The word for today’s blog is, “inevitability.” There is a point in every class you teach, where the majority of your students, without premeditation, all start taking shorts cuts in their work. It can be ‘homeworkitis’- where they stop turning in assignments or I can be “lackofreadingitis’- where they stop doing the required readings before class, because they might feel that they will get all they need to know, from the actual class lecture itself.
Debates abound, over how to deal with either one of these syndromes. In the past, having taught primarily lecture based classes, it was a simple decision for me to stop teaching, and end the class at the point the hiccup began. I, would give the students a stern lecture about the perils of not doing the readings, and I would warn that the material would still be covered on the exam, and more importantly that they were expected to go back and do the readings on their own. Later, I would test according to what actually was taught, but would tag on some extra credit pertaining to the material they originally had not read.
In a writing class, several things are different. First, the primary aim is reinforce an appreciation for writing, and to break through those previously built walls of red ink and negativity. In a writing class, I want them to rediscover writing, or to at very least develop a positive appreciation for it in part. Second, the teaching style in not lecture based. In fact, completing the homework assignments and the readings, supplement the learning activities for the next class. So, what does one do when faced with either of these two dilemmas?
In my most recent encounter with ‘lackofreadingitis,’ I had just completed a mini lecture and was ready to couch them through an, ‘applying the concepts’ group activity, when I came across my first speed bump. Only one student had actually read the five-page article. So, I did a silent wooosahhh in my head and figured they could simply pull out their books, and struggle through it until the class ended. Speed bump #2, in a class of 27 students, 24 physically present, only three people had a textbook. My speed bumps had collectively created a major roadblock. What did I do?
I was faced with a conflict of letting them fumble through an activity they really could not do, for the last 10-minute of class, or I could be redirect the activity. If I left them to fumble through, I felt that I would only reinforce the lack of reading, and I would have set the bar for their level of class participation. On the other hand, if I punished them, I was yet another writing instructor who could not help them get past their reservation and disinterest. So, I did a little of both and then some. I reverted to a mini lecture of accountability, and then I punished them by redirecting the activity to a, do this on your own time group assignment. Yet, I rewarded them by giving extra credit for the groups who submitted this new assignment and was able to work effectively as a team. Working in a last minute fashion, they had to collectively pull examples of the concepts discussed in class, from the article. They each person had to select one person to submit the completed assignment once approached by the group. They would them provide me with a list of all the group members who participated. Extra credit would be awarded to all that where acknowledged.
At the end of the day, I got a more engaging activity out of the students, with more legwork on their end than on mine, and all through redirection. So, in the big picture scheme of things, in this debate, I think speed bumps are bothersome, but sometimes they save lives!