When Students Will Not Read

ReadReadRead Out of the three Comp II courses I taught this semester, I found a shocking statistic: no one read.  No one.  Okay, well maybe that’s an exaggeration, but not by much.  Across these approximately 60 students, I found that when I assigned H.P. Lovecraft’s “The Call of Cthulhu,” only five people actually admitted to reading any part of it.

Five. Funf. Cinco.

One twelfth of my total students.  Didn’t read.

These are at least second-semester freshmen or later.  These are young adults who are paying for their education (some have even professed a love of learning), yet they refuse to read.

Taken in isolation, this one statistic would make me cringe, but would lead to no ill will toward the students or questioning of their mindsets.  However, this incident is not an island; it wasn’t just this story.  It’s been happening all semester to a slightly less drastic extent (I might have had 5 in each class who had actually finished any given work in its entirety).

And I have no idea what measures I can take, either rewarding or punitive, that will change get students to read in the Fall when I teach two more sections of Comp II.

As it stands, 20% of my students’ grades come from daily quizzes.  I ask them a single question about the night’s reading, and they either pass or fail.  If they read, they can generally answer it.  If they didn’t, well…

So when I found they didn’t read “The Call of Cthulhu,” I did the only thing I felt I could.

I told them that they had until the next class period to read the text and that they would be presented with a quiz on it that would be weighted heavily in the quizzes portion of their final grade (note that heavily does not mean unfairly, though).

So when they came in, I presented them with the following questions:

1. Lovecraft said that Cthulhu was “a monster [. . .] of a form which only a diseased fancy could conceive.” Does this sentence serve as self-deprecating commentary from the author? Why or why not?

2. Lovecraft opens The Call of Cthulhu with the line: “The most merciful thing in the world, I think, is the inability of the human mind to correlate all its contents.” Discuss how this statement establishes a central theme that is present through the whole short story.

3. We see in both The Call of Cthulhu by H.P. Lovecraft and The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman a character or characters descending into madness/insanity. In at least 3 paragraphs, discuss the differences and similarities regarding how the two short stories handle this convention. Please use direct proof from the texts when applicable.

They whined. They cried. They complained. They called foul. I stood firm.

Cthulhu Normally, my quizzes don’t resemble that.  Some people know the answer, some people guess it, and others try to BS it with hilarious results.  I make my quizzes open-ended enough usually that even a cursory reading can help get credit.

But not this time.  And maybe not ever again.

You see, I am truly tired of students not reading.

What gets me the most, though, is that I cannot figure out why they aren’t reading. I freely admit that I didn’t read everything I was ever assigned in college and graduate school.  Sometimes life got in the way.  I get that happens to other people, too.

But most of these students have had this problem all semester.  It’s not a “life got in the way this once.” This is a “I don’t want to do my assigned work.” And the way I teach is a combination of lecture and discussion points that simply will not work if the entire class is ignorant of the material.  The more engaged they are, the more they get from class.

I do my best, too, to make the material interesting and assign good literature.  Sure, sometimes there’s a classic few people enjoy, but I incorporated TV and graphic novels into this class.  I had them watch Firefly‘s 2-part pilot and read two Stephen King stories (“1408” and “In the Deathroom.”  We even watched Dr. Horrible’s Sing-along Blog in class and did an in-class discussion/explication.  And then on the last day of class, we watched the Mark Hamill episode of The Muppet Show as I explicated the nuances of its structure, and I had a student actually ask why we couldn’t do fun stuff like that all semester.

I tried!

The problem is that they, as a collective, refused to play an active part in their own education.

So here I am, frustrated and concerned, unsure of just what to do now. When preparing my syllabus, I pick shorter works to pair with long ones—Persepolis excerpts to balance Fences, for instance or multiple poems when I assign a longer story like “The Call of Cthulhu”—so they won’t be completely swamped over the course of a week.  And yet I still have people who will simply not put the effort forth to read what I ask.

QuizSince a daily quiz obviously does not work at keeping them caught up, I have no clue how to handle this situation, partly because I can’t seem to wrap my mind around its causes.

