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Tip: Did you do the reading?
How can we help students see the value of completing prep work prior to engaging in higher-stakes assignments?
Unprepared students - who show up not having completed the readings, who come without their books or other materials - are in all our classes. Teaching online or “remote” might exacerbate the problem as we no longer have them physically in front of us, but it’s not a new issue. I’ve tried a variety of pre- and post-reading activities to help students see the value of doing the reading - or whatever preparatory work is needed - before coming to class. Trying to flip this into an entirely online class is a new challenge, and the following technique of a series of “gatekeeper” steps is one of the better solutions I’ve read.
So, here’s the step-by-step process students need to go through to help them complete all the preparation work before participating in a discussion or completing a quiz…
Step 1: Complete a note-taking guide/template while reading. This could be a very structured method, like Cornell notes, an outline, a list of questions they have to respond to as they read…it can be as formal or informal as you like. The goal is that they must submit something (and you would check and provide more in-depth feedback on their notes the first time through this process, and then be much more hands-off with subsequent assignments).
Need note-taking suggestions? Here’s a helpful article.
Step 2: Submit completed notes online. The key is that the student must submit their notes in order to unlock that week's online reading quiz. Set the module requirements (here’s how to do this in Canvas) so that the quiz will be open once the student has submitted their notes, so the student won't have to wait for their work to be graded. This "gatekeeper" step ensures that students are prepared for the quiz.
Step 3: Take a reading quiz. The students must pass the weekly quiz with a certain score in order to access the discussion board. The quizzes, ideally, would be auto-graded so that students can see right away if they’ve met the standard. It’s helpful if the quiz can be attempted multiple times so students can keep trying until they meet the passing score - this works better, of course, with a pool of questions. It needn’t be a massive undertaking: even just 30 multiple choice questions, set to deploy in a set of 5-7 questions per quiz attempt, would probably be enough.
Step 4: Participate in the discussion. Now that the student has demonstrated that they truly have read the reading, they will be able to participate in a more substantive way. In a F2F or remote synchronous class, this would be synchronous and would require careful deadline planning for the previous steps - but in an asynchronous course you could be more flexible.
Step 5: Whatever is next - a longer writing assignment, moving on to the next chapter, a problem set, a lab…whatever it is, the students are likely better prepared for having gone through the previous steps.
The first time the class goes through these steps, you should review their notes completely, providing feedback on how to prepare better (use quiz scores to provide more data on how prepared students were). For the rest of the semester, you should only need to briefly check in on the note-taking step and score it complete/incomplete. The goal of the first three steps is to help students learn the learning process and to help them prepare themselves more effectively, not necessarily to have more grades to input.
For further reading…
How to Get Your Students to Come to Class Prepared (from the Faculty Focus series)
Motivating Students to Come to Class Prepared (from the University of Denver)
Come to class prepared: Pre-reading to optimize learning in the sciences (from Stanford University’s Teaching Commons blog)