Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Fresh Meat Frank Sends in an Early Thirsty on Quizzies.

I am hopelessly over my head in this, my first full semester at a sprawling state university in the Midwest.

I TA'd, of course, as a grad student, but never had a class to myself. Now, I'm 8 weeks in and hopelessly baffled about how to get my students (30-40 in freshmen sections, 15 or so in sophomore) to read the material I assign.

My mentoring colleague tells me to:

  1. Give them reading questions at the same time I assign the reading, to guide them.
  2. Give pop quizzes on every reading.
  3. After the pop "quizzie," have them form small groups to develop at least one cogent idea to share with the class.
  4. And then, finally,attempt a discussion with them.

Well, I've been skipping those first 3 steps. Am I out of pace with what students need? It was NOT that long ago I was an undergrad. Nobody gave me hints about how to read. I don't think I have time to do all of those steps. But my current system (1. assign readings, 2 discuss readings) is not working. We have silent staring period until I cave and tell them what they should have gotten.

These aren't dumb students, just lazy. Do I have to give quizzies and hold their hands?

- Fresh Meat Frank, already a little Stank


  1. I'm in favor of short reading quizzes, although I've found that announced works better because that increases the chance that they actually will read. I go back and forth on quizzing before discussing the reading and quizzing afterward. When I quiz after lecture, I try to include 1-2 questions that were in the reading but not in the lecture. As the quizzes are short (3-10 questions, usually 4 or 5), they don't take long at all.

  2. Do you have (I can't believe I'm even saying this) Blackboard? Blackboard consumes monkey sexual organs pretty hard BUT it has a quiz feature. It takes about five to ten minutes to write a multiple-choice / fill in the blank quiz, and the program automatically grades them and feeds the grades into your electronic gradebook. I've got a 200-person survey course (and I'm an adjunct hah hah hah) and this approach is helping a lot with getting folks to read. My quizzes are announced on the syllabus and the kiddos take them independently. If they cheat, it's their loss. And, enough of them get enough questions wrong that I think they're not cheating...or at least they're not cheating very effectively.

    Also...I sympathize with the "how much do I hold their hand" problem. As I wrote to Darla, this is one of those problems I solve by sending them to our educational services office. Effective reading is a skill that they need in all of their classes (er, well...some of them at least) and I don't know how to teach them that. Bing, someone else's problem.

    Last thought--when I teach smaller discussions I try to put 'reading questions' on the syllabus to help guide them. I feel like I'm pandering, but it helps avoid awkward silences in discussion.

  3. First, may I swoon with envy over sections of 30-40 and 15? I have to get 100 or so students to read.

    With such small numbers, you can assign "reading partnerships" weekly. Reading partners are required to Skype, meet, chat on the phone, or e-mail and develop a set of questions and observations about the reading, and each member of the partnership must take notes on their discussion. You can then cold-call them in class. After class, they must turn in their notes to you.

    With my huge classes, I have to resort to reading quizzes. Factually-based, "you either read or you didn't" kinds of questions, on Scantrons. I also do "pop" in-class writing on index cards.

    I don't give reading questions. That's where I draw the line on hand-holding.

  4. I build into my classes a requirement for reading reports on x number of class readings. This works instead of a participation grade. The idea is that students must write a short report on a certain number of the readings - you can make it answers to guided questions, or whatever you like, I just ask for interpretation of the material. These reports are due BEFORE class, so they have to read and think about the reading on their own.

    I find that having them do these at the start of semester gets them into the habit of reading in a thoughtful way, and greatly helps class discussion.

  5. In the class of 15 you can make each student give a presentation on the readings over the course of the semester.

    In the bigger class you can make them turn in a set of discussion questions drawn from the reading before every class and then use the best ones as the starting point.

    I've never done the "reading partnerships" thing that F&T just mentioned, but I think I'll be trying that one in the future too.

    Instead of the pop-quiz for the small class, you can make them write "one-minute papers" at the beginning of the class session and then call on one or two of them to explain theirs.

    Bottom line, the staring contest doesn't ever work that well unless two conditions are met:

    1) You are willing to send them packing in the first ten minutes of class if they have nothing to say.