I don’t want my classroom to be a place where students dread to go.  And in my mind, I know that’s not the case.  But I also don’t want the classroom to be a place that I dread to go.

Maybe you, dear readers and commentators, can help. Do you have any suggestions on how I can better encourage my students to actually read the assigned material?  Or is this just one of those innate quagmires that comes with the territory where I just need to suck it up and make the best of it?

Comments

  1. I’ve had numerous professors say the same thing to me: unless they’re forced to, most students won’t read. In my education coursework, most claimed the same was true in high school courses. It’s sad but, really, unless they know their grades will suffer by not completing it, most will choose to spend the time with their friends, TV, computer, et cetera.

    It sounds like you’re doing all you can, Beej. You’re being considerate and trying to understand that your course is not the only one they’re taking. What more can be expected of you? If they’re not reading, I’d consider expanding your evaluation structure so that they’re responsible to report more. Authentic evaluation, such as projects, for the more meaningful readings would be a good option (such as projects of some kind), but, for the rest, I’d consider expanding on your quizzes. If you usually give them one open-ended question, it may be good to tack on two more that are narrower in scope but that they’re unlikely to get without having done the work.

    It doesn’t make much sense, does it? They’re paying to be there and still blow it off. I don’t think the reality of their “paying” for it hits home until it’s time to actually pay those loans off.

    Let us know how it goes. Once I get established in an elementary school, I’d like to teach English at the secondary level, so I’m very interested to hear how you go ahead.
    .-= Chris´s last blog ..Turbine Purchased: Don’t Freak Out Yet… =-.

    • One of my biggest fears is overloading them. I know I’m not the only teacher they have, and I realize they’re also freshmen (i.e. I don’t want to scare them away from higher ed). But at the same time, I want to be able to give them three short stories a week and know that a reasonably high percentage of them read the texts.

      If I can figure out a way that actually works, I’ll let you know.

  2. Longasc

    You are not the only professor of literature who notices this trends that even students of literature don’t read the minimum of required materials.

    I do not know if you already talked with you colleagues about it. The same trend is present in Germany, be it American / English / German / Medieval literature. My lecturers of course came up with theories WHY students don’t read.

    1. Academic studies as part of the career. Many students nowadays only study because they need a degree to improve their value on the job market. They have no genuine interest in their subject and follow the economic minimum principle. I.e. they read summaries, and just the introduction and the end of a book. Interestingly, this is apparently enough to graduate, even with rather good grades.

    2. Academic studies are not like school. But students still behave like they are pupils. This might be different in the USA, but in Europe and Germany especially there is a strong desire by the industry and states to make people finish their studies faster. No more 8-13 semesters. Rather only 6 for a Bachelor, and allow only a few qualified students for additional/optional Master studies. The idea is to keep up the standard of education, but this ended up with 8-9 semesters and their requirements getting pressed into ~6. A lot of required tests and stuff to do, and reading takes time. Especially thorough, academic reading. Guess where students tend to save time…

    3. This one is my favorite theory: media change. The Middle Ages had an oral culture, but reading and writing took over. A lot of memory techniques became unnecessary and almost got lost, orators were less needed, and one could read in private, instead of one person or a collective group reading one book. Now we have the internet and TV, visual and oral media. Hypertext and internet texts are very different to a book. You even need a few images to illustrate your texts, you can make much more people read your blog entries or whatever in this way.
    People have shorter attention spans, and instead of longish explanations to explain something, games and articles are full of references to other publicly known themes, memes, etc..
    We might be better at googling the net for information, but we are worse at reading long texts and memorizing poems for instance.
    This theory is really cool, it also explains why even rather bright students nowadays might have difficulties to produce an application in their mother language without spelling mistakes.

    But what to do? You, Beej, are a dinosaur. And your students are Neanderthals. Some maybe Cro-Magnon. They are interested in literature and culture, but have extreme difficulty to understand dinosaur culture and literature. But this is actually part of literature and cultural studies, to understand different mentalities, ways of thinking and all that…

    But what to do?
    One of my lecturers always gave us tasks, write 1-2 page essays about questions he gave us. We often had a choice about what we would like to write. We also had sessions were we could write about the topic whatever we want.

