When Things Feel Off in Class: What Should You Do?

Male dentist working in patient's mouthHave you had one of these moments? Class went so-so, but it felt harder than it should. I used to call it a “dentist day.” Why? Because I felt like I was pulling teeth, trying to get them to talk, to think critically about the material, instead of having them engage actively with the content. What to do when one of these days happen? I have a checklist for you which can help.

Spiral notebook open to blank page; fountain pen on it, waiting to be used-Write down your thoughts about how the class went—it may not have been all difficult. Were there certain concepts that seemed to go well? Or at least ok? Sometimes when we have one of these days, we forget the good moments and just recall the tough ones. Try to write as factually as you can, for example, “When I asked, only 10 percent admitted to doing the required readings,” or “no one volunteered during discussion time and several students refused to share when I called on them,” or “a third of the class did not turn in the required assessment which was due last night.” Only after you have the facts written down should you turn to how you felt teaching that day. If you are using a Teaching Diary (see earlier blog posts here and here), look back to other terms where you taught the same content. Maybe it is the difficulty of the concepts you are teaching and not you, not your students, nor your interactions. That can be very helpful to know.

Images shows part of a calendar, with one date in red and says "Due Date"-Look at your class calendar and the academic calendar of your institution. Is it the week where most classes are giving midterms? The week before a major break or vacation? Or the first few days back from a long break? Do you have a major assignment due in a few days, which may have captured student attention more than readings or in-class work? These are times when student engagement might dip. Put differently, it might not be “your class” but just the typical ebb and flow of the academic calendar. I’m not saying it makes it “okay” for students to be less engaged, but looking at the calendar might help you diagnose what is occurring.

Cartoon image of woman, almost pulling out her hair; she is stressed-How are you doing? Are you feeling overwhelmed with grading or course preparations? Or committee work? How’s your research going (or not going)? Are you doing a lot of community service? Are you or a loved one sick or not sleeping through the night? What’s happening to each of us as a person inevitably can follow us into the classroom. Again, if you’re running on just a few hours of sleep because of a sick child—it’s okay to have an okay day of teaching. We’re human—be kind to yourself!

-Answer honestly, what percentage of class are you lecturing/talking versus students being directly engaged with the course material? Student engagement will rise with more use of active learning activities. Sometimes when it feels like the class dynamics are tense, taking charge/control feels like a way to turn things around, but actually that pedagogical strategy may backfire. Try giving students more responsibility. Ask a question and wait—for probably what feels like an excruciatingly long time—and students will start to talk.

-Is it time to do an impromptu evaluation by the class to gather (anonymously, of course) their perceptions of class dynamics, workload, etc.? As a few strategic questions and give them time to respond in writing. Some possible questions might be: What are they liking the most about recent classroom content and why? Liking the least and why? Is an upcoming assessment worrying them? If so, what is concerning? What’s the best thing about classroom dynamics and why? What’s the worst thing and why? Braver still, you could ask, “What is the one thing you wish I as the professor would stop doing and why? Would start doing and why?

Handheld microscope; in center of lens is word "Observe"-Bring in fresh eyes to help observe your class. Does your institution have a teaching and learning center? Does it do in-class pedagogical consultations? Or does your department or college have pedagogical mentors you could ask to do a classroom visit? Or if none of those resources are available to you, do you have a colleague you trust and feel is a strong teacher and observer who you could ask?

Typically, an in-class teaching observation typically happens in 5 steps.

Step 1: You and the observer meet to talk. Bring your syllabus with you,  highlighting events to be observed. I suggest that you bring a copy of readings that are being covered (or send them to the observer once you both select a date for the observation. The observer will ask you to talk about how you feel the class is going and  in this case, why you are feeling troubled about the classroom interactions. The goal of    this meeting is to communicate effectively your worries so that the observer can give you feedback  on them. Will he or she use a rubric already constructed? If so, ask to see it and talk about any concerns you might have about it. Be sure to talk about how to explain the             observer’s presence in class—will you introduce the person or not? Say why the observer is there or not? Ask about if the observer things you should tell the class in advance of the day of the observation about the visit. Will the observer want time to talk with the students? You need to know this in order to shorten your activities for the class, for instance. The more specific you are in this step about your concerns, the better the outcome of the observation will be. And remember, the observation is to help you, so make sure you are comfortable during this pre-observation step.

