*The following post is part of a series in which we ask experts for pedagogical tips on specific issues.
This week we asked our contributors the following question: How do you get students to read? What assignments or incentives do you use to garner enthusiasm? What means of enforcing or grading are involved? How much additional labor does your system incur for you as Instructor?
Pat McCullough: I do a 200-400 word weekly response. I've experimented with the grading. I tried having them grade each other with a detailed rubric, where they would do three peer reviews each week (we use PeerMark through TurnItIn). There were too many problems to make that the official grade. Not all students would complete the peer reviews and therefore not all students would receive the same number of peer scores to average out and there were too many radically different grades to deal with. However, the peer reviews did accomplish two things: (1) it made the students better writers of their own responses and (2) it covered a fair amount of the feedback I would have given. So, I still do the peer reviews and have them suggest a score, but I ultimately decide the official score. I offer more feedback early on and less later. Honestly, the feedback is time consuming and wouldn't work with larger classes. But it prepares students for class discussions and it builds writing and analytical skills over time and not just on one big project at the end. I'm always looking for creative ways to adapt assignments, so I'm looking forward to seeing others' ideas.
Sean McCloud: Example from one of my syllabi: Reading Response Papers: To encourage you to read actively, to read critically, and to prepare for class discussions, you are required to submit 12 reading response papers. These papers must be typed and approximately 250 words (that’s about one page in 12 point font). The papers are due in class on the day the reading is assigned. Each paper must 1) have a title, 2) briefly quote or summarize a passage in one assigned reading for the day, and 3) engage the ideas of the text in some direct and thoughtful way. There are 14 meetings in which you can submit a response.
Each paper is worth 2 points, and turning in all 12 garners you an extra point for a total of 25. You will receive either a checkmark (acceptable) or a minus (unacceptable) for each paper you turn in. A checkmark means that you handed one in on time and followed the guidelines above. A minus means that you did not. The papers are not graded on the persuasiveness of your argument. You are in complete control of how well you do in this part of the course. NO LATE RESPONSE PAPERS... And we always discuss the readings at length in class.
Leslie Dorrough Smith: Lower level classes: Reading journals, where one entry is logged for each reading. Students ID thesis statement, argument/logic, and any supporting details. I gather these unannounced and then count the articles (quick!) and spot check for the components I just mentioned.
Upper division classes: weekly online quizzes that heavily engage concepts from the readings and then ask some sort of application question. It's open book (=online, off campus), but if they haven't read it, they'll be relatively clueless in answering.
Craig Martin: In my classes I require students to submit a 1-2 page summary of the main points in the reading for every reading assignment. When assigning final grades I drop about a fifth of them, so they have some wiggle room (and that's in the syllabus so they know they'll get a few breaks). I make it clear that it's not a response piece or a reflection piece; I don't want evaluation or moralizing, just a summary that demonstrates they read the whole assignment and have at least a rudimentary understanding of it. (I should note that they can bring evaluations of the readings to the class discussion, but that evaluation is completely beside the point for the purpose of the assignment, which is to demonstrate comprehension.) Grading them is time consuming, since I have a 4/4 load, and typically receive 2 summaries a week from about 50 or 60 students. However, once my reputation for requiring these assignments was established on campus, the laziest population of students self-select out of my courses; that's an indirect benefit to me as an instructor that's accrued over time. However, since I tend to assign difficult texts, I get an inordinate amount of patchwriting, which is an ongoing battle.