Getting Started: How Do You Get Students to Read the Book?

Getting students to do some preparation before coming to class is crucial to the Peer Instruction process. Not that we for a minute believe that everyone does the reading “well” and for every class. But you’d be surprised — especially in a majors course you can get MOST to do it, and MOST of the time. Students will recognize that they have a hard time learning in class when they skip reading.

GOTCHA: If you keep presenting basic “lecture” slides (here’s the structure of an if statement. then a) you won’t be able to get through material at the necessary pace and b) students will stop reading, because, hey, you will review it for them anyways. The great benefit of the quiz is to provide students feedback on “how well” they need to read the textbook. You want 90%+ of students to get quiz questions right (in a nice world — 85% generally makes me feel OK). But see the GOTCHA below — don’t make them too hard.

There are two common ways to get/incentivize students to do the reading (but to repeat the key point, neither will work if you still “lecture” on the BASICs they can get from reading).

  • Assign an on-line “reading quiz” or low-stakes warmup exercises students must complete at least 1-2 hours before class starts. This is the method Eric Mazur proposes and uses. There’s three questions: the first two conceptually based (and easily answerable if the student has done the reading) and the last is always something like “what’s something confusing about the reading? If nothing was confusing, what was interesting?”Then he looks over student responses before class and uses the “what’s confusing” answers before class to guide his PI questions. (Sorry Eric, you must have more time than I do :) I just require the quiz questions, but I found I never looked at them, so I switched to the alternate technique below.
  • Start class with a 3-4 question quiz. Students just individually answer these with their clicker, there is no discussion. See Best Practices for Reading Quizzes (given in class with clickers) for the full details of how this goes.

GOTCHA: Yes, we call this a “quiz” so students take it seriously. But your “teacher brain” should not think QUIZ. This isn’t your usual quiz question. This is the “minimal”, DUH, anyone whose eyes went over the page got this — from the reading.