Why should your students read the assigned textbook?

uninterested girlTell me if this story sounds familiar. Professors Lee and Smith assign required textbooks for their online and face-to-face courses. Throughout the semester, the professors constantly steal time and energy away from planning their lessons in their efforts to make students read the books. Despite their clever and creative approaches, students still resist. “What is wrong with students nowadays?” they ask.

Maybe I will reframe their question. Imagine I were to ask the instructors, “Why should your students should read your assigned textbooks?” Professor Lee might answer “The important information is covered in the book” or “The book is helpful” or “Without reading the book, they will not be successful in the course or their career”. Professor Smith says “Every course has a textbook; it is a course requirement” and then admits “I don’t know and I have never asked this question to myself.”

What if you asked yourself the same question? If you cannot justify your answer with specific evidence, reading your course textbook is not as vital as you think it is. Should we request our students read something that we cannot justify?

Let’s conduct another thought experiment. I ask the same question of Dr. Hernandez and she answers, “Reading the text is important because students will need the content to accomplish the course learning objectives in my course and to be successful in their professional career.” So, I request, “Tell me one of your learning learning objectives.” The professor answers, “to synthesize scientific research into a well-reasoned review.” (Thankfully she does not answer “to be able to read the book” or “to summarize a chapter in the book” because students should have learned reading and summarization skills during K-12.) Now that we know the professor’s intention, our goal is to help her students understand how the information in the textbook is relevant to accomplishing the learning objectives and to achieving success in their careers. Let’s look at a few ways to accomplish this goal.

Effective Ways to encourage students to read their textbooks

We must clearly demonstrate the alignment between the learning activity (reading the book), the learning outcome and the assessment. Specifically, show how students will apply the content from the book to a specific situation, such as a realistic scenario.

  • On the first day of class, spend the time going over the book. Explain how each chapter is aligned with the learning outcomes and will help students’ lifelong success. If you think that some chapters are not applicable to the learning objectives, also share this information with your students.
  • During the classroom learning activities and conversations, continue emphasizing how a chapter is important. Make sure that you also read the chapters.
  • Before assessments, continue emphasizing how the textbook chapter will help students successfully complete the upcoming assessment.
  • After the assessment, use evidence from the textbook to provide instructional feedback. Continue emphasizing the alignment between the textbook and students’ learning performance.

Please remember that a textbook can be a vital learning resource in your course, but it cannot be the only resource. So, try to apply the strategies above for all your learning activities: explain the relevance, help them to connect the dots, and understand the significance. Good luck!

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