    This way students were knowing about what the other students were talking and what was actually debated in their course. But it is of course very school-like and leaves no room for independent research, plus a lot of students got totally put off by having to write a small essay all the time (to be sent to her by email before the next session). And our poor lecturer had to take a look at them – this only works if you don’t have hundreds of students…! She often just randomly picked a few essays and did not read them all, she simply did not have the time and energy for that.

    The other method was a quiz strategy employed by another lecturer. He managed to cull about 50% of the course this way, either you passed or you failed. Failure got you expelled from the course. Other lecturers did not like it, they often had to soak up his “failures” in their courses .

    There were also lecturers that tried to engage in discussion with students, but as simply nobody read the text, they had to discuss with themselves and the usual few students who really read the text. The others watched in silence.

    I also had a few lecturers who did research with their students, and manage to inspire them to do their own research and these few courses really had the value of 10 other courses and students loved them. But such lecturers are rare gems, and you never know how a course turns out in the end anyways. Sometimes even great lecturers who had amazing courses failed next year to do it again, with many of the same students around like in their good course.

    You must also make sure you do not work too hard for your students. They have to take care of themselves.

    I am a supporter of elimination quizzes to check if students at least read and prepared the primary literature. Be evil! You almost remind me of Elend Venture in the Mistborn series. He had high standards and ideals before becoming king, he did not betray his ideals actually, but sometimes the boss apparently has to be somewhat evil.

    • I *love* the idea of elimination quizzes. However, I don’t think that it’s feasible in my institution. I do think that I just may up the % their quizzes count from 20% to 25-30% in the fall; that way, they have a real motivation to read. Between that and the harder questions I intend to give, they’ll definitely want to read.

      But you’re right: part of it is a culture thing. Online information is disseminated in such a way that we get buzzwords, tweets, and statuses in such a short snippet that longer blurbs often go unread. I’m as guilty of this as the next guy, and I’ve even found myself catering to it on my blog. My initial posts were text-heavy with no images. Since then, I’ve begun breaking my paragraphs in odd (for me) places and adding images to make quick consumption easier. But that’s why I tend to assign shorter works for my students; I know they don’t want to read a 30-60 page story. But when they won’t read a 3 page Persepolis (graphic novel) excerpt, either, I have a problem.

      And I remind you of someone in Mistborn? Well, now I’m going to have to read the series sooner than I thought just to get a picture of who that is. 🙂

  3. One of my friends from college (he graduated from the same program I did, just a year later) floored me when he said he’d only read maybe 5 books in his entire schooling. He’s not an idiot, he just doesn’t like to read.

    That way of thinking is totally alien to my way of thinking. I devour books and articles. I’ve read hundreds if not thousands of books, and at least an order of magnitude more articles.

    Perhaps it could be attributed to my mother. She read to us as kids, and even managed to teach me how to read the Bible when I was two. (Hearing a toddler read from the scriptures apparently astonished some visitors.) I have asthma and don’t like socializing, so books were my refuge and education. I learned a real love of learning and input.

    It’s hard if not impossible to try to graft that sort of foundation onto a person in college.

    Still, it’s extremely odd to me to hear of anyone who doesn’t like to read. I can understand if they have dyslexia or something that makes it a chore to read, but to dislike it simply be preference? Really, really weird.
    .-= Tesh´s last blog ..Political Pop Quiz: Dual Wielding =-.

    • My mom and dad did the same thing. I was inundated with books from a young age and could read before I started Kindergarten. By the time I was in fourth grade, I remember being tested and told that I read on a college freshman level. Books have always been my place to go to understand things or escape. To have a room full of 20-30 students who think that it’s a waste of time confuses me.

      Like Longasc said above, maybe it’s a culture thing. Maybe it’s a generation thing. And I think I am taking this more personally than many teachers because they will do their religion homework. They get their history work done and study for the tests. But because my homework is reading, my course gets the short end of the stick.

