Read chapter 9 for next week’s class.
Be prepared to discuss the handout tomorrow.
List 3 things you learned from this article and share on the discussion board.
A lot of professors assign readings like these; i.e., students read a piece of text, respond to it in some way and/or come prepared to discuss it in class. Yet over half of students don’t do the assigned readings, and often it’s because professors assign too much. (1, 2)
Maybe it’s time we stop assigning readings.
Perhaps we should instead start assigning tasks.
Picture this: You’re teaching about gender inequality. You want students to read a handout on this topic, but you're concerned they won’t read it or that they’ll only do so superficially. Instead of telling students, “Read this handout and write a one-page response,” you might assign the following task:
Research the pay gap between men and women in 3 different industries/jobs. Explain why you think these jobs pay unfair wages.
Here’s a meaningful task students can focus on, rather than on some handout. But for students to report on unfair wages, they need to read up on the topic, right? That’s where you recommend certain sources:
To help, I’ve provided two handouts and a video. Refer to at least three ideas or supporting details from any of these sources in your write-up.
See how the readings play a secondary, almost incidental, role?
This is the case even if the reading comes from a textbook. Let’s say you teach Introduction to Biology, and this week you need to cover chapter 35, titled “Vascular Plant Structure, Growth, and Development.”
You could assign Chapter 35 and hope students read and digest all the terms covered. Or you could focus on one particular area—the structure of leaves and their functions—and turn it into a task/assignment:
Collect 3-5 different kinds of leaves (yes, actual leaves!) and analyze them. Tape them onto a piece of paper and label as many parts as you can that are visible. The more you’re able to do so, the better. Chapter 35 will help you do this. Come prepared during class to discuss what each part does.
While there are many (perhaps better) ways to ensure students understand plant structure, the lesson here is the same: don’t make reading the main thing, even though we know it’s a necessary part of the assignment.
So, why might a task-based approach to reading motivate students more?
Essentially, it mirrors the way we read in real life. Aside from reading for pleasure, we read because we want to get better at something or know more about a topic. Books such as How to Build Your Baby’s Brain, The Self-Driven Child, and Raising Kids Who Read have provided me, for instance, with incredible insights into raising my twin infant girls. Yet I would never read such books if it didn’t support my larger parenting goals.
Intentional reading also changes the way we read, turning us from a passive reader who “proceeds from the first word to the last word of a text at a rate predictable by the text’s structure, to one of a purposeful information-seeker who adapts the way they read to achieve that purpose.” (3) With my parenting books, I have selectively skipped paragraphs, sections, and even whole chapters that I considered less relevant. Why wouldn’t we expect students to be just as discerning?
A task-based approach can work even for literature classes or courses where students read fiction text. Compare two ways to approach Ralph Ellison’s novel Invisible Man:
Read Chapter 1 and come prepared to discuss the roles that the narrator is forced to play during his class speech. [Here, the reading is the main focus.]
Think about the last time you were forced to “play a role” you didn’t necessarily want to play. Post a short paragraph describing this role and why you felt this way. Make sure to include how it compares with and differs from the narrator’s experiences in Chapter 1. [Here, the reading serves the larger task/assignment.]
Of course, reading literature has a generally different purpose than reading nonfiction text; in fact, oftentimes reading here is the goal. Students in a literature circle (which is kind of like a book club for students) or a graduate research class, for example, are analyzing texts for their own sake.
For most of us, however, readings serve as the “information transfer” phase of learning.
The next time you plan readings, consider the larger goal you want students to reach, the task you want them to complete, or the skill you want them to develop. Then provide the resource(s) to help them get there. It might include not just readings, but also videos and other primary documents.
Let’s break down a task-based approach to reading into four steps, each with an example:
STEP 1: Decide the goal/task AND the readings (ideally, you want to make sure the reading is essential to doing well in the task).
Objective: This week, I want my education students to be able to teach adding and subtracting with math manipulatives.
Reading: They will read Chapter 9, “Estimation and Computational Procedures for Whole Numbers.”
STEP 2: Frame the assignment in terms of the goal or task ONLY. Ignore the readings in this step (it will be incorporated in Step 3).
Your goal this week is to figure out the best way to teach addition and subtraction using base-ten blocks. (Add details if necessary.)
STEP 3: Add the readings as a recommendation (to help students accomplish their task/goal).
Use the strategies from chapter 9 to decide which works best for you and write a 2-paragraph plan.
STEP 4: Tell students how the information will be used (and how they are held accountable).
Next week in class, you will share your plan and decide which ideas work best!
