I can’t get my students to do their readings before coming to class.
No really, I can’t.
Motivating students to do pre-class work is one of the most common barriers we face as educators, regardless of what we teach or where we teach it.
And for those of us trying to flip our classrooms, motivating students to do pre-class activities is critical. Flipping gurus, Bergmann and Sams (2012), emphasize there is not one single way to implement flipped techniques, indeed they say “every teacher who has chosen to flip does so differently” (p. 12).
In this post, Turn to Your Neighbor interviews Peer Instruction Network Member, Professor Ives Araujo from UFRGS-Brasil, about how he motivated his students to do Reading Assignments before class and how he measured this out-of-class engagement. Find out what he learned after he flipped his classroom for the first time using Just-in-Time-Teaching with Peer Instruction, and a few other interactive methods.
Julie Schell (JS): What was the course context for this exercise in scientific teaching?
Ives Araujo (IA): This was an introductory physics (E & M) course at Federal University of Rio Grande do Sul in Brazil. There were two sections of 16 physics majors enrolled, one section taught in the Fall of 2011 and the other in the Spring of 2011. Both sections had only 14 students at the end. This was the first experience these students had with a flipped classroom-type model, they were not accustomed to doing any pre-class preparation.
JS: What questions did you want to answer, as an instructor, about implementing pre-class preparation?
IA: I knew pre-class activities worked for Harvard students, but I wanted to see if they would work in a very different institutional and social context. I had two basic questions on my mind about requiring these students to do pre-class activities before every class meeting. First, I wanted to know if the students would demonstrate sustained engagement with Reading Assignments throughout the semester, or, if their engagement would taper off after the first few weeks of class. Second, I wanted to know what level of engagement they would demonstrate with the reading assignments, surface or deep?
JS: How did you go about trying to answer these questions?
For each Reading Assignment, (two per week throughout the semester), I asked the students to read about four sections from a textbook and answer the following questions: “Did you find anything difficult or confusing in the reading? Which parts? If you didn’t find anything difficult or confusing, describe what did you find most interesting in the reading. Do you have any questions?”
Additionally, for each Reading Assignment, I asked two other questions related to the content. Usually the format of the questions was multiple choice and the students always had to justify their answers through an open-ended response.
JS: How did you grade your students on these activities?
IA: The students received credit for doing Reading Assignments (15% of the total grade). The evaluation criteria were students’ efforts demonstrated in answering the questions, not if their answers were correct or wrong. In the case when a student chose a correct answer, but didn’t explain his or her reasoning, the grade for that question was “0”. If the student provided an explanation, but it was not fully demonstrative that he or she really tried to read and comprehend the material, “1”. Finally, if the student’s answer provided evidence that the student read the material and tried to understand it, then he or she got a grade of “2.”
The course was divided into four areas, accordingly with the content. At the completion of each area, students took an exam. If a student didn’t want to do any Reading Assignments in a single area, I gave the option to not do it, but increased the weight of the exam score. I did not grade ConcepTests but did give them credit for some additional problem solving activities.
JS: What did you find?
IA: As you can see from Figure 2., students demonstrated sustained engagement with the Reading Assignments throughout the semester. On average, nearly 80% of my students did each Reading Assignment.
JS: And what about the second question, were they engaged in deep or surface responses to the readings?
IA: As illustrated in Figure 3., based on my interpretations of student effort, on average, nearly 90% of the students’ submitted answers demonstrated engagement, for example through a justification for a submitted answer, discussion of the content they found difficult, or discussion of the content they found motivating.
IA: Absolutely, based on the results above. In addition, feedback from student interviews was generally positive. When asked about the class in general, several students reported that the most helpful experience of all was doing the Reading Assignments. They said the Reading Assignments helped them to develop new study habits. They also mentioned that, in my class, they didn’t have to “burn the midnight oil” trying to learn everything for the exam the day before — on the day before the exam, they just spent time reviewing and they felt prepared because they were already studying along the way.