Emerson College faculty members in the Institute for Liberal Arts and Interdisciplinary Studies discuss their methods for reading accountability strategies.
Hear from Faculty:
For two of my classes I have eliminated daily reading for every class and have instead instituted a couple of full books that students have 3-4 weeks to read. They must then complete a detailed quiz about the book that is typically worth 25-50 points. The quiz shuts off at class time and cannot be made up. I have found since instituting this switch, students actually do this reading and we are able to have much more detailed and interesting conversations in class, particularly as it is not just a single chapter but rather addresses multiple themes over the course of a single book. Students seem to appreciate being able to read at their own pace as opposed to each class.
I have students buy a pack of index cards. Whenever they have a new reading, they jot down 3 questions and 3 comments on a card, turned in the day of that discussion. I don't grade them, but if they miss more than 3, I lower their final grade. I haven't had students complain about this, and several mention them as helpful on the course evaluations.
During each of our weekly class sessions, students work in pairs to lead a class discussion of a research article (chosen from the articles that have been assigned as part of the course readings). The weekly discussion leaders provide a brief overview of the article (including contextualizing it within the overall topic and the additional readings for that class session), analyze a media resource of their choice that illustrates an aspect of the article, and use their classmates’ questions about the article (described below) to facilitate the class discussion.
During the weeks that students are not the discussion leaders, they write discussion questions based on the research articles assigned to the discussion leaders that week. Students post their discussion questions on the relevant class discussion board on Canvas at least three days before each class discussion so that the discussion leaders have time to reflect on and integrate their questions. In order to earn full credit, students’ discussion questions should show clear understanding and critical thinking about the article (e.g., by explicitly referencing concepts, theories, and/or research findings from the article; linking ideas in new ways; suggesting alternative interpretations or explanations; drawing on related literature).
I hold students accountable for reading in a couple of ways.
- The first includes having them submit discussion questions via canvas during every three weeks or so, usually 8 students at a time. These questions are due before we meet as a class. I provide them with examples for creating discussion questions (usually on a topic not connected to the course content) and encourage them to expand upon the style/structure of the examples. I also provide them with guidelines on how each question should make use of the assigned readings. I in turn use these questions for individual and group writing exercises in class and in creating quizzes for the class. I have found that most students like to see their questions being used during a lecture or discussion and that this also encourages stronger questions during each stage of the process.
- A second approach that I use involves having students begin a discussion thread on canvas (a max of five students per class) prior to our in-class meeting and require that everyone in class respond to posts at least three times in the semester (with every post getting a max of five responses) before our class session.
- For my smaller sized classes I have students lead part of the class discussion by highlighting some key themes in the reading and any additional research they conducted to better understand the theme for that day’s session. This usually takes place after I have led a couple of sessions, thus giving them a sense of how I develop themes and create discussion questions.
Grading wise, none of these activities are too time consuming. In terms of preparation, integrating questions into lecture/discussion does add maybe 20–25 mins to my total class prep time for the sessions in question.
I ask my students to send me a response to the readings before class. This is required for the majority of classes. They are required to give a short overview of the argument/issues in the reading and ask two questions one directed to me and another directed to the class. It is a lot of weekly grading but important not only to check but also gauge comprehension and issues that I can address in the class.
For each reading, I do one of 2 things, both on Canvas and both due before class begins on the day we'll be discussing a particular reading.
The most common option is to have the students submit a Canvas Discussion post. I usually prompt them with a question about some key point in the reading, but I tell them that they get full credit for starting a new thread addressing my question, addressing another point in the reading that interests them, or responding to another student's submission with a comment that makes clear they've done the reading.
Because students get a bit tired doing that for nearly every class all term, I've begun using a quiz as an alternative. These are a combination of multiple choice and short-answer questions that are difficult to answer unless they've done the reading and then the questions become pretty easy. The quizzes take time to put together, so I've been adding only 1-2 per term. But at this point the quiz assignments make up about a quarter of my reading assessments. Most students seem happy for the break from Discussion entries.
The grading is fast for the Discussion entries—it's either full or no credit and I make that decision quickly. Although I read over the entries before class, to take their temperature on the reading and be able to guide the class discussion accordingly, I do the actual assessment after class, because many students submit their entries right before class. I give zero credit for in-class submissions, because otherwise many students would be working on that, I think, instead of participating in class. Also zero credit for late submissions to emphasize that I want them to do the reading before our discussion.
The quizzes are easier—once they're created anyway—because Canvas automatically grades most of those questions. I have only 1 or 2 questions per quiz that are short answer and so require me to read and enter a grade.
I have students submit written responses to the assigned readings in advance of the day’s lecture/presentations. In their responses, students are asked to identify the main points of each reading and to provide an example of at least one point from their experience. We begin each class with a discussion of their responses. We also refer to the readings in the course of that day’s lecture/presentation.
I have also woven the assigned readings into other papers and projects in my courses. For example, in IN135 Ways of Seeing, in a paper entitled 'My Guernica,' students are asked to discuss a 'Guernica-like' image of their choice from contemporary photojournalism and must include in their essays at least 3 quotes from an assigned reading from Susan Sontag’s Regarding the Pain of Others.