! – but this is not always possible, and I hate structuring all my lessons around the contingency that some students aren’t pulling their weight.
Do people have other techniques? Is this problem solvable? I wrote three papers on Robinson Crusoe in high school and college, and to this day, I haven’t read the damn book and don’t intend to – so who am I to fault them? Is it possible that this is one more thing we’ll just have to let go?
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Image by Davide Guglielmo