Monday, March 05, 2018

Because nobody reads on weekends, or weekdays, or weeknights, or, apparently, ever

Today I collected a reading quiz that offered a very refreshing answer: "I didn't do the reading." I wish I could give him an A for honesty, especially after wading through long rambling paragraphs of vague nothingness on other quizzes. 

Where did all that empty blather come from? It was pretty easy to track it down. I'd posted just the introductory chapters of a certain work on our course management system, and the quiz asked students to answer a question and support their position with two specific examples from those chapters. 

It was easy to tell who had done the reading because their examples were specific, relevant, and clearly drawn from today's reading. But that was just a handful of students. The rest rambled on at length without saying much; some offered no examples at all or examples so vague as to be meaningless ("she learns a lot from the trials of growing up"), while others offered specific examples of events that happen later in the book.

But wait: I gave them only the first couple of chapters; where did they come up with examples from later in the book? I doubt that all these students got so interested in the topic that they went and dug up the complete text of a fairly obscure book in order to read it over the weekend. No, I'm pretty sure they're relying on online summaries.

This makes me crazy. I mean, it's not even a long or difficult text, just a few short chapters of lively, engaging writing, and it looks as if more than half of the class didn't even bother trying. A student in another class told me it's unreasonable to expect students to read over the weekend because they have so many other things to do, but in that case maybe they could download the text early and read it before the weekend hits--a fluid time period since many students start the festivities on Thursday night.

So today in class the few of us who had done the reading enjoyed a free-wheeling discussion of a terrific text, but I'm not sure what the rest of the students thought they were doing there. And now that I've read their reading quizzes, I have to wonder what I'm doing there. This is a literature class! If I can't motivate my students to perform the most basic task essential to understanding literature--reading the text--then what do I think I'm accomplishing?


Stacey Lee Donohue said...

I feel your pain, Bev. I have no solutions: it baffles me that anyone would sign up for a literature class who didn't want to read. There are other choices (Drawing,Art History, even Film) for their Arts and Letters gen ed requirement.

Bev said...

Well, we do require all students to take a literature class, but that requirement will be removed after next year; starting in 2019-20, students will have a choice much like the one you describe. But it really depresses me to see how many of our students hate reading and avoid it whenever possible. Even when I make a text available without charge on our course management system, they don't even look at it. (And I know that because I've looked a the logs.) I know some high schools deal with this by having the students read the texts in class, but as I keep telling my students, this isn't high school. I just with I knew a way to get them to read!

Stacey Lee Donohue said...

I've taken to printing a bunch of the stories I put in Blackboard---forcing students to bring them to class printed and annotated. That sort of helps,though I can see how pitiful some of the annotations are despite going over how to annotate...

Reading quizzes the first few weeks of class also works, though it basically works to get those students who refuse to read to withdraw.

I am assigning 3 contemporary novels and a novella next term (we are on the quarter system, so 10 weeks), and the last time I taught Books That Cook! students did the reading, but that was 5 years ago and students have changed. I'm a little concerned....