There’s no arguing with Ryan’s (2009) observation that “coming to class prepared and with some background knowledge transforms students from passive to active learners” (para. 3). But how to get our students to this state of “transformation readiness” is an age-old issue challenging most instructors throughout their careers. I’m sure the struggle also extends to my own students, who are aspiring or practicing language-teaching professionals juggling multiple personal, academic, and professional demands. Research shows that reasons for not completing reading assignments also include factors such as reading comprehension, low student self-confidence, and lack of interest in the topic (e.g., Lei, Bartlett, Gorney, & Herschbach, 2010).
Reflecting on my own teaching, I find this is an area I continue to ponder and experiment with to attain desired learning outcomes. If you’ve been thinking about the same things, a quick look at Faculty Focus will turn up many excellent posts by instructors sharing how they get students to do the reading (e.g., Gee, 2014; Weimer, 2012; Van Gyn, 2013; also the Faculty Focus  special report).
Beyond that, however, is a paucity of research in this specific area; moreover, that which does exist seems to focus mainly on extrinsic-oriented ways to enforce “compliance,” such as giving pop quizzes, adding extra writing assignments, introducing extra discussion credit points, or providing optional reading guides or questions (e.g., Hatteberg & Steffy, 2013; Lei, Bartlett, Gorney, & Herschbach, 2010; Sappington, Kinsey, & Munsayac, 2002). From the instructor’s perspective, such strategies don’t sound particularly motivating, nor are they likely to get our students excited about reading or developing a perspective that values learning. As we all know, grades do not necessarily reflect students’ engagement, and engagement is much more than mere compliance. Through giving more tests and assigning more papers, might we inadvertently be “helping” create more disengaged achievers?When students choose a reading in which they will assume the role of discussion facilitator, they tend to approach the reading differently.
In response to Weimer’s (2015) question “Are there any other alternatives?” (para. 6), I find the following three strategies have worked, with acceptable varying degrees of success, among my graduate, undergraduate, and diploma-level students alike. Although different instructional, contextual, and learner variables may affect how well they work for you, the level of frustration arising from unproductive discussions because students (on average over 70%, Weimer, 2015) haven’t read the readings is likely to be reduced.
1. Providing choice to promote student ownership. Providing choice deals with “students’ perceptions that their teachers provide opportunities for participation in decision making related to academic tasks [and] allow for student input into class discussion” (Wang & Eccles, 2013, p. 14). In all my courses, students are always given options to (a) select a topic within the course’s scope where they’d like to develop expertise, (b) select from a list of two or three readings for consideration to assume the role of discussion facilitator, or (c) propose a relevant reading or readings to share with the group. As I have repeatedly discovered, when students choose a reading to assume the role of discussion facilitator, they tend to approach the reading differently and, in so doing, advance their own knowledge of the topic more deeply than they would in the role of discussant. This approach leads to greater engagement with both process and product of the reading exploration.
As Chan et al. (2014) noted, “Asking for input on and giving students choices about [readings and how to explore them] helps students understand that their input is valued, which sets the stage for successful student ownership” (p. 111). More importantly, the way we think about how such a sense of ownership emerges must go beyond what lies within the student; we need to consider how the different components within the entire learning system of a course interact. When our students can voice an opinion and make decisions about readings, they feel “ownership” because suddenly they have a personal stake in the content, process, and product of that choice. Granted, not all courses can offer such options, but where possible, you can ask yourself, Is there a way to add student choice about readings into my course that promotes a sense of ownership?
2. Providing different ways for students to demonstrate they’ve done the reading. How do you assess whether your students have done the reading? Through quizzes, exams, discussions, a summary or reflective writing piece, or final paper? I teach mainly upper-level courses, and so smaller classes make it easier to consider various “informal” ways students can demonstrate their engagement in and understanding of the recommended/chosen readings. I also don’t require students to purchase textbooks, because there are plenty of level-appropriate, interest-matching articles, either open access or accessible through the library. Over the past decades, I have tried, for example, the following approaches:
- Have a sign-up sheet for two to three students to self-select a time/topic for facilitating a warm-up discussion as a team for each week. Members of the facilitating group may also work together to come up with questions to share with the class by posting them at least three days before the discussion. Sharing questions provides everyone a chance to mull them over and request elaboration if they’re unclear.
