Motivating students to come to class prepared

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DU instructors are using more active learning methods in class. In order to make the most out of class time, it is critical that students come to class prepared. However, this is not always the case. Although there are certainly many exceptions, studies have shown that as many as 50-70% of students do not come to class prepared.

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Why don’t students come to class prepared?

Studies about this issue point to various reasons why students do not do the readings or other pre-class work, including:

  • Didn’t have time or had other priorities
  • Didn’t find the readings of interest
  • See a weak connection between doing course readings and doing well in the class
  • No justification given for why they should read, or the reading selections chosen
  • Believe important course content will be covered in class anyway
  • Do not see connection between readings and class material
  • Found the readings too hard

When asked why they do come to class prepared, students at the beginning of semester reported grade concerns and worry that the instructor will call on them in class. When asked this same question mid-term, students still reported being concerned about grades, but also did the work out of respect for the instructor. So how do we find ways to try and motivate all students?

Tips for encouraging students to come to class prepared

If you think about the main reasons why students do not believe it’s important to do pre-class work in your coruse (perhaps even ask them) you might start by adjust your methods to address those specific issues.

  • Consider the usefulness of each reading/assignment and what you hope students get out of it – Communicate your expectations with students
  • Share the value, relevance, and purpose of pre-class work
  • Align pre-class workload with larger projects and assignments (i.e., lighter readings during the week where a major paper is due)
  • Aim reading material at the “marginally-skilled” student level and/or give more time for technical readings
  • Allude to upcoming readings/assignments at the end of each class
  • Require students to integrate readings into assignments and papers
  • Integrate readings/assignments into class time (see below)

Specific teaching methods and approaches that can help

Teach students how to read (watch) academic material

  • Model strategies for reading textbooks (or articles or videos) – walk through a few sample pages and discuss merits of various strategies.
  • After first few classes, help students assess their preparation strategies through a class discussion or small group activity (Where did you do the work? When did it happen? What did you get out of it? Could different or more effective strategies be used?)
  • Use a wrapper to explore effective reading/pre-work strategies (questions about how they completed the work, compared with their performance)

Use Guides/Prompts/Reflections

  • Provide vocabulary assistance or ask students to define new/technical terms
  • Identify key questions in advance that students try to answer when watching a video or completing a reading. – What do you want students to get out of it?
  • Ask each student to write a one-paragraph blog post containing their questions, concerns, takeaways from the reading or assignment
  • Use specific prompts such as RDQ (Resonate, Disagree, Question) or RSQC2 (Recall, Summarize, Question, Connect and Comment) or a 3-2-1 assignment (list 3 important aspects from the reading, 2 areas where they had confusion, and 1 question they would like to pose to the author).
  • At the beginning of class, ask students to respond to a short written question, then use think-pair-share or small groups to formulate deeper questions for whole class discussion
  • Use a one-minute-paper, or muddiest point activity at the beginning of class to uncover comprehension levels and questions to address

Reading quizzes

  • A readiness quiz can be focused on comprehension or summary, or could also include application questions
  • Quizzes can also be the form of knowledge surveys (students estimate what they are able to do, or their confidence levels)

Consider active learning approaches such as Just in Time Teaching (JiTT)

Additional Resources

IDEA Paper: Getting students to read – Fourteen tips

Eleven Strategies for getting students to read what’s assigned

How one professor motivated students to read before a flipped class and measured their effort

Using Class Preparation Assignments

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