Motivating Novice Students to Read Their Textbooks

By Ryan, Tracey E. | Journal of Instructional Psychology, June 2006 | Go to article overview

Motivating Novice Students to Read Their Textbooks


Ryan, Tracey E., Journal of Instructional Psychology


A common problem faced by college professors in every discipline is how to motivate students to come to class prepared having read the textbook. This study examines the impact of 3 different strategies used to motivate students to read their psychology textbooks and come to class prepared for introduction to psychology classes in a community college setting. These strategies were the following: 1) general, global assignments with planned quizzes, 2) focused, explicit homework assignments with minimal teacher comments, 3) focused, explicit assignments with extensive teacher comments. It was found that that the use of focused, explicit homework assignments with extensive teacher feedback on the assignments was the most effective strategy as measured by midterm and final exam grades.

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We often expect our students to diligently read their textbooks before coming to class. This is especially true in content heavy, introductory courses such as Introductory Psychology. Since we cannot possibly "cover" all of the content in our lectures, we hope that our well prepared lectures will enhance understanding, but that students will do at least some of the hard work of reading on their own.

Furthermore, we know intuitively that textbook reading not only enhances content comprehension, but that it improves reading comprehension in the discipline overall. The more we read in a given content area, the better we become at understanding and extracting information from that content area (Shenkman, 2002). Most college teachers value textbook reading at the introductory level, assign it regularly and expect that students will come to class prepared to engage as active learners.

The problem is that our expectations may be unrealistic, when we consider the global assignments, such as "read chapter 15", that are often given to students. Much recent research indicates that college students are not reading their textbooks (Clump, Bauer & Bradley, 2004, Burchfield & Sapington, 2000, Murden & Gillepsie, 1997). Some researchers have suggested that students do not value the textbook as highly as the teacher lecture (Murden & Gillepsie, 1997). Perhaps they don't perceive that textbook reading will result in better course grades or they believe that the textbook is boring compared to the teacher lecture. Other researchers suggest that students need additional incentives to do the reading, such as a quiz to motivate them. Without the extrinsic reward or consequence, they will not be motivated to do the hard work at home (Ruscio 2001, Sapington, Kinsey & Munsayak, 2002, Solomon 1979).

It has been my experience in many settings, including the community college, that when we give global reading assignments, we get poor results. For example, if a college teacher assigns chapter 15, in an introductory text, there is a wide disparity in the amount and quality of reading and comprehension that takes place, if any at all. In one study, college students read only 27.46% of their assigned reading before coming to class (Clump, Bauer & Bradley, 2004).

When I give a global assignment such as "Read Chapter 15", students often report "getting lost" in the reading and being overwhelmed by the amount of information presented. Some report giving up after the first few pages or when they encounter difficult vocabulary. Others highlight and read the chapter diligently, yet many do not comprehend the material or even understand why they highlighted a particular portion of the text.

Most college teachers have heard student comments such as the following: "I just didn't get it, could you explain it to us"? Or, "Would you tell us what we need to know in chapter 15"? These questions indicate that students usually look to the instructor to extract and summarize information from the text.

This may not only be the result of lack of motivation, but may also be the result of poor reading comprehension and poor textbook reading skills.

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