Reading Journals

Like every professor ever, I struggle with how to get students to do their readings, if I should even assign readings, when I should expect them to have done the assigned readings, etc. My first semester I mostly just let it go because I had so much else to think about. However I have since spent a fair amount of time considering a new textbook for my Algorithms course (Algorithm Design by Jon Kleinberg and Eva Tardos in case you care) and dammit, I want them to read it!

More than that, I so often was frustrated in class this past semester going over basic things that the students could easily learn themselves from a reading and not having time to dive into the harder topics. I could tell the students who did the readings felt the same. So, it’s time for a change.

My colleagues here at Grinnell had suggested reading journals as a strategy of improving student learning from their readings and I’ve decided that I’m going to go all in this semester. I’m going to use GitClassroom to manage the journal entries and I’m going to have my graders check each one for every assigned reading. When I have time, I’m going to skim them before class myself, since that will obviously help me know what to discuss in class.

I’ve never done this before, however, so I’d love feedback. Here is what I am telling the students about their reading journals:

I specifically selected our book, Algorithm Design, for its approach to explaining difficult concepts and find it quite readable. Therefore, we are going to try a reading journal approach to this semester to get full value out of the textbook. Most class days will have an assigned reading due that day before class. To get credit for that day’s reading, you will need to write a summary of the assigned section in your own words, discussing what you learned about the concepts and any questions you still have. I will read through these when I can to see how things are going, but this exercise is largely to help you be motivated to do the readings, thus allowing us to have more in-depth conversations on the difficult concepts in class.

We’ll be using a GitHub Classroom to organize the reading journals. Go to the link (TBD) and clone your new repository. For each assigned reading, create a new text document, named with the date. Write several paragraphs explaining the major concepts from the reading and anything that you are still unclear about. Do not simply regurgitate what topics are in the reading. I need to see that you read and digested the text and can write your own understanding of the material.

Each day will  be scored 0-2, where 0 is did not turn anything in, 1 is submitted something but it is insufficient, 2 is sufficient. You must push your new entry before class of the assigned day to receive credit. You are welcome and encouraged to read ahead and complete reading journals as you go. These will also serve as review material for you, so take advantage of that!

What am I missing?

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