- Alternatively, invite students to contribute questions to the discussion to be facilitated by the scheduled team. I require that these questions be posted to the group’s private website at least three days before the class. This allows (i) the session to address questions of concern and interest to the students, (ii) the questions to be thoughtfully integrated into the discussion by the student facilitators and the session to be planned by the instructor as a whole, (iii) all students to have an opportunity to think about the questions before class, and (iv) the facilitating team or the instructor to acknowledge contributions and channel thinking toward areas to focus on within the allocated time.
- Encourage the student facilitators to consider how questions from (a) and/or (b) can be grouped and synthesized in organizing/planning the discussion segment. The warm-up nature of the task necessitates they be selective (through synthesizing/reorganizing and/or collective voting on, say, the top five questions for the warm-up) of the questions they wish to share with their peers. The warm-up discussion is meant to be quite informal and flexible, and students are encouraged to experiment with different formats to get everyone involved. While some students may choose to operate within their comfort zones using the traditional discussion style, I have also been pleasantly surprised at the many ingenious and often fun, engaging ways my students have brought a discussion to life. I often stress that at this stage of their learning, I want them to feel free to explore what they’re reading, and not to worry about task guidelines (often sought by students with lower tolerance for ambiguity or who prefer structures) to follow. Instead, encourage students to let their own and their peers’ needs (through the questions contributed by everyone) take center stage during the discussion. I often weave questions that don’t get picked up during the warm-up discussion into my teaching to ensure that students see their individual questions from their reading are valued.
The benefits of including a seemingly straightforward discussion-facilitation task go beyond getting the students to approach their reading in ways different from how they would if they were not facilitating. These include (as I always explicitly state in a one-page task information sheet) helping students:
- learn to generate questions meaningful to them and that may be of interest to their peers, and to promote dialogic exchanges among their peers—both essential skills to the work of language-teaching professionals;
- advance their own and their peers’ thinking regarding various topics/questions through exploring those put forward by the team and peers;
- achieve a deeper level of thinking and take ownership of their chosen topic/reading; and
- develop their skills as a facilitator or team facilitator, a life skill applicable both professionally and personally.
3. Providing a post-discussion summary post capturing key contributions. Instead of asking each student to submit a reflective post in writing or by audio-recording, which has its own pedagogical benefits and limitations, I have tried sharing a summary post. I call this my “reflective feedback,” attending to the principle of SMART: specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-based. Specific: highlight contributions made by individuals during the informal warm-up discussion. A side note: I typically sit in a corner, observing and taking field notes, and am not directly observable by the students, whatever the seating arrangement. This strategy helps me be very concrete in my feedback in acknowledging both specific and overall contributions made by the students individually and collectively while also highlighting the takeaway points from each discussion. It is also a way to make learning observable in that those thoughts and ideas become shared objects about which further questions and thinking can be explored and built upon within oneself or among the group (Wells, 2000). Measurable: provide a summarizing post no longer than a page. Attainable: ask one or two follow-up questions requiring students to read the post and draw on their experience. Relevant: when possible, selectively link points to individual students’ interests, experiences, and previous sessions. Time-based: I always share the post the very next day on the private class website; this time frame creates a bit of distance from the event, but it’s immediate enough that the memory is still fresh. Finally, a trail of such summarizing posts also helps students write a brief, personal reflection at the course’s end about what they’ve learned.
In addition to class feedback, in my feedback to the facilitation team I usually include some guiding questions that members might consider asking themselves to help develop metacognition in learning through self-reflection (Lang, 2012).