Step 2: The observation. Try your best to have a “normal” classroom experience that  day. Don’t try to be “different” or do different pedagogical strategies than you would normally.

Step 3: The observer will spend time thinking about the classroom visit, the issues you asked for specific feedback, and will write up a summary of observations and possible  recommendations. Often this is sent to you as a written report for you to “digest” in  advance of Step 4.

Step 4: You both meet again to discuss the report of the observer and the recommendations. If the report was sent to you in advance, be sure you have enough time to process it intellectually as well as emotionally before the meeting is scheduled. If  you don’t see the report until the meeting, ask for enough time to read it thoroughly before continuing onto the pedagogical conversation.

Step 5: Begin to implement new pedagogical and classroom management strategies if they were recommended. Ideally, your observer will reach out to you in two or three  weeks just to check how things are going. But remember, you can always contact them,  too!

Note: if you are teaching online, Step 2 will likely change some. Usually the observer asks you to “admit” them to the class for a week or so. The observer should have all the access to assessments, discussion posts, readings, syllabus, etc., that your students have.

So if you are feeling that something’s “off” about how a class is going, and it seems deeper than “midterm week” or that you have a bad cold and have lower energy, etc., you have strategies to help you figure out what might be happening and how to make it better. You are not alone.

[Posted early because we are moving to our newly built home on Wednesday and won’t have Internet for few more days after that.]

Please visit the Pedagogical Thoughts website to contact me about institutional or individual consulting, dissertation editing or coaching about writing.

Ask An Editor

I’ve been on both sides of the author-editor relationship. I was an editor of the American Sociological Association’s sole pedagogical journal, Teaching Sociology, from 2010-2014. In those five years, I wrote over a thousand decision letters; I struggled with each one. How to encourage realistically some, let others down gently but honestly, and celebrate with those who were to be published. And while I have had many articles and several books published, I have also felt the sting of what I felt were unfair editorial decisions. I’ve had my share of “Reviewer 2’s” inappropriate or off-topic comments. I want to answer some questions I was frequently asked as an editor.

What are the reasons that an editor might reject a manuscript without review? (Sometimes called a “desk reject”)

Red stamp that says "rejected" three timesProbably the most common reason is that the manuscript was not a good fit for the journal and its mission. So for example, the journal I edited was a pedagogically-focused journal. But I sometimes received a manuscript which didn’t fit that mission. For example, a manuscript might be submitted and it is on how the interactions between a school principal and the school district’s central office shaped the budgeting process for an elementary school. Interesting, but I rejected that manuscript without sending it out to reviewers, because it was not enough about pedagogy. I would though, give the author the names of a few journals to which it was a better fit (in this case, the ASA journal, Sociology of Education). Other times the manuscript was pedagogical in nature, but was about teaching, for example, the introduction to political science college course, and not about teaching sociology. Again, I would instantly reject it but suggest that discipline’s pedagogical journal (if there was one).

Can I ignore some comments either made by the editor or a reviewer?

Mulitiple white balls with word "Ignore" on them and one red one that says "Listen"Of course you can, but …. think through the critique carefully before you choose to ignore it. If several reviewers are saying the same comment—I don’t think you should ignore it. And if you do, don’t pretend the comment wasn’t stated repeatedly when you go to write the cover letter the revised manuscript to the editor and reviewers. You will need to explain in detail why you chose to ignore the comment. Would it have changed the point of the manuscript in ways you disagreed with? Would a suggestion to use a different theoretical framework have required too much new literature? And why would that not be a good thing? Tell them why you made the choice to ignore their comment.

Can I begin a revision and send it to you, the editor, for your comments and thoughts, outside of the online submission system?

