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In college reading is optional

1 November, 2007

In college reading is optional

Or so a plurality of my students seem to think. I never took a class in community college where faculty gave quizzes. I never took a class at Beachy U where faculty gave quizzes. Ok — maybe in language classes. But not anything else. I’m damned if I’m going to start. But if the alternative is waiting for several minutes for students to look in their books for answers to really basic questions directly from the reading assignment … ? One of my colleagues says that this what was expected in high school. Hmph. Blogging will recommence when I am less grumpy.

PS — it’s only half my classes. The others are prepared enough to at least ask questions. Most of them. A couple actually come with prodigious amounts of notes. This makes me very happy.

Update: Well, shoot. Now I’m thinking quizzes might not be awful. the first three comments make it clear that I should probably have a serious re-think.

18 Comments leave one →
  1. 1 November, 2007 4:19 am

    I give quizzes, and was actually going to suggest it for your last post, as adding structure without increasing your burden too much. They aren’t daily reading quizzes, though–they mimic the style of questions on the exam, can cover the last week or so–but their existence is designed to “encourage” students to read, and offer a moment to review some big issues. I discuss them the next class, outline a good answer, and sometimes photocopy the best answers. I read them very quickly and give plus/check/minus grades, which I don’t record. I only record whether the student did one or not. Absent students can take it at home on the honor system before the next class (announced via blackboard, absentees are supposed to check there).The other thing I do, which I picked up from a teaching workshop, is ask everyone to write down the answer to the question. This at least makes the long pause and silence okay, because you have to give people time to write. And then I can call on anyone I want.Or make them answer/research the basic questions in group work, then you can build on those answers. Sometimes I do group quizzes, asking students to outline a short essay.And of course requiring students to submit discussion questions is the classic.But really, don’t listen to me, because I’m awful at leading discussion.

  2. 1 November, 2007 4:34 am

    Funny you should post this today, as I was thinking just this morning about restructuring one of my lower-division classes to incorporate four 5-minute multiple-choice pop quizzes, given at random during the semester, and make them super-easy questions based on the reading. But, like you, no one ever did this to me in college, and I hate the idea of infantalizing my courses.On the other hand (and probably unlike you), I probably would have done more of the assigned reading as an undergrad if someone *had* given pop quizzes.

  3. 1 November, 2007 6:14 am

    Oh, I was having this thought only yesterday – this week my classes simply did NOT do the reading for discussion on M/T. It was one of those days when, even in lecture, I was thinking, People, why is NONE of this familiar to you at ALL? I have been succumbing to the temptation to lecture instead of dragging anything out of them, but I need to gather my energy and respond a little more productively.Quizzes, though – I actually have used daily quizzes in a number of courses. Not pop quizzes because they can feel kind of antagonistic to me, but quizzes assigned from the start. They’re each 5 questions, 1 extra credit point, really basic stuff that if you’ve read the assignment, you’ll know (though the EC is usually a nitpicky thing designed to reward the really diligent). On the one hand: yes, infantilizing. On the other hand: HUGE difference in course participation (and this was at a school with really “good” students, although in a required course no one really wanted to take). Yeah, all the students have days when they don’t read and do badly, but far fewer of them do so on any one given day. It’s not just that if they’ve done the reading (for the quiz) they CAN answer questions, it’s that they even get sort of INTERESTED in doing so, since the questions make sense!The biggest problem is the grading thing – I have them exchange quizzes and we grade them in class, which saves a lot of time, but since I prefer short-answer questions to multiple choice (though I’ll use true/false), it can be a little subjective, and I kind of have to check what grades they’re giving each other. (This summer when I gave daily quizzes, I did find that there were some students who were, ah, shall we say, GENEROUS in their grading – seriously, once I had to downgrade a 6 to a 1.) The more students you have, though, the less practical this is. (Of course, classes that are way too big for quizzes are probably too big for a lot of discussion.)For me, the value of something that requires them to do the readings – even if they should do so on their own – outweighs my concerns about infantilization, because for me the ability to have class discussion and therefore have them learn more, is more important than trying to get them to match up to a kind of student that probably wasn’t even realistic when I was a student. Plus, my hope is that by making them do the reading with such a blunt instrument, they’ll figure out the difference in what they’re getting out of the course, and will come to realize the value of doing the reading for its own sake (since clearly they don’t realize that at the moment!). But that’s not to say therefore everyone should use these things. They just work for me in certain circumstances – especially with first-year students, too. I could see using daily quizzes in a survey, but not in an upper-division course. So if those are the students who aren’t doing the reading… 😛