      I think that I might do more than just 1-question-per-day quizzes, too. It worked for me when I was in school, but it doesn’t for them. Maybe I need to have weekly tests that //start//the week over all the literature they’re assigned. Maybe that would work.

  4. prenden2

    I’d give anything to be able to call reading Lovecraft ‘study’, it sure beats memorising the structure of amino acids etc. My battered copies of Lovecraft’s anthologies stand in stark contrast to my pristine chemistry textbooks!

    I think the problem is that most people nowadays just aren’t raised in an environment where reading is important. If someone hasn’t read books consistently throughout their childhood, it’s a big leap to have to read something like Call of Cthulhu or, in Ireland’s case, some second-level syllabus material like Silas Marner or Far From The Madding Crowd. These books just don’t offer the instant gratification of say, spending two hours watching Megan Fox prancing around in Transformers. They require patience, but are of course more rewarding in the long-run.

    As for making your assignments more interesting – I always enjoyed it when our English teacher would spend time discussing an author, giving us relevant points about him/her and then giving us an assignment to find examples of these traits in the author’s work. These essays felt more like a puzzle game to me for some reason, trying to distil a personality from a text was always a fun challenge. Students might enjoy teasing-out examples of Lovecraft’s racism and atheism from Call of Cthulhu, rather than just being assigned to passively read the text.

    I’ll have to read ‘The Yellow Wallpaper’ and watch the Mark Hamill Muppets episode, then I’ll be up to date with your syllabus!

    • I can’t take credit for the Muppet Show. One of the professors where I went to graduate school did a lecture I saw using it, and I asked for permission to steal the idea. It’s a great idea, nonetheless. 🙂

      That’s what we do in class. Very rarely do we just explicate what goes on; I’m the kind of teacher where I try to make the lecture/discussion be about themes and ideas more than the plot. We talk, when possible, about elements like Lovecraft’s racism and atheism/deism. But they can’t engage in those kinds of discussions without having first read the text, which is where my problems arise.

  5. I graduated from college last May and I read almost all of my assigned reading in college. Then again, I’m the odd one out. As other posters above I absolutely love reading and devour any and all text put in front of me. My mom instilled me with a love of reading at an early age.

    At the same time I know how to BS my way through a quiz on literature. Read the beginning and end of the assigned reading. Wikipedia the plot summary. Google “Book Name Themes.” Get to class a bit early and ask others about the reading. It is hard to overcome this with short quizzes.

    My only class where the professor was – somewhat – able to overcome this was one where he weighed the quizzes extremely heavily. I want to say being tested on the reading was more than 65% of the grade. It made people read, even if they didn’t end up reading it all.

    I think another one of your problems is that you are dealing with literature. In most other classes students know how to make outlines and take notes on a subject. We can figure out what sub heading to put under which heading. We can organize our thoughts on a page.

    This isn’t true for literature. When reading literature you almost have to let the words wash over you and get a feel for the text. This is hard to do for so many students who have been trained to take notes on a lecture and study them in a nice organized outline. Everyone interprets literature differently, there aren’t really hard facts that can be mentally organized like other subjects.

    It sounds like you already include modern media, which goes a long way toward bridging the gap. As far as reading goes, short excerpts are a lot easier for students with a full workload but you are already doing that as well.

    I can tell you that non-modern literature is a huge turn-off for my generation. It doesn’t use the same language or way of thinking that we do. It feels old. It is extremely hard to read. I saw that you assigned “The Call of Cthulhu” by H.P. Lovecraft. I know of the book. I know its a classic. I know that I should know works by H.P. Lovecraft. But, I don’t. It sounds old. It feels ancient. I can’t get interested in that kind of reading at all. Keep in mind I am someone who loves reading.

    On the other hand, when you suggested Old Man’s War on this blog I jumped on it right away. I downloaded a trial on my ipod touch for my kindle app, read a bit, immediately downloaded the full book, and proceeded to read the entire series in less then one week. All 4 books.

