I dedicated a couple of blog posts recently to an excellent article by William J. Broz in the latest English Journal. Basically, he argues that many students don’t read assigned texts, and we’re going about encouraging them to read them all wrong.
He feels that we need to use social pressures to get students to read. Put them in meaningful discussion groups, let them have meaningful, rewarding discussion, and give them responsibility for creating that discussion. Don’t waste time on low-level comprehension questions (reading quizzes), instead reward those who read and prepared for the discussion by allowing them to engage in authentic discussion. Those who didn’t bother to prepare spend their class time reading so they can get caught up while the others are “rewarded” for their preparation. Don’t spend time “discussing” the reading by summarizing it through low-level, leading questions. Don’t spend time rehashing the chapter for those who didn’t read. Instead, let them read in class (minus the points for not preparing) and let those who did read discuss.
We did something similar in my class this year with Lord of the Flies. We had weekly Socratic Circles on the book. Students were required to create a given number of level questions to prepare. We gave points for preparation. I like Broz’s idea of not allowing people to participate who didn’t prepare, instead giving them reading time to catch up. Peer pressure is a powerful thing, let’s see it used for good. One of the coolest things I saw this year was one student taking another to task for not being prepared for the Socratic Circle.