Could you do me a favor?Ask the editor about this in an email before you do it. Editors of top journals, who receive hundreds of submissions a month, will likely say ‘No.” But other journals might have a more developmental approach to working with authors and might say “Yes” to doing this once in a while. If the editor says “Yes,” please don’t abuse her or his kindness by sending a new paragraph a day. Work hard to revise the most complex part of the manuscript, based on the editor’s and reviewers’ comments and send it once for consideration. Be sure to thank the editor when you receive feedback.

Is it okay to call an editor about a decision letter and/or comments?

Angry white female holding cell phoneSure it is. But do it when you are calm and/or have the emotional wave that can hit an author reading a decision letter the first time, under control (see last week’s blog for tips on how to do that). Don’t call when you are angry. Know what you want to talk about. What do I mean? You want to be able to talk like this with the editor, “Your comment about weaving theory throughout the lit review section confused me, could you say more?” and not talk like this: “I think your decision is wrong and crazy and you need to change it this instant.” Usually that last statement had a few expletives added in for good measure. Remember two things about the editor: 1) You want to keep the editor thinking positively about your ability to edit the manuscript as requested so that it can be published and 2) He or she is human too, so try not to piss off the editor deliberately with your choice of words. Your goal for calling the editor should be to establish a good working relationship which gets your questions answered about how to revise the manuscript.

Do I have to follow the editor’s timetable for revisions?

Have to? No, but I strongly suggest that you do—especially if the manuscript received a “conditional accept” decision. Many editors tentatively slot conditionally accepted manuscripts into future editions which are in process, so not returning it on time can impact production schedules.

Picture of old fashioned alarm clock and above it, the word "Deadline"If you know you cannot meet the deadline,  contact the editor and proposing a realistic new date. Once agreed to…be sure to meet that revised deadline.

The worst thing to do is to just “ghost” the editor. I had an author once call me, very upset by my editorial decision (which was a “conditional accept”). The author eventually calmed down and realized that making the changes would strengthen the article. We agreed to a one month deadline for the revisions and I planned on making that the lead article for the edition which would be published in 6 months. But then I didn’t hear from the author (despite numerous emails and calls from me)…for almost two years. Then suddenly I received the revised manuscript in the mail. Trouble is, so much time had passed that it was now considered a brand new submission and had to go back through the entire review process. And I had an unhappy author, once again. Most journals have policies about how long a manuscript can be dormant before it must be seen as a new submission. So check the journal’s website or call and ask the editor. Another wrinkle in this can be that during the dormancy, there might be an editor change, which can sometimes shift the focus of the journal. So please, don’t ghost your editor!!

HELP! I’m going through the comments from the editor and the reviewers and they disagree. What am I supposed to do now?

Three judges, each holding up a scorecard. Two are 5.5; third is 10.0While this can feel like an overwhelming problem, it actually is a pretty common one. Different people, with different backgrounds, construct different meanings to your text. Disagreements can give you a window into how future readers (if the manuscript gets published) might view your words and give you ideas about how to tighten up the manuscript.

When there are these conflicts, I suggest you read the editor’s letter very closely. If the editor mentions one reviewer’s comments and to consider using them in the next iteration of your manuscript—but not another reviewer who disagreed with the first reviewer—consider that your answer. The editor is pointing out how she prefers you to resolve the conflict. If you agree more with the “sidelined reviewer” and it concerns a substantive portion of the manuscript, then I would suggest you contact the editor about it. Again, do it when you are calm and have marshalled your arguments for why you believe the other reviewer’s comments would make the story embedded in your manuscript better.

One last piece of advice: editors need authors and their manuscripts. Editors need to move manuscripts to publication. They are not the enemy of authors, but they do function as gatekeepers…human ones who try to do their best for the journal and their academic discipline. So try to see their words as help to make your manuscript better. But if you feel an editor is acting unprofessionally—especially if you feel you are being discriminated against—contact the publisher of the journal. Again, do your best to explain the situation as you perceive it and see what processes there are in place for adjudication.

