Can we nudge students toward those questions in the book?

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Image cred: CollegeDegrees360 on Flickr

I spent the better part of last week getting ready for the fall semester, marking off items on my trusty checklist one by one. (If you want me to send you my checklist, please leave a comment on that post.)

One task on the checklist is to revise my “Guided Reading Questions.” The name’s not catchy, but it conveys the purpose: These questions help students understand what I want them to get out of their textbook readings. It’s easy to see why that might be valuable, but who has time to write a bunch of questions about the reading? Nobody, that’s who.

Luckily, textbook authors have already done the work for you! Remember those poor, ignored questions that appear after every section and at the end of each chapter? Most students will not voluntarily answer these, and with good reason. Often there are a heck of a lot of them, and instructors may not cover all of the material in each chapter. Few students are motivated to work through questions about material they don’t have to know.

My “Guided Reading Questions” simply serve as a suggested way to study, and as a bonus, they add another layer of use to the textbook that students have already purchased. Every 3 years, when a new textbook edition comes out, I decide which questions are appropriate for my class and revise my list. Students who can answer every one correctly without peeking at the answers should do very well on exams, even though  those exact questions will not appear on any test.

I don’t require students to answer them, and they are not worth points; I just make them available to students who want them. And although I don’t have data about who uses them and who doesn’t, I have anecdotal evidence that they come in handy, especially for students who struggled early in the semester and then start studying “the right way” when they get serious about their grades.

If you want to see what my lists look like, here are links to the question sets I just revised for the material I’ll be covering on exam 1, exam 2, exam 3, and the comprehensive final exam (new end-of-semester material only). Note that I also throw in a few concept mapping problems for good measure. If you would like Word versions to modify for your own class and textbook, leave a comment here and I’ll send them to you. Happy teaching!

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3 Responses to Can we nudge students toward those questions in the book?

  1. Jim Lemire says:

    I teach a non-majors bio course specifically for education majors and always struggle to get students to read and pay attention to the textbook. I started requiring online chapter quizzes last year and it worked to some degree – at least there was a tangible incentive to read…and a tangible consequence for not reading. Each quiz is a random selection of questions from the textbook test bank and students are allowed to take each one a second time (with a new set of random questions) – the idea being that the quiz is actually another way for them to learn the material in addition to being an assessment. Of course some students simply take the quiz a second time immediately following the first without any review, which is completely counter to the intent. To combat this this year I decided to accept only the 2nd score (if they choose to redo it) even if it is lower than the first (last year I accepted the higher score). I like your idea of emphasizing some of the chapter questions – I will see if I can work that into my plan (but, the semester starts tomorrow!).

    BTW, I took a look at the material covered on your exams – you get through a lot! I have learned that I can not get through it all in 42 50-minute class periods. I get through most of the material you list in your three exams, but not the ecology topics on your final. How do you do it?!?!?

  2. Pingback: On Obstacles, part 1 | Teaching nonmajors biology

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