- Have I gained a better/different understanding of the topic through my chosen reading(s) and discussion with my peers? In what ways can my new understanding inform my practices?
- Have I broadened my thinking or generated new thoughts or ideas not previously formulated? In what area(s) have my thinking and understanding reached new levels?
- Have I helped my peers clarify their thinking on various questions/issues that concern them, and in doing so clarified my own thinking?
- Contentwise, in what areas of my reading(s) do I need to clarify my understanding or follow up on? What are some ideas I can apply to my current or future work?
- Processwise, what have I learned about my ability to promote dialogic exchanges? What can I do differently the next time I facilitate a discussion (an emic perspective) or participate in one (an etic perspective)?
Bonus Idea: Leave one topic open. Among the key topics listed in the course outline, I always leave one open for those who either cannot figure out at least one area of interest, or who are definite about a specific topic that’s not included. Consider having an open topic option to accommodate and value personal interests in the course content and encourage developing those interests. Weave throughout the readings the central idea of teaching for relevance, where “students feel a sense of autonomy when doing work that . . . relates to their interests and has personal meaning . . . provides opportunities for self-exploration . . . and the activities provided are meaningful, relevant, and related to personal interests and goals” (Wang & Eccles, 2013, p. 14).
I have discovered that instead of those methods commonly mentioned in articles for reinforcing reading compliance, taking an informal approach gives students (a) an option to choose readings meaningful or personally relevant to them; (b) an opportunity to take ownership of their chosen topic/reading(s) through facilitating a warm-up discussion; (c) a way to contribute input to the discussion’s process and product; (d) the experience of contributing to the success of each other’s discussion sessions, indirectly encouraging reading, collaboration, and reciprocal exchanges; and (e) a glimpse of what they can accomplish by embracing their role as facilitator, with process and product directly relevant to their interests and goals as language-teaching professionals. This combination of approaches dynamically embedded in the learning system can create powerful momentum and interest among students in what their peers have chosen to explore.
As Weimer (2012) pointed out: “Few (if any) instructional strategies are universally effective, and few (if any) accomplish all learning objectives equally well” (para. 7). I couldn’t agree more. As long as we do what we do, each course or instruction/learning session is a mini-adventure—a challenge requiring a unique combination of strategies. The perpetual state of change characteristic of what we do requires that we never stop experimenting by attending to the multidimensional nature of active engagement. What will you experiment with this semester to motivate your students to do the reading? Share your discoveries so we can continue to inspire and energize one another and help make this part of our teaching a meaningful and rewarding endeavor for both ourselves and our students during the course and beyond.
Baier, K., Hendricks, C., Warren G. K., Hendricks, J. E., & Cochran, L. (2011). College students’ textbook reading, or not! American Reading Forum Annual Yearbook, 31. Retrieved from http://bit.ly/1LppErQ
Chan, P. E., Graham-Day, K. J., Ressa, V. A., MST, Peters, M. T., & Konrad, M. (2014). Beyond involvement: Promoting student ownership of learning in classrooms. Intervention in School and Clinic, 50(2), 105-113.
Faculty Focus. (2010). 11 strategies for getting students to read what’s assigned. Retrieved from https://www.facultyfocus.com/free-reports/11-strategies-for-getting-students-to-read-whats-assigned/
Gee, J. (2014, March 27). Reading circles get students to do the reading. Faculty Focus. Retrieved from https://www.facultyfocus.com/articles/effective-teaching-strategies/reading-circles-get-students-reading/
Hatteberg, S. J., & Steffy, K. (2013). Increasing reading compliance of undergraduates: An evaluation of compliance methods. Teaching Sociology, 41(4), 346-352.
Lang, J. M. (2012, January 17). Metacognition and student learning. The Chronicle of Higher Education. Retrieved from http://chronicle.com/article/MetacognitionStudent/130327
Lei, S. A., Bartlett, K. A., Gorney, S. E., & Herschbach, T. R. (2010). Resistance to reading compliance among college students: Instructors’ perspectives. College Student Journal, 44(2), 209.