    Keep it modern, keep up with the new forms of media, shorter excerpts are good (especially for old writing), and if you can tease the book a bit in your class it might help. Let the class know what it is about and why you find the literature so interesting. If the professor seems engaged with the text it helps the class get more excited about it too.

    Wow, I just wrote a lot. I hope some of it helps. If you have any specific questions for me, please ask. I have been out of college less then a year so I still have a student perspective on the issue.
    .-= Void´s last blog ..Splinter Cell Conviction Co-Op Review =-.

    • I would absolutely love to be able to use Old Man’s War in a class. Maybe, depending on how well my Horror class goes over, I can work in a SF special topics where we can cover Dune, Firefly, Old Man’s War, Starship Troopers, Star Wars, and Star Trek. Oh, how that would make my little nerd heart melt.

      But you’re right. Lovecraft //is//hard to get into. It’s archaic in a lot of ways, but I think that if the students don’t get exposed to that, then they can’t appreciate the evolution of the form. They won’t be able to appreciate Stephen King’s concision without being able to first understand Poe and Lovecraft (and even Bierce, if I had the time) and their pay-by-the-word prose.

  6. CKZ

    Hi Beej,
    I’m not a teacher, but have been a student. I think your ideas and philosophy on teaching are great. Have you ever told your classes about your philosophy? Maybe, at the beginning of the semester, you can introduce the class – if you don’t already – with the whole, “I want this class to be the class I want to show up to. The more you put into it, the more you get out of it” stuff. That’s the carrot. Then give them the stick: “This is a literature class. That means we read. If you haven’t read the material, you can’t enjoy the class. If I see that you’re not reading, based on participation, I have quizzes that account for x% of your grade ready. That makes me not enjoy the class. So let’s all enjoy together – read the material.” That sets expectations right away. What do you think?

    • I agree. And I now have at least one quiz (and will easily make others that count just as much and are just as hard–for freshmen) that I can threaten them with. I think being upfront will help a great deal.

  7. I teach lit courses and take lit seminars so I’m familiar with this on both ends.

    This semester, I took a Dante seminar and it’s the first seminar I read all the material for. I’m a third-year PhD student in Classics for Christ’s sake. And I don’t read seminar material.

    Part of it is I’m just too busy with other work for other classes and teaching, but there’s also the basic fact that if I don’t read it, it won’t make a difference. This Dante seminar had only 4 people so it made more of a difference, but beyond that, I actually really enjoy Dante.
    Further, my professor put a HUGE amount of effort into this class so I had a little bit of guilt and fear of causing disappoint working on me. Also, I’m a classicist; they’re romance people. I have to make a good showing for my people. The biggest difference this term though was that I had very little work for other classes so there were no other priorities getting in the way.

    Now as to my students, I often deal with those who haven’t read. They often catch up but will come to class not having read what was assigned yet. Part of it is that humanities courses are the lowest priorities. They have biochem, neuroscience, and advanced chem engineering. And Roman emperors or Greek civ. It’s not really a surprise I’m at the bottom of the totem pole.

    I make sure my students write during the term. They’re required to have good argumentation and textual evidence (which means if they don’t read, they don’t get a good grade). Do you have writing assignments? It didn’t seem like you did or at least not a sizeable amount from what I read above but maybe I missed it.

    The classes here are usually set up as lectures + discussions. In discussion, I’m very open with my students and encourage them to be honest with me. I want to know if they hate some readings, if they’ve not read them, etc. I tell them ahead of time if there’s a lot of reading coming up. I will say things like “I know midterms are coming up, I know you have other exams, but I expect you to have at least read X amount by discussion. Have something to say.” There are themes we focus on throughout the term so even if they haven’t read, they should be able to form expectations about the text. I try to compare/contrast everything we study to current events – they usually know something minimal about those.