And one last request: offer to be a reviewer for the journals which publish articles which are meaningful to you, to your graduate and undergraduate students. Editors need people to review. Often part of long wait to hear back from an editor is the number of people who turn down editors’ request to review a manuscript. Yes, it is unpaid labor and often not counted as much as it should in promotion and tenure decisions—but journals need reviewers too.

Please visit the Pedagogical Thoughts website to contact me about institutional or individual consulting, dissertation editing or coaching about writing.

So You Heard Back from the Journal Editor: Now What?

I’ve been on both sides of the author-editor relationship. I was an editor of the American Sociological Association’s sole pedagogical journal, Teaching Sociology, from 2010-2014. In those five years, I wrote over a thousand decision letters; I struggled with each one. How to encourage realistically some, let others down gently but honestly, and celebrate with those who were to be published. And while I have had many articles and several books published, I have also felt the sting of what I felt were unfair editorial decisions. I’ve had my share of “Reviewer 2’s” inappropriate or off-topic comments. I want to share some thoughts–especially for newer authors—about how to navigate the next steps after your receive an editor’s decision letter.

Icon of email, with notification of 1 unopened emailYou know that moment—the one when you receive the “decision email” from the editor of a journal where you’ve submitted a manuscript. My congratulations—at least you have heard back! [For purposes of this blog post, I’ll be assuming it was not rejected shortly after submission, but instead was sent out for review.]

Receiving the email does not mean you have to open it immediately. How’s your day going? Are you headed off to class or a meeting or to pick kids up at their schools? Then perhaps this isn’t the best time to open the email. Wait until you have more time and are less stressed to open it—but don’t let it sit for more than 72 hours. If you do that, your anxiety might build so much that you might never open the email!

So read it—no more than three times, I suggest. Feel whatever emotions you feel, for a few days. But then it’s time to get to work.

Decision: Revise and Resubmit

Text, with lots of handwritten notes and fountain penWhile journals may use other nomenclature, the editor is saying to you: “I am not accepting the manuscript now. But if you revised it along the lines I am telling you, I will look at it again.” How much work there is to do will be specified in the editor’s letter to you—or should be.

As an editor, I tried to identify “major concerns” and “less major” ones in my letter, but not all editors will construct the decision letter that way. So how should you—the author—respond to the editor’s and reviewers’ comments? I suggest you open a new document and make a table with three columns. In the first column, I would copy the gist of each and every editorial and reviewer comment. In the second column, I would summarize where in the revised document I responded to the editor’s/reviewer’s comment and, briefly, how I addressed the comment. If I chose to ignore a comment, I would also say that. In the third column, I would briefly write why I made the changes which I did.  (I always created the table in landscape mode, so that I had a bit more room to write.)

I also wrote the editor a cover letter to the revised manuscript. In that letter, I focused on any changes I chose not to make and offered more detail on changes which I did make. Aim to have the cover letter be about 2-3 pages long. The table was where I did most of the work of explaining my revision choices.

I tried to listen to the editor’s and reviewers’ comment but never gave up my own vision of and for the manuscript. Most of my revisions were successful; others, not so much.

Decision: Rejection  [Either by editor alone or after submitted to reviewers]

Stamper and stamp, in red, which says "Rejected"These hurt. I don’t think anyone who’s being truthful will say anything different. Expect it to take a while for the hurt to recede to a point where you can think about and work on the manuscript again. Usually after a few days, I was able to see even a few good ideas, despite the rejection. I could use those points to revise the manuscript a bit or a lot. I’d tried to take no more than a month to make some revisions and to spend time researching new journals for which the revised manuscript would be suitable. The “month as goal” was because of how hectic my schedule was. If yours is less so, try for 2 weeks or even a few days. My goal was to send the revised manuscript out to a new journal within six weeks. Sometimes it didn’t take that long. At least once I sent the original manuscript out the same day that I opened the “reject” email—and the 2nd journal accepted it, with limited edits.

