Why I think (my) students don’t read assignment sheets

Thursday, February 7th, 2013

This morning while preparing my agenda for class and prepping myself to be observed by a fellow teacher, I was thinking about the three extensions I had to give on an assignment. One student’s reason made a lot of sense and I think he was being honest. The other two I am questioning, but I gave extensions to them regardless. I mean, they had asked for them in plenty of time. Why not? My rule is as long as the student asks prior to class time on the due date, I usually give the extension. If a student asks after class time on the due date, I usually consider the paper late.

I know at least one of the students who asked for an extension did not read the assignment sheet. How do I know this you ask? Well, it happened during a workshop day earlier this week. I had students come in if they needed feedback or criticism on their job packets. This student was there, though he thought we had class as he did not read the two emails I sent about this nor obviously listen at the start of class when I discussed workshop day. He also, in a non-straightforward manner, admitted he had not looked at the assignment sheet. I could tell that he had not read it since he asked questions like, “ok, so we need a job ad?” Um, yeah. And in fact, that was asked for weeks ago. He was obviously behind.

But this got me thinking about how some students do not read the assignment sheets. If they do, they read them at the last possible minute. Why, I asked myself.

So, going back to this morning, as I was thinking about this it dawned on me: I teach from the assignment sheets, for the most part. It is like the teacher who lectures from the book and the students either A. attend class and never look at the book or B. read the book and only attend class on exam days. I have a similar problem, at least with some students, in my class. While I don’t go over every detail of the assignment sheet in class (like I don’t say, ok everyone, let’s practice writing in 500-750 words in prep for your blog post!), I do teach from the assignment sheet. For example, their first blog post is an explanation of their field written for a  non-specialist audience. So we do in class work on writing for multiple audiences and how writing varies for each audience. From this, they should understand what their particular audience needs in terms of writing style and information.

So, I suppose that comes across as a big duh, oh so obvious, and yeah, I get it now. I don’t need to read that assignment sheet because she goes over it, clearly.

Now you have why I think, and note that I write I think, students do not read assignment sheets, at least in my class. But frankly, I don’t want to change the way I teach. I like my teaching methods. They seem to work, at least for me. But how do I get students to recognize the importance of taking the time to read through the assignment sheet before the last possible minute?

Any ideas about this problem are welcomed because maybe some of you are doing little tricks that I am not aware of.

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2 comments on “Why I think (my) students don’t read assignment sheets

  1. walterswh says:

    I’ve had a similar issue when it comes to the readings I assign. It seems my students don’t read the chapters/essays because they know I will discuss them or lecture about them in class. I dislike doing quizzes, so I don’t want to go that route. My students are required to briefly write in their journals about the chapter (for which they get points) but my experience with that is they wait till the week journals are due to quickly scribble down notes. So I’m at a loss. One thing I have considered is flipping the learning environment and having the class (I have 15 students) get into groups and lead discussion on the assigned readings. I don’t know if I’m any help to you, but I can at least say you are not alone!

    • jessicarj says:

      I think having them get into groups to lead discussions on some of the assigned readings is a good idea. I did that, or something similar to it, a couple times when students came unprepared to talk about the reading. In one example, five students had read it, so they got into groups with one of the five discussion leaders and talked through the material. It went ok, but there was some disgruntled feelings about having a peer “lead” them. But I think it went off better than it could have, though, since the other students realized they should have prepared. But the discussions did go all right, so I would definitely try it and I would do it again.

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