    As far as quizzes and all that goes – I despise quizzes. I despise giving them, taking them, making them, and grading them. I hate them. My classes usually depend on 10% or 20% discussion participation – if it looks like it’s going to be an issue, I’ll tell the class that means showing up and talking every meeting. Sometimes, I’ve right out told them I don’t keep attendance, but if they don’t come, their papers will suffer (usually ~60+% of the class grade). I tell them they are grown ups and paying for an education and I don’t want to babysit. That works pretty well actually. I did that this term and had about an 80% showing every week. There are always a couple who do everything to get out of class – I was one of them as an undergrad. You can’t save everyone. 🙂

    I do sometimes shame people to their innermost souls. One time this term someone fell asleep in discussion so I called his name like 3 times. People snickered. He woke up. He never fell asleep again. I’ve gone around the room and asked every person a question that would require knowledge of the text or else a really pathetic attempt at BS. Peer abuse! I threaten them with calling names if they don’t volunteer. These tactics are not necessary most of the time though and they’re not fun.

    There’s also the issue of difficult texts or those that are hard to compare/contrast. I taught Aristophanes’ Clouds one week and even though most read it, NONE of them understood it. In Roman history classes, we make sure to have more than one textual account of events or people so they can compare. We provide a background text so they can get some context if they want.

    In the end, it does come down to how much they put in. 95% of them need a grade to make them do it even if they like it. They are second-semester freshmen? They are drowning in alcohol and dorm drama. They *really* need a grade to make them do it. If your quizzes can be passed by good guessing, you’re sending the message you’re not demanding in-depth reading. Start them off with what you expect so they know. You could also do weekly study questions to help guide them through readings – they are surprisingly bad readers usually. These also help them see what you think is important. They may have no idea what it means to read literature the way you want them to.

    That was long. I hope something in it helps. If all else fails, change the scenery. Take class outside or to a coffee shop. I’m a huge fan of informality.

    • Over the course of the semester, Ada, they have to write 5 papers (lit analyses) which count for 15-20 pages by the end of the semester. Those papers are 16% of their grade each, or 80% total. The students typically read just enough to be able to write these papers and “get by.” In the Fall, I am going to actually throw in some basic theory and see if that can kindle a few fires.

      I hate quizzes, too. I loathe them. I’m totally with you there. The problem I have is just what you said: they’re drowning in dorm drama and alcohol, and don’t see a bit of good in what I teach. I am going to definitely start asking more in-depth questions, though. I thought comprehension questions would work, but they don’t. If I go with that kind of question, it’ll be minute detail. Otherwise, if I stick with the single-question quiz structure, I am going to make them all very much like one of the Cthulhu questions above every class.

      I think you’re right, though. I may be sending the message that I am not demanding the kind of reading I intend. More in-depth questions that require actual critical thinking may be the answer. That, and making it count for more of their grade. I already have a reputation as being a hard grader when it comes to their essays, but I need to do the same on these quizzes.

      Thanks for the insight, all of you! Keep ’em coming!

        • They pick them. I set a loose series of guidelines (that will actually be much stricter come the fall semester) and let them write their analyses over anything we’ve covered up to the date on which it is due.

  8. Adrian

    As a college student, as many above have said, I’d love to read Lovecraft as study. I find that, the things I don’t read are generally the dry and boring 50-70 pages of letters between friends for a history course, but I’m honestly not sure why someone wouldn’t read novels. Especially good ones.

    On the other hand, I would offer one thing which I’ve noticed, and I know my parents (professors of Biology/ Landscape Architecture) have noticed: Many people come in to college after “getting by.” I know I did. For me, it’s a bit different as I took a year off to work, but I notice the attitude in many of my fellow students: “college isn’t about the grades/ the work/ the classes, we’re always told it’s about the people we meet!” What you’re noticing here is really a symptom of a larger problem that we may have all been guilty of: not valuing the classes enough. I see people sleeping through classes, even in classes where the professors say, up front, “this will be hard. You cannot afford to miss lectures.”

    The culmination! I’m not sure there’s much you can do. There are small things, the suggested introduction above, but even the best motivators don’t work very well on (a)pathetic college students. Maybe that’s cruel, but it’s what I’m beginning to think of many of my peers… Many of us? them? just don’t want to do work, and there’s little you can do. Especially because many of them are perfectly willing to accept a low B, high C, and call it a “college A.” Yes, I’ve heard this. So this is a little bit cynical, but so is my attitude these days…

    You can also indicate that you may pull in quizzes, give an early and hard one, and start to ease up after that. I think many students reacted to your quiz the way because they didn’t expect it: they had one conception of the class, you shifted it, and everything went out the window. Maybe establish early on?