Ryan, T. E. (2009, November 13). Why it’s so hard to get students to read the textbook, and what happens when they do. Retrieved from https://www.facultyfocus.com/articles/teaching-and-learning/why-its-so-hard-to-get-students-to-read-the-textbook-and-what-happens-when-they-do/
Sapping, J., Kinsey, K., & Munsayac, K. (2002). Two studies of reading compliance among college students. Teaching of Psychology, 29(4), 272-274.
Van Gyn, G. (2013, May 6). The little assignment with the big impact: Reading, writing, critical reflection, and meaningful discussion. Faculty Focus. Retrieved from https://www.facultyfocus.com/articles/instructional-design/the-little-assignment-with-the-big-impact-reading-writing-critical-reflection-and-meaningful-discussion/
Wang, M. T., & Eccles, J. S. (2013). School context, achievement motivation, and academic engagement: A longitudinal study of school engagement using a multidimensional perspective. Learning and Instruction, 28, 12-23.
Weimer, M. (2012, February 17). Two strategies for getting students to do the reading. Faculty Focus. Retrieved from https://www.facultyfocus.com/articles/teaching-and-learning/two-strategies-for-getting-students-to-do-the-reading/
Weimer, M. (2014, June 26). Getting students to do the reading. Faculty Focus. Retrieved from https://www.facultyfocus.com/articles/effective-teaching-strategies/getting-students-to-do-the-reading/
Wells, G. (2000). Dialogic inquiry in education: Building on the legacy of Vygotsky. In C. D. Lee & P. Smagorinsky (Eds.), Vygotskian perspectives on literacy research. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.
Dr. Li-Shih Huang is an associate professor of applied linguistics, Department of Linguistics, and the learning and teaching scholar-in-residence, Learning and Teaching Centre, University of Victoria, BC, Canada. She is also the recipient of the 2014 Humanities Teaching Excellence Award.
Tagged with coming to class prepared, getting students to read, motivating students, reading, reading assignments
A career brand is an image that portrays you as an expert in your field, attracts your ideal employer, and reveals how you can help their business. How can you promote your career brand effectively, to stand out among increasing competition in the workforce? Self-marketing!
Before you begin self-marketing, you need to understand:
1. What you are going to market about yourself
2. Who you are going to market yourself to
3. Why you are going to market yourself to them
This article offers some important tools to develop your career brand and understand your self-marketing plan.
Goals of Self-Marketing
1. Provide direction to help eliminate trial and error. As a result, save time and money.
2. Network with key industry players.
3. Identify your transferable skills. Marketing these skills, not just job history and accomplishments, puts you in higher demand (i.e., more interviews).
4. Determine what other industries your transferable skills fit into. The industry you are in affects the success of your career. Market yourself in growing industries (green-collar, biotechnology, nutrition, IT). Steer away from dying 5. industries (textile, printing, newspapers, steel manufacturing, etc.).
6. Resolve any setbacks that hurt your career and prevent you from getting interviews. Fix your resume so it does not portray you as "a job hopper", "lacking education", or "unable to advance at a company".
Create Your Own Mission Statement
Just as mission statements provide direction and purpose for companies, individuals can benefit from having their own personal mission statement too.
Your mission statement says what is important to you. Write yours before starting a career to get on the right path and connect with companies that have similar values and beliefs. You can revise it or write a new one at a career crossroads. Its sense of purpose is great motivation!
What to include:
1. Goals - Aspirations in life (short-term and long-term)
2. Core values - Who you are and what your priorities are
3. Successes - Professional, personal, etc.
4. Offerings - How you can make a difference for the world, your family, employer or future employers, friends and community
Integrate Assessments into Your Career Branding
Career and personality assessments reveal consistent patterns in your traits, characteristics, strengths, preferences, and skills. The assessment results may lead you in a new career direction. If you have an established career, they tell you how well your traits and branding messages align with your career path.
