Guest Blogger: Jamila Cupid
Every semester, I have at least one student ask how to become a better writer. Once in a while I also get inquiries regarding how to grow one’s vocabulary and how to get better at copy editing. Every semester, I reiterate to students the best way to improve these skills is to read, read, and read some more. Yet, a couple of classes into the semester, I walk into a room full of pupils who have not cracked open the textbook, reviewed any of supplemental material and certainly have not done any independent reading on related topics. Many of them even reveal limited knowledge of current events plastered across print and online newspapers. The question that haunts me with each class prep, the question that seeps into my dreams at night, is “How do educators get students to not just read, but want to read?”
I reached out to colleagues and mentors to find out what techniques they use to convince students to read. The method that ranked number one was quizzing students after each chapter. Some said they administer quizzes in class, but many now set up timed exams online for the students to take prior to class. Other methods at the top of the list were assigning reaction papers and small group presentations. Others said they always lead the lecture with questions related to the reading. These are all terrific ideas, tried and true. The only problem was that I had already implemented most of these tactics in classes. It seemed that over time their effectiveness had been waning as some newer students did not mind accepting an assignment, quiz or class participation grade of zero for the day and were not the least bit embarrassed about being unprepared for class discussions. What a conundrum!
Well then, imagine my surprise when I came across the 2012 U.S. Book Consumer Demographics and Buying Behaviors Annual Review that claims Millennials (Generation Y) passed Baby Boomers in book purchasing in 2011 (Bowker.com). This statistic raised a gaggle of questions in my mind. What kinds of books are they buying? Are they actually reading the books? What are they reading? Where are they reading it? Do these books serve more of a decorative purpose, like a coffee table prop or a new age tea cup coaster? I imagined these books stacked into pedestals holding up iPads and smartphones in positions of reverence. Then I came across further findings which revealed that many Millennial book purchases are across digital spaces and they are ushering in the digital shift for the book industry. The stacks of books toppled, making way for the expansion of e-book and audio book applications on the shiny mobile devices.
Perhaps, the copious notes, reaction papers, quizzes, and printed textbooks are on their way to obsolescence. For now, many of us still find them somewhat effective. Thus, we may not need to abandon traditional methods, but it may be time for us to transition in more than a few reading assignments that are broken into shorter segments on digital platforms in audio formats followed by fireworks. (I’m just joking about the fireworks …unless it works.) Additionally, classroom flipping – the method in which homework and activities occur in class while lectures and PowerPoint presentations are administered online outside of class time – may be a missing link in our curricula. With its flexible nature, classroom flipping could advance traditional teaching methods to accommodate the brains of the “digital natives” we are now charged with training. The only way to find out is to give it a whirl. So I find myself compartmentalizing the reading assignments and relating them to topics the students can’t stop chatting about, then extending the conversation to topics beyond their daily scope and comfort zone. I am considering full flipping options through the correct university channels and processes for upcoming semesters. Until then, more class time is now dedicated to increasing class activities that get students engaged and even catapult the higher performing students into leadership roles amongst their peers. Also, more of the real world is physically brought into the classroom with every opportunity that arises. Much of it works, some of it does not, but the process is ongoing and more of my students are opening their book (apps). There is still, and always will be, tons of room for growth. So please share the things you do to get students to read, think critically, and engage.