Very rarely, I found trying to revise the manuscript became confusing and I walked away from that writing project. That’s only happened five times in my career, and three of them I ultimately came back to a few years later and started over. The other two times I simply realized that I was not the best author for that project. It hurt to walk away, absolutely, but for whatever reason, I couldn’t communicate what I thought I wanted to say. I kept these projects in my computer and in my filing cabinet for quite a while before I made peace with this decision. One project I gifted to a colleague who expressed interest when I posted on Facebook that I had all these books, notes, and drafts of an article about autobiographies of individuals with multiple personality disorder/dissociative identity disorder and asked if anyone wanted them or they would be recycled, when I was packing up to retire.

Decision: Conditional Accept or An Outright Accept

Computer keys which say "Conditional Acceptance"Congratulations! These rarely happen, if one looks at journal acceptance rates. So celebrate your success. But even these type of decision letters could still include requests for revisions, sometimes even substantial ones. Be careful about this—you will need to make all/most of the changes in order to actually get the manuscript published, in the timeline outlined in the editor’s letter.

Other Tips

-Please follow the timeline suggested by the editor. If possible, resubmit your edited manuscript early—editors love that! If you cannot meet the editor’s timeline, discuss it with the editor ASAP (email or over the phone). This is particularly important with conditional acceptances. Most likely the editor has already slotted it into a future edition, assuming that you can and will make the required edits. If that is not true, contact the editor quickly so that s/he can change the production schedule.

Angry woman holding phone and yelling into it-If you feel that a comment by the editor or a reviewer is unfair, biased, or unprofessional, contact the editor. If the comment is by a reviewer though, take a few minutes to reread what the editor wrote. Did she or he even include the comment in things you must respond to or was that comment ignored completely? Trust me, editors know when a reviewer is a jerk! But I never told an author to do anything with those comments or I told them clearly to ignore such comments and focus their revision on the comments of the other reviewers. Remember, most reviewers get a copy of the decision letter, so that reviewer would see that I either ignored it or told the author to forget about that comment. And I didn’t stop there—I would call or email that reviewer, explaining why I felt the comment was unprofessional or biased, and why I would never use that reviewer again. Not all authors realize that many journals require editors to send all reviewers’ comments to the author—that is to say, many editors do not have the power to withhold an unprofessional review from the author. I only had three reviewers who I decided to never use again; all because they wrote 2-line reviews.

Sign in 4 directions, which say, "Respect," "Ethics," Integrity," and "Honesty"-Depending on your research topic, you might need to include a statements about research ethics involved in your manuscript and perhaps if the Institutional Review Board for the Protection of Human Subjects (IRB) approved of the research methods in advance of data collection. As an editor of a social science journal which also was a pedagogically-oriented journal, where students were often research subjects, all published manuscripts had to address IRB issues (either in manuscript or in a footnote). If you are doing research involving animals, you might have to include a similar ethics statement about the protections used. So don’t forget that section—it might mean the difference between a “revise and resubmit” versus a “conditional acceptance.”

Next week’s blog I’ll answer some of the most common questions I was asked during my time as an editor. If you have some this week, post them in the comments and check back next week.

Please visit the Pedagogical Thoughts website to contact me about institutional or individual consulting, dissertation editing or coaching about writing.

Self-care: Just Do It

Being a faculty member can be exhilarating, especially when students “get” the content you’ve been sharing with them. But teaching can also have its moments of drudgery and stress. How do you sustain yourself through this profession’s tougher moments? Sometimes we forget that teaching requires a significant expenditure of emotional labor—and faculty need time to replenish and renew themselves before getting back in the classroom.

Two hands holding cupIt can be difficult to take time for oneself. I often struggled with that during the early years of my teaching career. I felt that every moment not spent with my husband needed to be focused on my teaching and my interactions with students (notice I didn’t mention research and service!). Friends and other family took a backseat to my students.

But then came the academic years 1990-1992. Personnel events within my department made me realize that I needed to take better care of myself. There were about two months where I would cry pulling out of our driveway and cry again driving home—the departmental tension was just so awful. Colleagues wouldn’t even say “hi” to each other in the hallways, not even in front of students.