  4. 1 November, 2007 1:46 pm

    New Kid, I am totally going to build in a peer-grading quiz exercise, because mine are long paragraphs (sample: How did the spread of Islam influence trade? in 15 minutes or less). I think it will be so valuable for them to see how tricky grading is and how there is more than one right answer! Thanks for the idea.Once I get students used to quizzes, I ask them to submit potential quiz questions.Re objective questions–I TA’ed for a prof who used Matching, eg, match these 6 primary authors to their 6 quotations that expressed core ideas, and I felt that was an “easy-to-grade yet required historical analysis by the student” approach (but seems mean in a final exam on world history to 1500). It could also be a quick way to start off a class discussion where there were multiple short sources for the day (haven’t tried that, idea just came to me). I’ve tried a chronology on the exam but it doesn’t work really well.

  5. 1 November, 2007 2:03 pm

    I’m having the same problem this semester. Unfortunately, I’m just the lowly graduate student instructor, so my quiz idea was nixed. Instead I’m resorting to cold calling on them in order to get them good and scared.

  6. 1 November, 2007 3:03 pm

    Another solution to the grading question is to give them all blue books at the beginning of the term, and give a short (5 minute) writing assignment at the start of each class — sometimes multiple choice, sometimes short answer etc. Then collect once a week, or even just a few times a term.I’ve also occasionally required them to identify questions, but this is much harder. (I don’t htink I taught them well enough how to do this.) I’ve used the plus, check, minus idea too. That is, I’m really interested that you have a general sense of this. It lowers the anxiety level.

  7. 1 November, 2007 8:04 pm

    In my upper-level class, I have students submit a typed paragraph on the reading, with a discussion question at the end, at each class (twice a week). It counts for 20% of the grade, and it’s really easy to get an 18 or 19 out of 20. I’ve loved how it’s worked, and am tempted to follow my colleagues’ example for doing it for all of her classes (including the ones with 45 students). But she is snowed down with grading, of course.

  8. 1 November, 2007 8:41 pm

    There’s something going around with students. Mine just don’t seem to know what to read for, so I have resorted to giving very detailed, low-level reading questions, which I don’t collect, but tell them they should write out answers to prepare for class. So far so good, because I don’t this every time. If I were going to give quizzes, I’d take the quiz questions directly from the reading questions.

  9. 1 November, 2007 8:42 pm

    Uh, don’t do this every time, that should read.

  10. 1 November, 2007 9:07 pm

    Oh, and I meant to say that just because quizzes work for me doesn’t mean you have to rethink using them! If you don’t like quizzes, don’t feel you have to use them. Myself, I go back and forth on hating exams, so sometimes I use daily quizzes as an excuse not to give exams (I have them synthesize stuff via papers instead). And a lot of how I use these things depends on class size/level. I’ve done the “write a paragraph on the reading” thing in upper-level classes, too – usually submitted via Blackboard. But like Anonymous says, the problem is grading! I like dance’s idea of check/plus/minus but just record whether they did it or not.

  11. 2 November, 2007 2:29 am

    Two more strategies which can be employed. #1, in-class close-reading. “Well, I see you haven’t done the readings. Therefore, the next ten minutes you’ll be reading pages # and # and preparing to answer the following questions.” (Then write up two or three of your discussion questions on the board).#2, the shame and early dismissal. “You need to do the readings. Class is a contract — I come prepared by leading discussion and helping you to understand the texts. You come prepared by having read the texts and outlining some of your ideas about the same.Today, I’m sending you home early. In our next discussion session, I will . . .” (Tell them you will open that class with a comprehension quiz, assign students to stand up and lead discussion on certain questions, whatever strategy you feel will help “scare them straight”.)I don’t use quizzes too much, but at the first year level I include a starter question in the syllabus for every class session. Then at the start of class, I allow students to either write on or review their responses to the starter question for five minutes, after which I open the floor to general discussion.At the second and third year level, I break them up into small groups to look at individual sources and explain their source to the class through the light of a single interpretative question. Then the whole class weighs in for discussion, followed by written tutorial responses at the end. I’m thinking of putting more emphasis on the small group effort, though, and asking the groups to write up their responses and submit them jointly.