Present your distinctive and noteworthy traits to your targeted employers. Remember that not all recurring patterns contribute to good branding (e.g., introversion). Disregard any pattern you feel is not really you.
Incorporate the assessment results into your career branding materials: resume, cover letter, elevator speech, interview responses, portfolio, business card, etc. Convey a consistent branding message throughout all of these materials. But you can use different branding statements for different industries.
Tag! You Are "It"!
Self-marketing is not just about selling your specific skills. Everyone has skills. They get you in the door, but not necessarily get you the job. There can be 100 or more applicants per job posting, and they all have the same or better skills as you. How can you stand out as "the one"?
Develop a tag-line. A great tag-line tells people exactly what a product is and how they will benefit from using it. This is what employers want to know about you! Specifically, how you will help them make and save money. Tell them how much money you helped a previous or current employer make or save on a given project, sale, or time period.
Dear Career Journal...
Did you have a diary or journal when you were young? It helped you express feelings when no one else would listen, or when you did not want anyone else to listen! Similarly, a journal can help and guide us in our professional adult life too.
Writing in a career journal allows you to set aside time to think and learn more about yourself and your career. Just as when you were younger, using a journal allows you to express emotions (good and bad) about career progress. When you read past entries, see how far you have come!
Use your career journal to:
1. Write your personal mission statement
2. React to self-assessment tests
3. Do a SWOT (Strengths/Weaknesses/Opportunities/Threats) analysis
4. Evaluate your current situation
5. Reflect on your successes and failures
6. Devise career goal ideas (breaking into a new career, as a volunteer or consultant)
7. Think about career alternatives
8. Establish daily or weekly career-related objectives or tasks
9. Develop action plans to achieve your objectives and tasks
10. Make checklists
11. Record network contacts, job interview results, etc.
12. Develop job correspondence material (cover letters, resumes, thank you letters, etc.)
13. Practice job interview questions and answers
14. Gather salary information
15. Jot down ideas and information you like and want to use in the future
16. Record things you want or need to learn, skills to improve upon
17. Discover and explore your workplace values
18. Record your job-related likes and dislikes (and employers' likes and dislikes)
19. Note lessons learned
20. Develop ways to improve the workplace
21. Review job-search trends
22. Develop plans for achieving promotions
23. Document the career paths of your peers that you want to emulate
24. Prepare for job performance reviews
Do not keep your career journal at your workplace. Keep it at home on your computer or in a notebook. Try to set a regular time of day to work on your journal, maybe right after work. Maybe before work to get yourself motivated and focused on what you can achieve that day!
Your journal is always ready, and no matter where your career path leads you, you can continue to use it throughout your professional life.
Key Marketing Tools:
Strategic Marketing Plan - Your plan answers these questions:
1. What have I accomplished, where am I now, and where will my career be if I do not take action?
2. Where do I want to go with my career?
3. How do I get to where I want to go?
4. How do I put my plan into action?
5. What do I need to change if I am not getting success?
Understand trends in your career field. Consult resources such as the U.S. Department of Labor's Occupational Outlook Handbook. Interview industry professionals. Study the companies you would like to work for. Use this information for your cover letter, resume and job interview.
You are probably already familiar with the 4 P's of marketing, or the "marketing mix". The 4 P's are product, promotion, place, and price. Translate these in terms of you and your career for job search success.
You are the product with unique characteristics, features, and skills. Expose your "product features" in your tag-line and resume. Let employers know your work experience, leadership experience, professional memberships, technical skills, education and training.
Make sure that your on-line marketing tools (i.e., Facebook or MySpace) are cleaned up and employer ready. You do not want a potential employer to see something on your personal networking sites that will land you in trouble.
Do not forget "packaging", to properly present yourself and your credentials to potential employers.
This is your cover letter, resume, phone calls, correspondence and interviewing. Promotion tools include anything that you can use to get a job interview and ultimately get a job offer.
