Some days it’s a bit odd being on the other side of the lectern; there are many ways in which I am still very familiar with the plight of the average student, and often adjust my assignments accordingly.  However I’ve been hearing a couple of themes lately that concern me.

The first theme is that the readings are optional.  That opinion has become so pervasive that in my Psych 101 classes I new derive 32% of their grade from homework assignments that are essentially multiple choice quizzes of the readings due that day.  The homework appears in blackboard 1 week before and disappears at class time.  If it isn’t done before, they get a zero.  I drop the lowest 2, because we all have bad weeks.  Yet I am still stunned by the number of students who don’t do (or do poorly on) these assignments.  This is an open book, open note, open internet, untimed multiple choice test.  They can take it up to three times and get to keep the highest grade.  Nonetheless there are students who consistently score in the 20s and 30s on the assignment.

Here’s a clue to the students who might read this:  The readings are not optional.  There is NO WAY I can give you all the information in the limited time we have together.  My job is to help you understand what you read, incorporate it into the broader web of things you know and make connections for you that you haven’t made for yourself.  If you don’t do the readings, you are missing out on MOST of the class.

A second theme is related; it is the assumption that if it wasn’t covered in the lecture, it isn’t going to be on the test.  One of the reasons the first test in my class is after just one chapter is to disabuse the students of this notion.

This faulty assumption is often associated with the cry for study guides and review sessions.   Unfortunately when I attempt to provide them I discover that what the class has in mind is not at all what I have in mind.  My study guides provide very general questions that you should be able to answer thoroughly.  My A students tell me that these are perfect; it directs them to what they need to focus on.  (Psych 101 is such a huge area, and the book has some digressions, so I am comfortable giving clues about what will and won’t be on the test.)  My other students find the study guides too vague; they want to know specifically what I intend to ask on a topic.

I’m beginning to feel as though I need to explain my pedagogical strategy to my classes, yet even when I do they don’t seem to get it.  I told my stats class this semester that I was following the “Tell them what you’re going to tell them, Tell them, then Tell them what you told them” approach.  Specifically, they were to read the chapter, I would go over it in class and do some problems on the board, then they would do homework on the chapter afterward.  I know for a fact that most have stopped doing the readings.  The only reason they do the homework is because I collect it periodically, and then many only do the parts I might collect.  (I have one of them roll a 6-sided die and I collect homework on the odd numbers.  Teaches them probability at the same time!)

I don’t recall EVER making such assumptions when I was a student.  Study guides were rare and lovely things.  Review sessions were times when the class could ask the teacher anything and clarify concepts without having to find their office during office hours.  Readings were to be read; before class or at worst right after.  Homework was expected, and you didn’t have to threaten to grade it every time to get me to do it.

I worry that this is something we are instilling in kids now in school, and it scares me.  A responsible adult these days needs to be able to learn constantly throughout their life, and more often then not WITHOUT a teacher.  College is a time to practice that skill while having guidance.  If they aren’t practicing it now, when will they learn it?