    I do apologize that this is fragmented, without much of a point, and so I’ll sum my thoughts.
    There are some small things you can do:
    -Establish early on the expectations
    -Maybe use quizzes if you see some glassy eyes (better early than late)

    But overall, I think it’s a student problem, and there’s relatively little you can do. Especially this late in their education (late from my perspective, whatever your perspective is).

      • Ada, you’re right. The “college A” idea is absurd. I do have students who make A’s on papers. Not many, but I do have a few. I think I should do a class average after every paper and let them know just how they’re doing.

        The “college A” seems to be like it’s a symptom of a far larger problem. I’ll admit that in undergrad, I was this kind of student. I was smart enough to make A’s in most courses, but if I could get a B or (twice) a C in a class for literally no more effort on my part than showing up, I’d take it. Looking back, I am ashamed of myself. But I think I’m a better man today for it.

    • Adrian, you’re just right: part of this rift is that I really threw them for a loop. I meant to this time, but next year, I already had planned to do Cthulhu early on and give this exact quiz for the same amount of their grade. And do it a few times during the semester with other important works.

      I always consider the first-run of a class I teach as the trial. I see what works and what doesn’t, and I can change it in subsequent semesters. This is the first semester I’ve done Comp II, so when it comes around again, I have a much stronger battle plan.

  9. It may not mean much, but I’d love to be in your class. It sounds incredible. As a side note, kids are still reading. My 13 year old son and his friends are always swapping books and talking about them. There is still hope.

    • I appreciate that, Ethic. I really do. As much as this post makes me sound like a complainer or that my students are awful, that’s hardly the case. I’ve had a wonderful group this time around, and some who even sound like your son. The next book on my list is actually a student recommendation (he lent me the book initially, but I didn’t have time to read it before the semester ended).

      I like to hear that there are still kids out there like us. Kudos to you for that. 🙂

  10. Dude… Beej… You tried.

    Man, if Call of Cthulhu is one of your “longer” assignments, and THAT is the type of quiz you give. I would totally love your class! That would so be an easy A for me.

    • I did try. And I’ll try harder next term, too.

      I’m not sure whether I should be insulted or not, though, John. An easy A? Moi? You think the quiz was too easy for freshman comp 2?

      But yeah, this was one of the longer assignments. It’s hard to motivate non-readers to read, especially if the page numbers hit double digits. Sad, but true. 🙁

  11. Hey I said it would be an easy A for me, not for everyone. I guess a better phrase is it would be a fun A.

    I can understand it is hard to motivate non-readers to so something they just don’t seem equipped to do, but I believe I saw a quote from Albert Einstein the other day, “Everyone is a genius, but if you judge a fish by how well it can fly it will feel stupid it’s entire life.”

    Seems your job is to throw fish into the trees and see how well they land. You’ll come up with a way though, so don’t feel down about it.

    Now go make fish fly!

    • I do hope it would be fun. I’ve actually had a lot of good feedback from students today about my class. I even had one tell me that she got an A in previous English courses and wasn’t going to get it in mine. She said that my class was so interesting/entertaining that it was worth taking a B in for that alone. I didn’t mean to beam, but I did.

      I think the best way to make these fish fly is a restructuring of the course and a clearer focus on ideas moreso than comprehension.

  12. Cynical Cupcake

    Ok Beej, I know how hard you worked this semester. I respect you completely for it. Some people just refuse to try. I attempted to read as many of the assignments as possible, but there were a few that got me. Faulkner being one.. God, I hate Faulkner. What i found helpful to help motivate me more was our talk. I know you can’t do this with every student, because not all student’s care. Thanks to you, I now WANT to do my best, I i will show you next semester.

