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Teaching Strategies to Make Sure Students Read

Jordan Catapano

One of the original “Flipped” teaching strategies required students to read chapters or passages before class, then engage with that material together in class. The problem with teaching strategies that require students to read before class, however, is that if students do not do the reading, then they are less able to engage in the class activity. When they fail to read, they have little or no information available to use during class. They are officially “Behind,” and it becomes challenging to support them during class time and to help them get caught up with their missing and upcoming reading requirements. What if there were teaching strategies to ensure all of your students read, every time?

There is no perfect system, but here’s a method I and other educators have used that has increased student at-home reading of required texts a great deal.

Teaching Strategies: The Formula for Increasing Reading

The basic idea is to make it harder for students to NOT read than to read and come prepared. Actually doing their work on time for class should become the easiest option available. Here are the three options that students should be given when it comes to completing required readings:

Option 1: You read required texts prior to the assigned date.
Option 2: If you don’t read on time, you read anyway but also complete additional work.
Option 3: If you still don’t read, you fail and have to retake the course and read anyway.

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Now which of those three options sounds like the easiest? Few students would say anything but Option 1. At some point, they have to do the reading, so they might as well do it first instead of making it harder on themselves.

After I go through these options with students, I walk them through the process we’ll take for reading.

The formula for making students read is a simple formula of accountability. It involves giving a daily reading quiz and giving students the opportunity to make up lost quiz credit when they fall behind. So at the outset of a unit, I give students a schedule of assigned readings and due dates. Then I also provide a study guide that corresponds to each chapter or section. They will use these tools throughout the unit to complete their reading.

Reading Quizzes for Accountability

On the day a given reading is due, I give students a simple quiz. If they read, they take the quiz. If students ace the quiz, good for them. I know they’ve read and understood. If students pass the quiz with a C, I know they read but may not have understood as much as they probably needed to. These students can revise their grade by completing the study guide that corresponds to that quiz section. And if students fail the quiz … well, there’s still hope for them as well.

If they didn’t complete the reading, they must write down why they didn’t read and when they will make up that reading. By having students write this down, it circumvents the whole, “I didn’t read but I’m still going to take this quiz just in case I guess correctly.” Instead, they now just admit flat out that they are behind, and they come up with a plan on the spot of when they’ll catch up.

The quizzes are usually some sort of creative short answer assessment rather than multiple choice. This reduces any random guessing, and helps students process and creatively apply what they read. Grading quizzes typically takes only a few minutes, and I know right away where all the students in the class are at.

Helping Keep Students on Pace

If students fail to do a certain day’s reading, there’s still a chance for them to receive credit. Instead of telling them, “You’re out of luck,” we can tell them simply to follow the plan they wrote down on their quiz for when and how they’re going to make up the reading. Then, they must complete the study guide associated with the reading section to prove they read and understood. If they do this extra work, they get credit and are caught up.

This helps to encourage students who fall behind but don’t want to stay behind. There’s still incentive for them to catch up. The reading quizzes also help to know where students are at and communicate with families. If a student fails two quizzes in a row, the next step is to contact home, let them know about the assignments, and encourage them to spend time helping their child catch up with the readings.

The goal is to encourage students to come prepared for class with their assigned readings. Students who can keep up will keep up, and students who fall behind for whatever reason have the incentives and tools in place to help them get to where they need to be.

The Benefits of Reading Accountability

So often we tell students to do something the night before to prepare for class, and so often we begin class without knowing which students did that task or not. If students play the game well, they may be able to fake it through the class activity and escape detection.

The objective of using simple quizzes, study guides, and makeups isn’t to play “Gotcha” with students. It’s to provide a framework that increases the likelihood of students preparing for class. The use of the study guide also serves as a reading tool to help guide students’ attention while they read. The quizzes help us teachers know which students are prepared and which are not. And ultimately this process helps us all maximize the way we prepare for and make use of class time.

So instead of blindly running class without knowing how many of your students are prepared with the day’s reading, try this simple process to help students engaged and learning!

What do you think about this process? Share your feedback and ideas about student reading accountability in the comments below!

Jordan Catapano is a high school English teacher in a Chicago suburb. In addition to being National Board Certificated and head of his school’s Instructional Development Committee, he also has worked with the Illinois Association of Teachers of English and has experience as a school board member for a private school. You can follow him on Twitter at @BuffEnglish, or visit his website www.jordancatapano.us.