Nathan Dean Allison, Department of English
In one of her numerous Faculty Focus articles, Maryellen Weimer notes, “On any given day only 20 to 30 percent of the students arrive at class having done the reading.”
This data would be somewhat unsettling in classrooms that employ the ‘sage on a stage’ model of instruction. But, it is even more distressing in flipped classrooms.
What’s the instructor of a flipped classroom to do? Do we simply revert back to the ‘sage on the stage’ model? Perhaps this might work for one class period, but the central problem remains.
Weimer, following the work of Sarah J. Hatteberg and Kody Steffy, suggests a number of possible solutions, including multiple kinds of “quizzes”, “journals,” “reading guides,” and, that old classic: cold-calling.
As we might expect, some of these strategies are more successful than others.
Unfortunately, most of these strategies only imperfectly apply to the English classroom.
As John C. Bean has shown, using strategies like quizzes to promote student reading encourage “surface rather than deep reading.” Moreover, such strategies are apt to make students think that they should look for the “right answer” in a text “rather than to engage with the text’s ideas.”
In short, quizzes and close-reading do not a happy marriage make. And yet, as Hatteberg and Steffy note, tying completion of the reading to student grades undoubtedly improves student reading compliance.
Hatteberg and Steffy’s “required journals” offer English instructors one possible way to encourage student reading.
In addition to “requir[ing] journals,” instructors can encourage students to complete the reading in a number of other ways.
At the beginning of the term, the instructor can divide the class into small groups of 4-5 students. These groups will then be in charge of presenting a reading per member of each group over the course of the term. These presentations can constitute a large portion of the students’ overall grade if desired. Of course, to conduct a presentation over the readings, group members will have done the reading prior to the class. And, not only will they have to complete the readings, they will have to understand the readings well enough to teach others. Moreover, as the students collaborate with others on their presentations, they can fill in the gaps in each other’s knowledge. Hopefully, this will ensure the presentations will be of a high quality.
Once the group has completed their presentation, the presentation group members will disperse into the other (formerly audience) groups. Each of the presenting group’s members will focus the (formerly audience) group’s attention on a particular set of passages and questions. Such discussions will be focused and directed, but will be low-stakes even for more introverted students (Monahan). At the same time, peer pressure can play a role in encouraging student reading as students will likely not want to disappoint one another.
The Final Flip
Once each individual group has finished their readings of passages and answered their assigned questions, each group will then present their findings to the rest of the class.
We know that research shows that reciprocal teaching (aka students-teaching-students) is an effective way to flip the classroom and to increase student learning (Major). We likewise know that group work creates better student learning outcomes than pure lecture (DeLozier and Rhodes). And, we know that students are more likely to complete work that is graded (Hatteberg and Steffy).
So, why not use these same strategies to increase student reading?
Bean, John C. Engaging Ideas: The Professor’s Guide to Integrating Writing, Critical Thinking, and Active Learning in the Classroom. Jossey-Bass, 2011.
DeLozier, Sarah J., and Matthew G. Rhodes. “Flipped Classrooms: A Review of Key Ideas and Recommendations for Practice.” Educational Psychology Review 29.1 (2017): 141-151.
Hatteberg, Sarah J., and Kody Steffy. “Increasing Reading Compliance of Undergraduates.” Teaching Sociology, vol. 41, no. 4, 2013, pp. 346–352.
Major, Claire. “Choosing the Best Approach for Small Group Work.” Faculty Focus , 21 Sept. 2015.
Monahan, Nicki. “Keeping Introverts in Mind in Your Active Learning Classroom.” Faculty Focus, 17 May 2016.
Weimer, Maryellen. “Getting Students to Do the Reading.” Faculty Focus, 26 June 2015.
Matthew Mahavongtrakul edited this post on June 13th, 2019.