It often comes up as a challenge for faculty. At AUC and honestly everywhere. Students aren’t reading enough, or at all. Different people use different strategies, and I have asked some fundamental questions we need to ask our selves before we complain. But I thought it would be useful to ask students what encourages or discourages them from reading. So I asked my own students one day and took their permission to write it up. I’m posting a draft here on my blog, but will probably incorporate it into a Newsletter for my department and publish it there as well.
My class are mostly junior and senior Egyptian students who are relatively fluent in English, and come from diverse majors from engineering to psychology to business.
What encourages students to read
- Optional readings – having choice over which articles to read any given week (also occasionally having videos or podcasts)
- Relatable, relevant, interesting
- Short and to the point
- Divide the reading over time if it’s a long one
- Divide long reading over people and then let students share (also books)
- Students need to find the reading beneficial – if slides are sometimes enough, so why should they read the book?
- For some people (but not all) writing before discussion in class helps their thinking. Others disagree. One student told me that annotating via Hypothes.is helped her engage with the reading better than reading alone.
- Knowing the source is motivating for some students – less from textbooks, more popular, up to date sources (where it makes sense).
- Accessible language (although students know this is difficult in some courses)
What discourages students from reading
- Boring readings
- Long readings, little time to read them, complex with formulas
- They don’t like to be forced to read
- Sometimes other classes are too demanding so no time for reading in the others
- When readings are too dense, every week, and they are expected to take note of details
- If asked to write reflections – if too long, no time to read AND reflect – different professors mean different things by reflection. But see #7 in encouraging things.
- Students don’t like when they are required to reflect in writing and then readings do not get discussed in class.
- Repetition of tasks – different things to do each week – they prefer variery, one week, reading, once discussion, groups, variety.
- They don’t like being introduced to a totally new topic through a reading (if it is a course where it would be difficult to understand it on their own).
- If it is not a manageable amount of reading per class or per week
- Students don’t like graded reading quizzes before professor’s explanation because – what if they didn’t understand the reading? If memory based, how will they remember after one reading of it? Especially if professors are asking for very specific or very small detais like footnotes or such
- In general: Assessments that focus on one little thing that appears like on one paragraph you might have missed
- Entire books read by different students to present to others – readers who present may misunderstand something and pass the misunderstanding onto the rest of the class
Students also said: Professors think students learn like them. Different people learn in different ways, or take different time – so not all learning should come from reading or writing.
My quick reflection
I think one of the key things I realized when I asked students why they don’t read… is that the conversation between faculty is often “how do I make them read” rather than, “why aren’t they reading, and how can I encourage them to”.
Faculty solutions of doing quizzes, asking students to write or present…. are probably good ways to force them to read, but aren’t necessarily encouraging reading in the way we want it – if students don’t understand when they read on their own, they get frustraed with quizzes; especially if reading is complex or if the teacher asks about specific details. Writing reflections on a reading before class is helpful for some students, but for others, a big amount of reading and writing together means less time to focus on either, especially if the reading is difficult or complex.
For me, the most important thing is for students to feel a reading is interesting and beneficial, and that it gets discussed or used in class. Giving choices helps students decide which reading is most relevant or interesting to them. It also helps to vary sources – some can be video or audio, and being up to date seems to matter a lot to students also.
I still stand by what i wrote so many years ago… here’s the link again.