Center for Teaching, Learning & Technology

Reading Accountability

Strategies to Help Students Engage Texts 

This resource was created by Dr. Deborah Wilhelm as part of the WINGED (Writing in Generally Every Discipline) professional development series.

Creating reading accountability is actually much easier than it looks. Although we all have students who are not going to complete course reading no matter what incentives we provide, most students want to succeed in our courses—and most will learn quickly which professors expect them to read.

1. Resist the urge to cover unread reading in your lectures.

Of course, if students complete the reading and still have legitimate questions or if the reading is quite difficult you will want to deal with those concerns in class. Nonetheless, your students will learn quickly that you’ll lecture about unread reading, which leaves them little incentive to prepare ahead of time.

2. Give quizzes.

Yes, they sound punitive (but they aren’t). Yes, they involve grading (actually they needn’t, but I’ll get to that in a minute). Yes, they often aim at the lowest levels in Bloom’s Taxonomy (but they open up the higher levels). Unconvinced? Consider this: if your student has a stack of reading for several courses—and one professor who routinely gives reading quizzes— whose reading will he or she complete? Bingo. Also, you can’t have a discussion about reading that your students don’t do.

3. Vary your quizzes.

Mix up the types of quizzes that you offer so that students don’t figure out your system and outwit you at your own game. Keep quizzes fast-paced, and make them zero-to- low-effort to grade. In addition to the usual suspects (scantron and online quizzes), consider a few of these gems:

  •  “Stand and Deliver” quizzes (make check marks by students’ names for scoring)
  •  “0-5-10” quizzes (give answers in class; sort into piles; record; discard)

  •  “Notes-only” quizzes (no textbook, but as many notes as they care to write)

  • “Worksheet” quizzes (don’t grade; use for attendance)
  • “Just-like-the-homework” quizzes (now you can stop grading homework problems)

4. Give a “morning-after” assignment based on the next day’s reading.

At the end of class, try one of these strategies to help encourage understanding of the next day’s reading:

  • Ask students to write a discussion question based on the evening’s assigned reading and to bring the question to class with them the following day.
  •  Have students complete an “IOU” card: one Interrogation (something with which they disagreed, an assumption that they questioned), one Observation (an intelligent, specific comment about some bit of content in the reading—not “It was boring”), and one Unanswered question (something about which they’re still confused).
  • To encourage higher orders of understanding (see Bloom’s Taxonomy), pose a question that requires analysis, synthesis, or evaluation, and have students write a single-paragraph response. Sort these into 0-5-10 piles. Or use them to take roll. Or collect them on randomly spaced days until you have five stacks, and then grade just one stack (0-5-10 grading, of course!). 

5. Use technology to help create reading accountability.

Post a reading-based question on Blackboard, for example, and require everyone to respond to, elaborate, interrogate, or expand on the question. Postings should be due by the reading’s due date. Or require a certain number of reading-based posts per week to the class email alias.

6. Give assignments that encourage or require re-reading.

After a class lecture, for example, have students revisit some relevant part of the text and interrogate it with a question or task of your choice. Or teach them Peter Elbow’s “Believing Game/Doubting Game.”

7. Give a summarize/paraphrase/quote assignment.

Select a portion of the next day’s reading, and require students to accomplish three tasks: a brief (generally one-sentence) summary of the section, a paraphrase of some part (usually a single paragraph) of that section, and a properly tagged, integrated, and attributed quotation from the same paragraph.

8. Finally, although it ought to go without saying, choose your readings critically.

If I’m not going to hold students accountable for certain readings, and I’m not going to discuss those readings in class, for example, perhaps I need to ask myself why I’m assigning those readings in the first place.

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