Put together, here is the fleshed-out assignment that students see, packaged around a hypothetical scenario:
She’s eight years old and in third grade. But she has trouble multiplying two-digit numbers. Conceptually, she knows that multiplying has something to do with groups. Yet the traditional algorithmic way to multiply is too abstract for her.
How would YOU teach Julissa? Your goal is to figure out the best way to teach multiplication using base-ten blocks. Consider the strategies from chapter 9 and decide which resonates most with you—and which you think would actually help Julissa.
Write a 2-paragraph plan explaining/justifying your instructional choice. Next week in class, you will share your plan and come to a group consensus.
See how I embed the reading without explicitly assigning it? This task would be impossible to do without reading the chapter. No quizzes, “gotcha” questions in class, or reading responses are necessary to compel students to read.
Just make sure you hold students accountable for doing the assignment. In some cases, the simple act of having them share their thoughts in class is enough. Other times you may decide that the task is worth a certain number of points and/or that students have to post their responses on the online discussion board.
As you can imagine, it’s not always necessary to use a task-based approach. Some readings, such as an article on how to land a job interview or a chapter about the impact of social media, are inherently purposeful and motivating for students. Using task-based approaches depends on you and your goal.
Perhaps the real promise of task-based approaches to reading comes when we can stop dictating the sources. Students would be the ones who must figure out what texts to read and what videos to watch. All we have to do is come up with the goals or tasks. That’s when students become true self-directed learners.
For now, let’s start by positioning reading where it should be—in service to the goals and tasks we assign. This would be a significant step to helping students see reading as useful, rather than as simply something they must do.
Let me know if this approach to reading helps - leave a comment or question below!
(1) Hoeft, Mary E. (2012) "Why University Students Don't Read: What Professors Can Do To Increase Compliance," International Journal for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning: Vol. 6: No. 2, Article 12. https://digitalcommons.georgiasouthern.edu/ij-sotl/vol6/iss2/12/
(2) Cynthia S. Deale & Seung Hyun (Jenna) Lee (2021) To Read or Not to Read? Exploring the Reading Habits of Hospitality Management Students, Journal of Hospitality & Tourism Education, DOI: 10.1080/10963758.2020.1868317
(3) Durik, A. M., Britt, M. A., Rouet, J. (2017). Literacy beyond text comprehension: A theory of purposeful reading. United States: Taylor & Francis.
What ONE THING do college students wish professors would just understand?
I ask students this question the first day. Want to know their psychology? What they REALLY care about? What frustrates the s#&t out of them? What they wished they could say to you but never could?
My teaching system is all about knowing your target audience and understanding the learner experience. How can you teach them if you don’t know what they’re going through?
Here are 15 of their most insightful comments. And yes, they are 100% real.
I wish all professors knew how much students dislike when they go over class time.
Some of us have other classes to get to and responsibilities, so they can’t just always believe that we can stay longer than what we’re there for. I’ve had this problem with one of my classes… and [the professor] would always keep us past our class time and she would threaten to take off points if we got up and left. So in case there are other professors like that I would like them to know that.
Do not be afraid to talk to us about things we will actually use in real life.
(For example: treating your enemies with respect, working hard at something you care about, being kind to the planet, being on time). I understand that what we’re learning in class is important, but I feel like my most effective teachers taught us things that weren’t in the curriculum, and have now been embedded in my heart and brain for years. Do not be afraid to be real with us. Teach us patience, discipline, and that there are no shortcuts in life, because by doing so, you are pouring into us and these are the skills will need to use as we grow.
I wish all professors knew how difficult it is for students to balance all the different classes.
I suggest that professors should give enough time to complete assignments so that students could balance their own work and school schedule. Instead of giving the assignment a few days before the deadline, they should give it well in advance so that students have more time to work on it. They should also maintain a friendly altitude so that students feel comfortable asking for help and support.
When a student doesn’t participate, [it] is for a reason.
Some students are extremely shy and don’t feel comfortable participating/sharing even if they know the answer. Everything depends on the student. Every situation is different, I personally like to me left alone, when they try to force me to speak up it doesn’t work. Small classrooms help me feel more comfortable, less people.
One thing that I would like the professor to know is how hard it is for me to ask a question.
I don’t want to ask the wrong question or even a dumb question. I know lots of professor say there is no such thing as a dumb question but sometime i really don’t understand it. And it’s really discouraging to see the professors face when my question seems like an easy one.
I wish all professors were a little more lenient with assignments and the amount of work that’s due.
Everyone has things and obligations outside of school so I wish they understood that. There are lots of students that are parents and have jobs and while taking care of an older child isn’t a big issue having a small child while going to school and working is very hard. I’d suggest at the beginning of the semester professors do a survey just to get some background on their students lives outside of school to better address certain issues, like handing in late assignments. I know some people might say that wouldn’t be fair to those students that hand things in on time, but it’s also not fair to students like me, who are single mothers, living alone, working and going to school full time while taking care of a 4-year-old, that try really hard to do well and hand things in on time.
