One of the first things I talk to my students about at any level is active reading. They’ve all had the experience where they’ve gotten to the bottom of a page of reading and realized that they have no idea what they’ve just read. And then they keep trying to re-read without any change in the situation. So they go through the motions of looking at the words on the page, feeling good about having technically done their homework, but showing up to class with little to no ability to participate in the class discussion.
Why not read more actively, I suggest. Take notes, do some research, even just write questions in the margins, anything to make the readings more meaningful. But, they protest, active reading takes so much time. Really? How much time do you spend simply going through the motions over and over again? And how much time do you spend at the end of the semester not sleeping, cramming for your final exam or paper, trying to complete all of the reading you didn’t have “time” to do properly during the semester? How much learning do you end up doing when you spend a week living off of energy drinks and little sleep in order to do everything you didn’t do during the previous 15 week semester?
My students can be a little more active in all of their course-related work. One of the biggest complaints about homework is that it is a waste of their time. And while I don’t claim that all homework ever assigned during a student’s academic career is meaningful, the student should at least try view homework as a positive learning activity that, if taken seriously and done well, can help you learn. Same thing with in-class activities.
I tell my students that every exercise in class or at home is an opportunity for them. If they choose to see it as a waste of time, then it will be. And thus it is the student, not me, who is wasting their time. I can only set up the conditions for the students to learn and be successful. It is up to them to take advantage of those conditions. I can entice them with promises of a more meaningful education experience, and I can threaten them with a failing grade. But I try to get my students to come to understand that the choice is ultimately theirs if they are going to actively engage in their education.
I care about my students and I care about their success inside and outside of my class. I know my students care about their grades, but I wonder about their commitment to their education. If they don’t get more active in their learning, then we will all have been just wasting our time.