    • As for Faulkner, you should really read “The Sound and the Fury” alongside “Light in August.” I had to do that in graduate school, and it really opened me up. I felt like you did until just last year. I’m reading “The Perks of Being a Wallflower” for you this summer, so in return, you need to get all the way through “The Sound and the Fury,” at least. Deal? 🙂

      And I’m glad our talk helped. Really glad. You don’t know what it means to me, as a teacher, to hear someone give that feedback that they /want/ to learn and get better and that I helped in some way.

  13. Avva

    My son, Void, sent a link to your blog to me asking that I read it and give him comments or respond on your blog. I am an educator and have always loved to read. As he mentioned, I read to my sons early and tried to instill a love for reading in them. As they are both young adults, I can now say that it worked. However, I am struck by several thoughts.

    Technological Media has overtaken our world and seems to be the preferred communication method. Texting, emailing, Facebook, Twitter, TV, video games, blogs, and the Internet are everyday parts of our lives. It has created a culture of instant gratification. Don’t get me wrong. I love all of these communication forms but still love reading. I think that the difference is that I am willing to invest more time in exploring a book than college students can or do these days. I think that they have been hard-wired differently through these experiences. If something doesn’t interest them right away, they move on to something that does; and there is always something else available to them. In our world where multiple forms of media are readily available, students are quick to move on to other choices if they are not intrigued right away. I think that college/high school teachers often make the mistake of forgetting that students (no matter their age) often need to be enticed into learning. This is especially true of students who are used to quick bites of media to fulfill their needs.

    I am struck by your passion for teaching and your love for literature. I don’t know how you introduce new readings. However, as a teacher, I always spent time on an “anticipatory set”. I know. This is old school Madeline Hunter teaching, but there was some wisdom in it. I believe that you will reach more students and entice them to read if you introduce the work to be read before it is assigned. You have a natural exuberance that would probably intrigue your students so that they would be curious about reading the assignment and eager to prepare for the discussion at the next class.

    My son, Void, and I often exchange books. Sometimes, one of us will get the book and put off reading it, because it doesn’t look interesting. We have found that, if we take the time to explain why we liked it and share our eagerness to discuss it with one another, the other person is now motivated to read it. We have found many authors and books that we love this way.

    Old Man’s War is a prime example. Your enthusiasm led Void to read it. He talked it up to me which then convinced me to read it. When I finished the book, I couldn’t wait to discuss it with him. Perhaps your passion combined with a “commercial” promoting the reading will convince more students to read your assignments. I know that this takes a lot of time, but it may pay off in the end.

    • Thanks for taking the time to reply! And tell Void (or he can read it here, I guess) thank you for sharing with you.

      I know part of their lethargy comes from, like you mention, the culture of instant gratification. I have a hard time getting them to read a short-short like “Hills Like White Elephants” or “Persepolis” excerpts, and those were 3 pages each in our anthology. I can’t help but feel a little like “if they won’t read 3 pages, then it’s a lost cause,” but I know I shouldn’t. And I know it’s not.

      For that reason alone, I like the idea of giving a “commercial” for the upcoming reading. On works that are more abnormal for a literature class, I tend to give them a preview of it as the class before we discuss the work ends. In the case of Dr. Horrible’s Sing-along Blog, it worked wonders, and I even had one student download the soundtrack to his iPod. I don’t know if that wouldn’t be a bad idea to try at the end of every week (I assign my readings in chunks they’re responsible for on a week-to-week-basis). I may have taken for granted that these students might have never been exposed to Flannery O’Connor or Shirley Jackson any more than they have studied Joss Whedon or Stephen King.

      So yeah, I think I’m going to do that next semester. If nothing else, I can take 5 minutes at the end of class and “sell” them the next week’s reading. I can talk about all the sex and vulgarity in some of them, and I can guarantee they’d read it (the excerpts from “One Thousand and One Nights” in the Norton Anthology of World Lit is simply bawdy!). I truly appreciate the idea and help in focusing just what part of my problem may be.

      I always consider the first semester of any class my guinea pig class. I find out what works and what doesn’t. I’ve always had /much/ increased success regarding student enjoyment and participation in successive semesters.