I wish all professors knew how to teach and organize their material in a way that made it interesting and easy to remember.
The one big thing that I wish professors knew [is] that encouragement on students’ progression is necessary.
Because when students have their moment of giving up, I believe it would be helpful to have professors to cheer us up and keep us going. The one big thing that I wish I was better at is continuously learn about new things that challenge me and not be afraid of speaking up even it means I could sound stupid.
I wish professors knew in order to help students be enthusiastic about the class, they have to be too. A lot professors enter the classrooms expecting students to cram work into their brains, reading off their slides. If professors aren’t passionate/willing to actively teach, students would be discouraged.
I wish professors understood that there are only 24 hours in a day. Although we sign up for school as adults we do have other priorities.
It is a challenge to have a full time job and be a full time student. When you are assigned long readings for every single class sometimes it becomes stressful trying to get everything done on time and actually understand and retain some of the information that was studied. Keeping homework readings to a minimum of what is important for understanding the class and being able to take away helpful knowledge for our career should be the focus. Some professors believe that we have the full 48 hours between the classes to only concentrate on their work and that is false.
I would like professors to know that our time is as valuable as theirs and should be respected as such.
Some professors give strict, non-flexible deadlines for assignments and always shut down students when they claim that they have many classes as well as a job and it is difficult.
Professors then, state that if we are responsible for the work for every class and at times are even told that we need better time management.
All this is fine and well however, when students hand in assignments, most professors ask that we be patient and to take into consideration that they have many classes and papers to grade.
So I feel that if we must be responsible to submit our work by the set up on deadline, then professors should do a better job in grading and returning assignments back to students.
I wish professors knew how hard it is for a wife, mother of four to take care of the family, and try to get a good grade in college.
Things I do everyday:
- Take kids to 2 different schools [by taking public] transportation
- Buy groceries
- Iron husband’s shirt, breakfast for husband
- Go to college
- Pick up kids from [school]
- I read my reading assignments (articles) on the train to save time
- Help kids with their homework
- Pick up kid from [school]
- Go back to college
- Get kids ready for the next day
- Do my homework (if I need to write a paper need to do it overnight + not being able to sleep when kids are sick. My younger child was admitted to [the local hospital] for 3 days for pneumonia after I spent the previous night writing my final paper for a class.
One thing I wish all professors knew about is how overbearing it is for students at the end of the semester.
I never understood nor liked it when professor wait until the end of the semester to give students the biggest projects and assignments. On top of that we have to study for finals. I wish professors were more considerate when it came to the end of the semester. Yes, I understand that many college kids procrastinate, but that doesn’t mean that you wait until the last month to give students big projects that is extremely time consuming. I wish professors realized how stressful it is for students at the end of the semester and it is very inconsiderate to pile everything up on us at once.
One thing I wish all professors knew was about the fundamentals of each religion.
This may be asking for too much but I always feel weird or uncomfortable asking professors if I can leave the room for a few minutes to pray. I just wish they knew about that certain prayer times fall in between class times. Some strict professors may think I am lying which really insults me. Thankfully, there are professors who are very understanding, however, I wish all professors were like that.
Firstly, time. I wish all professors know that college students have too many things at once.
Many of us make sacrifices. I understand that professors have a lot of work to do as well. The difference is that professors have their teaching as a job and the homework they get is from their job. However for college students they have job outside college, they make time to come to class and then some of them get too much homework. Secondly, some classes are not engaging. College is supposed to be engaging and hands on.
The fact that some professors put up an invisible wall in front of them is disturbing. Many professors need to learn that it takes courage to raise a hand and give an opinion. The fact that some professors discourage participation in their class unless we are 100% sure about our answer. These professors only give lecture and don’t like their students to give opinion.
Trust me I have taken classes where professors are like this. in addition, I loved the fact that you [Prof. Eng] had an [overarching course] question (“How do we develop children into successful adults?”). This type of question gives purpose to the class. The fact that the question was short, concise and connected to real life experience was helpful and motivating. Professors should do that instead of [illegible] us with lots of question.
One thing I wish all professors knew was that just because we go to the same school, doesn’t mean we live close to each other for group projects that have short deadlines.
I completely I understand the benefits of group projects but I wish professors would give the assignment as early as they can in the semester because I live so far from the school and most students that meeting up becomes a hassle when I already have prior arrangements like work.
Love their comments, hate ‘em, just don’t dismiss them. Thoughts?