Getting Undergraduate Family Science Students to…Read!

As an instructor, I consistently review and revise my teaching style in order to continue to reach a diverse population of student learners.  Lately, as in the last few years, I have noticed several trends with my undergraduate family science students.  My average student test scores have decreased despite using ‘tried and true’ methods of instruction.  Students also require additional information when completing course assignments and they request many more examples of previous student work than usual.  Also, student preparation for class seems to be at an all time low.  Fortunately, I devised a plan to address these issues and implemented them last semester.

After many discussions with colleagues about their evolving teaching techniques and countless hours researching ways to reach this generation of college students, I surmised that a major barrier to student success was reading.  Reading before class was something that was standard and expected when I was in college.  But today’s student has little interest in devoting hours to reading before each class.  Many of my students are non-traditional and as a result of work, volunteer, parenting and family responsibilities have very little time to read articles and chapters before coming to class.

Therefore, I came up with the bright idea to allow for reading time during class to increase participation and it worked!  I restructured my undergraduate courses with respect to the reading assignments.  Instead of using a textbook, I created a course pack which contained short (2-7 page) readings on each course topic.  Students were required to purchase the course pack and the expectation was that they would bring it to class each day.  I even offered extra credit to ensure they would do so.  At the start of class, I would post several reading/reflection questions intended to guide their ‘reading time’ which occurred during the first 10-15 minutes of class.  After reading, students were then instructed to discuss the main points of the reading with their classmates and share ideas as to how it related to the topic for that day.  Class would then proceed with my lecture consisting of Powerpoint slides, activities, and planned discussion topics.

Average scores on the first exam increased from 80 to 85 in one class and 83 to 87 in the other.  Students were also more engaged, knowledgeable about the material, and requested less instruction when completing course assignments.  On the mid-semester evaluation in response to what they like best about the course, students reported:

“I love having the ability to read course material in class and not outside of the class.”

“The class is put together well and the course pack is amazing. Super helpful.”

“Love the course pack! It helps me organize my notes and actually read the material…in class.”

Based on these results, I plan to use this format in upcoming semesters.  I understand that this approach may not be appropriate for all courses based on their complexity and content.  The courses that I used for this experiment were family life education and exploring professions in family science.  But I do think the idea of creating opportunities to increase student reading, both inside and outside of class, can be an important addition to any family science course.

“The MORE that you READ, the more things you will KNOW.  The MORE that you LEARN, the more places you’ll GO.” – Dr. Seuss 


Image credit: jwyg CC BY-SA 2.0




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