    2) Enough of them will view that as a humiliating punishment rather than a reward, in which case they'll come prepared to talk the next time.

    I've used that to good effect in the past, but it is a high risk tactic. You need to be pretty sure about what kinds of students you have in a particular group to pull it off.

  6. I've experienced the same thing as you. No professor of mine ever gave me handouts or quizzes about a reading. The reading was assigned, we read it, and then we discussed it in class. That was it. And I graduated with my undergrad in the 2000s, which is not too long ago. However, with my students I have to give worksheets, guided group work questions, and lecture on the reading to the point where I am practically regurgitating the entire plot and the main arguments. No one ever has opinions, ever. It's like they want to come to my class and watch me talk about the reading like I'm on tv.

  7. For me, one of the most depressing things about the experience is that, while many of them don't want to read and aren't interested in participating in class discussion, they don't seem to want the alternative either.

    My classes are about 40-50 students, and I usually allocate part of each class period to lecture and part to discussion. I always make sure that I have plenty of lecture material available, in case the discussion peters out. Of course, when the evaluations come in at the end of the semester, there are always a few that say "Lectures too much" or "The lectures are too long." Yet I make very clear to the students, time and again, that I would be quite happy to spend minimal time lecturing if we could get a good discussion going.

    The amount of time I spend lecturing is in their hands. If they read, and come to class ready to talk about the readings, I'm willing to forgo most or even all of my lecture for the sake of a productive and intelligent discussion. That rarely happens, though, so I'm left with the option of sending them home early or filling in the gaps with a lecture, and my sense of responsibility for the material means that I generally lecture.

    In some cases, it's not even clear what they actually do want from the class meetings. I've have evaluations that ask for more "innovative" or "student-centered" teaching styles. It's never quite clear what they mean by this, or if they even know what they're asking for. I try to make clear that knowledge and understanding in my discipline come mainly from reading things, and that there is no YouTube video or Facebook app that will substitute for actually opening the damn books, but they remain convinced that, if all we're doing is reading and talking, there must be something wrong with the class.

  8. I just switched one of my surveys (30 or so students) from lecture to...
    1. read the chapter beforehand
    2. be prepared to discuss in class, and I will cold call you

    Haven't done it long enough to judge but I've noticed 2 things so far.

    1. more students did the reading.
    2. more students missed class.

  9. I used to have a similar issue with reading so I started providing discussion questions to go with the readings. I didn't hand them out at once, but gave them out as it went along with the reading for what we would be discussing the next class period. This increased student involvement, but not as much as I wanted. So, I added a journal component. I assign questions based on the readings and they have write out the answers in their journals which they are required to bring to class everyday. In order to ensure they actually do it I collect the journals randomly and without warning. It is worth enough that it can screw you over if you fail to do any of it. The end result was improved student participation and completion of the reading. There are still some students who you couldn't pay to care, but the rest actually participate. If nothing else, providing questions helps guide students who are not the best readers and don't know how to selectively pull out important information on their own.

  10. Yep, M&M, Socratic method works. I use playing cards to randomize the order of students called.

  11. The best solution I've ever found to making people do readings only works if you have a small class of upper year students. Which it looks like you do.

    Say your class is 50 minutes. Run the last ten minutes as a student lead seminar. The person who spoke the least in the seminar the class before has to come up with 3 questions based on the readings. They hand a copy to you at the start of the class and keep a copy themselves to read out to their classmates.

    What I've found is that no one wants to be the person who has to get lead the seminar and so everyone starts to do the readings. Then they start engaging with each other. It takes about as much time as a quiz, but requires absolutely nothing from you except deciding who spoke the least. Win.

  12. Over: I use it all the time in my upper level classes, but not much in my survey classes. It's like pulling teeth to get them to answer sometimes. And I am enough of a ***** to call on students who are clearly not paying attention.

  13. I make them come up with discussion questions to answer in class. They have to write their questions on the board and be prepared to answer someone else's question (that I randomly assign). That's in my small classes (20-25).

    In my larger classes, I just quiz the hell out of them.

  14. I also do pre-reading quizzes. I still have a handful of students that don't read, even though it is directly related to their grades. They then complain that my questions were too hard, and I am unfair. Wah.


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