So I began to seek out ways to destress. Here are some ideas which worked for me, to get you thinking about how you can practice self-care:

-Writing. I know, writing is a part of my job, so how could it be a way to take a break from academic stress? But for me, once I broke through and actually started to write, it was such an emotional high that I didn’t want to stop. I love that feeling when words just seem to come from nowhere and make sense and advance my argument. Being in that “writing zone” was such a gift. Unfortunately, to get to it, I had to break through my “fear of starting to write” that I have written about here. But once I had begun writing, it was a soothing experience.

Person alone in otherwise empty movie theatre-Most weeks I tried to find some time “off” from nearly all my statuses. That was, for me, usually Friday afternoons. I rarely had meetings then and save for the weeks I had tests, I had always completed my academic duties and finished household chores like cleaning and grocery shopping. So it was time to relax—and I usually went to an afternoon movie. Sometimes I even had the theatre to myself, depending on the popularity of the movie I selected. Those few hours away from “regular life’ punctuated the end of the week and gave the “me time” that I needed.

Two hands, knitting with bright purple yarn-I tried to find time every week or so to be creative. For me, this mean time to knit, learn calligraphy, or bake. These moments helped to fill up my “emotional well” and helped me to get ready to give again to others—be they friends, students, or family. My level of talent varied by the activity I chose, but each of these activities was relaxing and provided good self-care.

Empty room, full of stationary bikes, to be used for a spinning class-Another way I practiced self-care was to get out of my head. Exercise—done solo or in a group—can help to “reset” after a busy day of teaching and meetings. Even better, just take a walk outside and allow yourself to watch the beauty of nature which surrounds us. So pick something—meditation, yoga, spinning class, power walking, training for a marathon, or just sitting outside in the sun—to give your body the attention it needs.

-Read, but not in your discipline. Read something for the pleasure of reading, of being absorbed in new things. Try a new genre, a different historical period—just dip into a book that takes you away from teaching and research.

Partial picture of woman, writing in leather-bound journal-Journal. Sometimes getting the day’s events “out” can help to move past them emotionally. So write. Try a gratitude journal, if that works for you. Let words help you process the stress and strains of the rest of your life.

Readers, what do you do to provide self-care? If you know what you need–are you doing it enough to replenish yourself for family, co-workers, and especially, your students? Please share your thoughts in the comments.

Please visit the Pedagogical Thoughts website to contact me about institutional or individual consulting, dissertation editing or coaching about writing.

Are Your Students Reading? Tips to Help

Male with head in hands, looking out over stacks of books and notebooks--but not reading themFrom reading syllabi, to textbooks, to other assigned readings, to posts made by students in online discussions, many faculty complain that their students just are not doing the required readings. We all wish that every student would read every single word we require. But how do reconcile what we want them to do with the choice many make, to read far less than we require? Let’s talk about this.

Some responsibility for students not reading course materials lies with the faculty member. How interesting is your syllabus to read? Is it just a set of “don’t do this” statements and a grading scale? Have you thought about making it more interesting to read? In 2014, I significantly revised my Introduction to Sociology syllabus, making it more like a newsletter, and I used memes as headers to introduce key points. The first semester that I did that, I saw a 12% increase in the number of students who opened the file in the first two weeks of class (from 62% to 74%). Over the next few semesters, I increased that percentage even more by requiring students to (re)read sections before they could open certain assessments. That strategy increased the “opening the file”—level of reading (I know, that’s a low bar, but it is Step 1!) to 94%. I also embedded small “rewards” in my syllabus. For example, one term, on page 10 of a 12-page syllabus (5 of those pages were the day-by-day calendar) I said, “The first 20 students who email a photo of a crowd from Google Images” would earn 2 bonus points on the syllabus quiz (worth 17 points). [Recall there were up to 350 students in the class.]

