January 23, 2012

Time for active reading in my class

Last week, Apple made a major announcement about their entry into the textbook market. The best criticism of Apple's plans was given by Audrey Watters.  I'm not going to recap what she said. You must read it for yourself.

And, if you are a believer that all textbooks are crap, you probably won't have much use for what I have to say here, either.  I'm often surprised by the number of teachers (college and high school) who have no use for the textbook. And, sorry Frank, building ramps doesn't count:

(Although, Frank does have some good ideas of what a physics ibook could look like.)

I do believe that it is my responsibility to (as much as possible) choose relevant and well-written texts for use in my classes. I also believe that there is no perfect textbook.

I have introduced to my calculus-based class what I am calling active reading.  The class has already been assigned readings from the text to complete before coming to class.  They complete short reading reviews online before the class starts that I look at before class starts.

But this is not enough.  Active reading requires:

  1. Note taking while reading. Both in the margins and in their notebooks. Underlining and judicious highlighting are also encouraged.
  2. Access to other reference materials, such as dictionaries or the web for looking things up.
  3. Repeated reading. My class knows that their first time reading through the material I don't expect them to become experts.  I do expect mastery of the concepts we cover in class before the next quiz or exam.
I don't think we do enough in the sciences to teach our students how to be active readers. I don't know how we can correct this deficit, but I think it's something that is long overdue.


H said...

Somewhat related: In a lot of ways, I couldn't have imagined how freeing it is to NOT have a textbook for physics of music. I guess a lot of that has to do with not being tied to someone else's point of view, and maybe having something I wrote myself would still be worthwhile. But I feel that I have the students' attention more, that my choice of what to do and how to cover it is more flexible, etc.

Andrew said...

But are you giving them anything to read at all? Articles, book excerpts, essays you've written, anything like that? I was assuming that you were handing out or posting online snippets of things for your students to read.

Because if you are, then my main point still remains: we can help our students to be better readers.

If you're not recommending any reading, then why not? I don't doubt that not having a text to "have to follow" is incredibly liberating. In many ways, I'm jealous that you've been able to do that successfully. But, I think about how I learn about new things, and it is primarily by reading about something, then doing it. When I'm a more conscientious reader, I get more learning done.

(At least, I believe I do. I don't have the data to back up my claim.)