Getting Students to Read the Assigned Material

 

Getting my students to do the reading is a perpetual challenge, and I know I am not alone. Educators want students to be involved and engaged with class content, and we want them to come to class prepared to discuss the material. But we know, getting and keeping students interested in the subject matter takes skill. Although you may not capture all of your students’ attention, I consider it a small victory if you can capture the attention of the majority. One way to keep them engaged is by creating captivating material as well as assignments, but this is not an easy task. And it is the reason I was drawn to Jeremy J. O’Connor’s article, “Make Student Reading Interesting: An Analysis of Student Reading in Two Courses.” O’Connor examines student behavior in regard to assigned reading material. His findings indicate that reading interest in correlated to a more critical approach to reading the text.

To prove his hypothesis, O’Connor gave students in two business class, Business, Leadership, and Social Issues (BUS 1900) and Management Information Systems (MIS3100), a questionnaire in which they were asked how much and how often, how deep and where, they read the assigned material. The larger goal was to evaluate “how students reading behavior changed over the course of the semester…and to identify elements that help explain why the students’ behavior change.” He followed students in the aforementioned courses for one semester. One of his findings indicated that both groups began to read less of the assigned material as the semester progressed, however the students in BUS1900 read more, and at a greater depth, than the MIS3100 class.

What I found most interesting was how the professor scaffolded her BUS1900 class. Unlike the other course, she had them read the assigned chapters, answer questions about the chapters, and she used those same questions to create essay questions in both midterm and final exams. The latter was a clever way to hold students accountable for the reading. Additionally, she developed an in-class activity in which a particular group of students were required to present responses from particular chapters. To motivate everyone to do the readings, and not only those who were presenting, she gave random pop-quizzes. These activities kept students engaged while also motivating them to do the reading.

Unlike MIS 3100, the BUS1900 class was appropriately scaffolded so that students had an incentive to do the reading. But the questions they formed and answered also allowed them to read critically and as O’Connor states “deeply.” There appeared to be a natural engagement with the text, but I question whether this engagement came because of the critical reading they did for her class. The in-depth reading may have contributed to their overall motivation to read which may have led to interest.

The end result of this study was clear as more BUS1900 students read the assigned materials than did the students from the MIS course. The common denominator for the BUS class was that they were simply more interested in the assigned reading material. O’Connor accurately comments “the challenge for the professor is therefore to both capture and maintain the interest of their student over the course of the semester.” It seems the BUS1900 professor’s way in which she presented the assigned readings. such as mandatory presentations, creating questions, pop-quizzes, may have instilled a deeper reading of the material which then led to more student interest. Further study needs to be done on how to help students become interested in any assigned reading. Many studies have indicated that student interest is correlated with motivation and effort. Further research should address how to instill that interest in a variety of disciplines.

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