Be memorable by utilizing multimedia marketing like email, follow-up phone calls, or try using regular priority mail envelopes to send resumes, cover letters and other "marketing materials". This increases your career brand and distinctiveness.
This includes everywhere employers can access you. How are you reaching employers or people who can connect you with employers?
1. Internet job-searching and applying to job postings
2. Cold calling
3. Networking with current and former coworkers, colleagues and alumni
4. Speaking with recruiters at staffing and employment agencies and company HR departments
5. Visiting your university career centers and alumni offices
6. Attending professional association meetings and seminars
Price includes all aspects of the compensation you can receive from potential employers, as well as your strategies to get the price you want, and that the employer feels you deserve. Your price not only includes salary, but also insurance, benefits, paid time off and perks.
Call in the SWOT Team!
Performing a SWOT Analysis, used in marketing planning, is helpful to use in your career planning. SWOT stands for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats. It answers:
1. What are your Strengths and Weaknesses (in your internal environment)?
2. What are Opportunities and Threats in your career field (external environment)?
Internal, positive aspects which you can capitalize upon, such as:
1. Work experience
3. Technical skills and knowledge (e.g., computer skills)
4. Personal characteristics (e.g., superior work ethic)
5. Strong network of contacts
6. Involvement with professional associations and organizations
7. Enjoying what you do
Internal, negative aspects that you plan on improving, such as:
1. Lack of work experience
2. Inconsistent major with the job you are looking for
3. Lack of specific job knowledge
4. Weak technical knowledge
5. Weak skills (leadership, interpersonal, communication, teamwork)
6. Weak job-hunting skills
7. Negative personal characteristics (e.g., no motivation, indecisiveness, shyness)
8. Weaknesses identified in past performance appraisals
External, positive conditions out of your control, but you plan to leverage or add value:
1. Field trends* that create more jobs (e.g., globalization, technology)
2. Field needs your set of skills
3. Opportunities for advancement in your field
5. Strong network
External, negative conditions out of your control, but you may be able to overcome:
1. Field trends* that diminish jobs (e.g., downsizing, obsolescence)
2. Companies are not hiring people with your major/degree
3. Competition from college graduates with your same degree
4. Competitors with superior skills, experience or knowledge
5. Competitors who attended better schools
6. Limited advancement in your field (too competitive)
7. Limited professional development in your field
8. Find hiring/employment trends in your field. Go on-line to ABI/INFORM, Business News Bank, and Lexis/Nexis.
After completing your SWOT Analysis, add the results to your Strategic Marketing Plan. Also, use your SWOT results to develop the following in your Plan:
1. Career goals
2. Marketing strategies
3. Action plan with deadlines
The Elevator Speech
The Elevator Speech is a clear, concise introduction that can be delivered in the time it takes to ride an elevator from the top to the bottom of a building. It can be as short as 15 seconds or as long as three minutes. Write down your Elevator Speech, and practice it so it comes naturally. Be ready to deliver it!
Use it at:
1. Networking events (including "unconventional" ones, like shopping)
2. Career fairs
3. Cold calls to employers
5. Your current workplace, when you encounter the higher-ups
6. Job interviews when asked, "Why should I hire you?" and "Tell me about yourself"
Your Elevator Speech includes:
1. A greeting
2. Your name
3. Your industry or field
4. Accomplishments, background, qualifications and skills
5. If you are graduating soon, what school and what degree
6. What you want to do and why
7. Why you enjoy what you do or want to do
8. What interests you about the listener's company/business
9. What sets you apart from others
10. Your tag-line that you developed!
11. Your mission statement that you developed!
Finally, capture their interest and request action.
1. At a career fair: "May I have your business card, and give you my card and resume? Can you add me to your company's interview schedule?"
2. Networking: "What advice do you have for me? What employers do you suggest I contact?"
3. On a cold call: "When can we meet to discuss how I can help your company? May I send you my resume?"