When Students Don’t Read For Class

It’s a common occurrence…you go to class, ready to have a discussion, but it becomes clear students have not done the reading. Here are some things you can consider and do if this happens to you.

Recently, I read a Twitter thread by a professor who began her class, only to find that her honor students had not done the reading (she polled them anonymously). She told her students to leave, do the reading and that there would be a quiz during the next class period. She was clearly frustrated because honor students should know better, and several responses in the thread agreed how she handled the situation. While may instructors are frustrated with teaching, this thread illustrates several misconceptions many have about students and teaching right now. There are alternatives to how this professor responded to the situation.

Many believe that students should just get over the pandemic, but we must recognize that students, like faculty, continue to be impacted by the pandemic. If you are an instructor who finds it hard to focus, complete tasks and function like you did before the pandemic, then your students likely feel the same. Honor students are not exempt from feeling this way; they are students too. This is on top of the anxiety they feel to perform at high levels all the time. While many believe that holding students accountable prepares them for “the real world,” the primary function of a classroom is to teach. We know students learn best when they are given time to practice, and even fail, without serious repercussions.

With that in mind, here are some things you can do when students do not complete the reading for class.

Design your course with reasonable reading assignments. You can address the lack of reading completion even before your class starts. Take a look at the reading you assign, and determined the reasons for assigning the reading. You may also take some time to determine how long it will take for students to do the reading. We tend to read much faster than our students. Thinking about how long it might take students to do the reading will help you to determine if they can do the reading for your class. Remember, students are often taking classes other than yours.

Model student reading. Since we cannot assume what kinds of skills students bring to our classes, consider modeling the kind of student reading you want to see. I use this YouTube video to show students that journal articles often have a certain structure. Then, I use a class session to show them how I read journal articles: 1) read the abstract and introduction, 2) skim the body of the article, 3) read sections in-depth that relate to my interests. In this way, students are more likely to have done some reading for class. They have also seen my expectations in action.

Set students up to participate in class. One way to can increase student preparation for in-class discussion is to give students a couple of questions to answer and tell them that class will start with a discussion of these questions. You can ask students to bring in examples of the concepts included in the reading, like images, videos, or memes. You can ask students to pose a question based on the reading.

In the event that students just have not done the reading at all, like in the case of our professor, you can have students do part of the reading in class, and then discuss. You could break them into groups and have them report out on sections of the reading. Most importantly, you can explain to students why they are doing the reading in the first place and give them an opportunity to give you feedback on their experience with reading in your class. I explain to my students the reasons for the reading in and beyond my class, but I also tell them if I can make changes to the course without undermining my plan for learning, I’m happy to do so.

One thing the pandemic has shown us is that while we cannot know what is going on in our students’ lives, we can structure our classes and expectations in reasonable ways that also provide good learning experiences for our students.

Photo by Thought Catalog on Unsplash

Creative Commons License

When Students Don’t Read For Class by Crystal S. Anderson is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.

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