  12. 2 November, 2007 2:32 pm

    I’m late to the party but here goes. I give quizzes in my lower level classes, open notes, closed books. During the first week or so of classes, I talk about note-taking and hand out copies of my notes for a reading, so they have a decent example. And I always take questions before the quizzes; if a quiz question gets asked ahead of time, then everyone’s happy. I’m happy because it means at least one person was interested in something I considered important.It IS a bit infantalizing, yes. But if the reading is worth assigning, then it’s worth doing and doing with attention. My quizzes reward that.I also try to use the quizzes to lead into good class discussions; if we have those discussions because they have good questions, then that’s even better.My quizzes tend to VERY short answers, so I can grade them quickly. And they’re unannounced; usually once a week during the first weeks of class, and then fewer later if the students are demonstrating that they’re doing the work.

  13. 2 November, 2007 8:12 pm

    I’m a bit late to this, but one way I’ve incorporated “quizzes” when they aren’t listed as items that contribute to the overall grade is to assign a short freewrite/essay prompt that is open book, but that students can’t answer sufficiently if they haven’t read. Those who have read can find their evidence pretty quickly whereas those who haven’t, can’t. But, normally I use reading journals or reading blogs (in which I can require them to interact with each other).

  14. 3 November, 2007 3:18 pm

    These comments are really interesting! Thanks for starting this discussion, ADM.When I was teaching a required course for juniors (so older students but in a course they didn’t really want to take), I started off giving pop reading quizzes, but I eventually moved away from the “pop” format because it just became too much of an administrative mess about which absences were “excused” and which weren’t.What I finally settled on was homework, and this is how I set it up (as explained in my syllabus for the course, so “you” is the students here):Throughout the semester, I will give you reading guides with questions to help you think through our primary and secondary sources in preparation for our class discussions. Your homework assignments are to answer one or more of these questions in a 1- to 2-page response. These responses should be typed, double-spaced, well written, and carefully proofread. Responses are due at the beginning of the class period in which the source you are writing about will be discussed. For longer sources that we are discussing on multiple class days, you may write more than one homework assignment to be turned in on different days; each of your written responses must address new ideas and subjects rather than simply reiterating an earlier class’s discussion. You must do TEN of these responses during the term; you may choose the timing of when you submit them, but you may submit only one response per class. It is your responsibility to keep track of how many homework assignments you have completed. I will not accept any late homework assignments; if you have to miss a class, you must submit the assignment ahead of time. You may write an 11th homework, in which case I will drop your lowest grade. N.B. I will not accept any homework assignment that has more than three spelling, grammar, or punctuation errors.* * *That system worked well. The grading was something of a pain but still manageable because not everyone turned in a homework every class. I graded them on a 10-point scale, and together they were worth 10%. The real advantage for me was that, on any given day, probably at least a quarter of the students had done the reading carefully enough to write out a homework on it, which helped discussion enormously. Also, they freaked out about the “no more than three errors” rule, and I always wound up not holding fast to that rule, but it helped set the standard for written work right away.

  15. 4 November, 2007 2:16 am

    I use variations on all these methods, including quizzes. I don’t think it’s infantilizing (it didn’t feel that way to me back in ancient times when I was an undergrad). It felt fair, as in it wasn’t fair that I did the reading and answered all the questions while the slackers just coasted by on our work. If there was a quiz, we didn’t feel like stooges for those who weren’t doing the work. There’s some justice in a quiz, and as an undergrad, I was all about the justice.

  16. 8 November, 2007 6:48 am

    I give quizzes because the best professor I ever had as an undergrad gave them. Also, students tell me that they read for my class first because they know a quiz is possible. And the quizzes always give us a place to start discussion. I’m a quiz fan.

  17. 8 November, 2007 6:51 am

    Just read more comments in detail. Is peer-grading legal under FERPA guidelines? I’ve been told not to do it. Are other people told different things?

  18. 9 November, 2007 4:28 pm

    Re peer-grading–the way I was thinking of doing it is more peer-evaluation. Since I don’t record actual quiz grades, then whatever the students (or even me) write down is just a hypothetical “this is what I would give it” and therefore FERPA wouldn’t apply because it isn’t actually a grade, but feedback. But I just made that up. Similarly, it sounds like New Kid does not record student-assigned grades but her own (which may happen to agree).Googling “FERPA peer-grading” suggests the right of elementary school teachers to grade by student exchange of papers has been upheld, anyhow.The only thing I’ve ever been told about FERPA is not to post a list of names and grades (or SS#s and grades), and not to discuss grades with parents.By the way, y’all–I saved the comments here, so many good ideas.

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