Male student, hand to head, looking frustrated and confused while reading text. Also has laptop open in front of himFaculty also need to consider their students as they choose readings to assign. Yes, coverage of the material and cost are important variables in faculty decision-making, but so is what I like to call the “level of student curiosity.” Will the topics interest them? While not every topic has to be fascinating, some should be! The same criterion should be used for at least some of the audiovisuals you select for students to watch. For my Intro Soc course, I’ve found that a mix of videos which describe non-traditional US subcultures and cultures from outside the US are useful for having students first try to apply concepts, and then, as their sociological skills increase, I chose US examples. Moving students application of knowledge from “others do it that way” to “so do many of ‘us’” is something I tried to encourage.

Consider assessing the reading comprehension level of each assigned reading. Don’t assume that college students are able to read at a college level, especially for a sustained period of time. Consider using software to analyze the reading level of the texts and readings that you are assigning. Here’s a site I would use (but there are many others available for free): http://www.readabilityformulas.com/free-readability-formula-tests.php. I tried to assign readings that spanned a range of reading abilities because I was aware that my students would likely have a range of reading skills and comfortableness with more academic readings.

But ultimately, doing the reading is the student’s responsibility. Each needs to believe that prioritizing this work for your class is “worth it”—and to many students that means that doing the readings must help them to succeed in the class. Put more bluntly—it’s all to often, “all about the grade!” So how can we leverage their desire for a good grade to increase the amount of reading and their comprehension of its content? Here are some possibilities:

  1. Don’t assume that all students are comfortable reading and extracting relevant information from a text. Spend some time with students going over strategies to read and to take reading notes. If possible share several ways, including mind-mapping a reading for those students whose learning strengths are more visual.
  1. Some sort of frequent reading assessment. That could mean a reading quiz or requiring students to write on the readings. Some assessments should be publicized (i.e., on the syllabus) and others might need to be spontaneous. Don’t just ask about obvious details, but be sure that students can contextualize, apply, and analyze the readings. Be happy when students can apply sociological concepts in innovative and unexpected ways to the readings. When that happens—celebrate it—and be sure to compliment the students who offer it. If they see things in the reading that you did not—but still use the course content appropriately, that is strong evidence of student learning!
  1. Group of students working together on readingsAssign students to different reading roles and then build in-class group activities based on these roles. One way to do this is what is commonly referred to as “the jigsaw” (see below for additional links to this idea). A jigsaw activity has to be assigned in advance of when you want to have the in-class or online discussion. Break students into groups. I typically assign students with certain last names (e.g., names beginning with A-E) to find the research question in a peer-reviewed journal article, while those with last names F-K should find the theoretical perspective the author(s) used. Another group of students could look for research methods and ethical issues raised by those methods, while another group could be tasked with locating conclusions. Still another group could think about possible future research based on the knowledge from this article. Once in class, you have one member of each group meet up with a member of each of the other groups, so that the new groups have a member who has spent time considering each relevant part of the research article. Group members then teach each other what they have learned. Have groups report back to all on something you believe is important for them to learn. At the end of the activity, do some sort of assessment.
  1. Male student looking out from behind a stack of books taller than him -- looking forlornAsk students for feedback about the readings. Listen to what they say—it is important feedback. Sometimes they spot the “too old to interest them” readings before you can (or want to) and that can be valuable feedback.
  1. Test on the readings. Be sure that your questions go beyond what was covered in class, either by your talking or class discussions. I liked to use a mix of question-types when I assessed reading knowledge and comprehension. Don’t just ask factual type questions that assess understanding, but be sure ask students to evaluate the content or apply class content to the reading or even create new content based on the reading. In other words, your questions should move “up” the Bloom’s taxonomy, so that students are not just learning basic facts like the name of the author, title of the reading, and so on.

So readers, how do you entice your students to read for your course? Share your tips with all of us in the comments.

Further Information on the Jigsaw Reading Exercise

-Jigsaw Classroom  https://www.jigsaw.org/

-The Teacher Toolkit                     http://www.theteachertoolkit.com/index.php/tool/jigsaw

-Adolescent Literacy http://www.adlit.org/strategies/22371/

Please visit the Pedagogical Thoughts website to contact me about institutional or individual consulting, dissertation editing or coaching about writing.