A Ku Indeed!

Is Our Children Learning?

Posted in Course Material, Pedagogy by Chris on January 17, 2008

readdum.jpgOver at In Socrates Wake there’s a discussion going on about ways to get students to actually read the material that is assigned in a course. If any students are out there reading (heh…) — yeah, we know that many of you never read. In fact, some studies have shown that students (on the whole) tend to read about 20% of what is required in a course. Obviously this is pretty horrendous as a description of the “state of affairs” that goes for education today. But…I’m not writing this post to complain about it, but rather to inquire about it. Namely — why is it that students don’t read and what can be done about it?

It’s clear that lots of reasons are thrown around for why students don’t read. Here are a few —

(a) The professor explains it in lecture anyway, so why bother?

(b) I’m not a good reader, and this material is hard and makes me feel stupid.

(c) Don’t enjoy the content of the course anyway.

(d) Too busy: I have X amount of jobs and other obligations.

(e) No consequences if I don’t read. If there’s no punishment/reward, I’m not motivated to do it.

(f) I was raised on Wikipedia and web-surfing. Reading for information requires a time commitment that I don’t make.

I’m very curious to hear from instructors and students out there what you think the culprit is here. It could be one of (a) – (f) (or some combination of them) or some other reason(s) I haven’t listed. But I’m also curious about a second, much more important question:

What can instructors do in courses to get students to read?

Now, I’m not talking about quizzing them to death. I don’t like carrot/stick approaches (though I do admittedly use them in some classes). Rather, I’m thinking — in what way should a course be organized, in terms of everyday classroom experience, that would lead a student to want to do the reading? To get them to actually want to engage with the book instead of just passively “watch the movie” (listen to the instructor explain the material)?

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6 Responses

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  1. eyeingtenure said, on January 17, 2008 at 4:50 pm

    Find at least one interesting — provacative — part, and present it to the class.

    Weekly/daily journals from the reading do work, but that’s more of a carrot/stick approach than getting them interested in the subject.

    With philosophy, it should be pretty easy to be provacative.


  2. lindsey said, on January 17, 2008 at 10:54 pm

    My problem with reading is usually a lack of time, but sometimes it’s a lack of understanding. I do better with reading if I have some sort of outline, reading questions or even a brief introduction by the prof. before I have to dive in. Knowing what I’m up against makes it a little easier to digest.

    But really when it comes down to it the only thing that will make me read for sure is either having an outline due that day or a reading quiz. Journals and class participation alone are too easy to fake. (Not that I’ve ever done that!!)

  3. Chris said, on January 18, 2008 at 8:18 pm


    It’s easy to be provocative in the class to keep them interested in the in-class discussion. But being provocative doesn’t help (me anyway) to get them to do the reading out of class.


    Unfortunately, that’s carrot/stick stuff. I know it works, but I feel ‘dirty’ as a teacher when I have to use it.

    I’d like to figure out pedagogical methods that get students to want to read on their own.

  4. eyeingtenure said, on January 18, 2008 at 9:38 pm

    There are methods of provocation that tie together with the reading — have the student interested in the reading. Talk about Socrates’ Cave, point out a few touchstone moments, leave them with a few questions. The key in this method? Keep these provocative questions unanswered.

    I know that would work on me.

  5. The Truth said, on January 20, 2008 at 5:44 pm

    Do you mean Plato’s cave?

  6. eyeingtenure said, on January 20, 2008 at 7:51 pm


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