How I Guide Students to Read for My Class

by Chris Lynn, Department of Anthropology

One of the downsides of being a professor is that we were all the types of people who generally liked to read and liked to learn more, which is what led us to be successful in college, go on to graduate school, and become professors. The easiest students to teach are younger versions of ourselves. The rest are not nearly so inclined to read the material.

3I9A3244Because there is so much to cover in a survey course, I try not to duplicate the readings in my lectures, so they get more breadth. But students frequently complain that the lectures and readings don’t sync up. In other words, they seem to prefer either to read or come to class but not both. I’m not tremendously sympathetic to that perspective because I think they should want to get their money’s worth, but I am coming around lately to a more balanced approach.

Recently, I have added many readings that duplicate the lectures, but this means that I cut some of the other readings that go into more depth. I find only a few students are interested in the nitty gritty of whatever we are studying.

Across the board, I tell students to learn the art of power-skimming if they plan to go on in academia, as the reading load will increase. Read the first and last sentence of paragraphs. If the gist is clear, move on. If not, read the rest of the paragraph too.

For exams, I generally have fantastic GTAs who develop study guides. Students who meticulously use study guides do well in class and in school in general.

Essentially, I tell students to focus on understanding the conceptual information, being able to connect the dots, understanding that there’s a forest with lots of different trees. Don’t memorize the trees, just learn how to find them and how to figure out what type they are if you need to.