Remember high school? C’mon it wasn’t that long ago. I’m sure that there were certain aspects of your classes that drove you absolutely mad. For me it was always reading quizzes. As a child I was an avid reader; if it was about sharks or bunnies (don’t ask), I was all over it. But in high school my M.O. was figuring out the bare minimum I needed to do in order to get an A. As an English teacher and complete book nerd now, I find it ironic that I didn’t read my first canonical novel cover-to-cover until I got to college. CliffsNotes was my best friend. At one point our teacher was onto the fact that the majority of the class was sketching by this way, so she decided to one-up us. On the next reading quiz she asked about all of the minute details that were present in the chapter, but failed to make an appearance in CliffsNotes. I’m talking about questions like, “When Jack entered the restaurant, he immediately noticed a woman sitting at the corner table alone. What was the color of her hat?” Hmm…I admit she got me there.
So you can imagine that reading quizzes always drove me insane. Even after diligently reading those CliffsNotes with full attention, recognizing all of the major plot points and the overarching themes, I could still easily fail a reading quiz. And I assume that she felt a minor sense of triumph over unraveling our little scheme. But at the end of the day, who was really winning? We were failing quizzes; we weren’t reading; our teacher was not stoked we were blowing off her assignments. And, P.S.: Did it really matter what the color of the hat was anyway?!
Once I traded in the student role for that of the teacher, I began to quickly and acutely understand the frustration of my previous teachers. How was I supposed to teach a lesson if no one in the class did the reading? I like to think of myself as a good conversationalist, but as far as having a conversation with myself for 45 minutes? No can do. So before I knew it, I was giving reading quizzes. Yup, I outsmarted them alright. I asked all of those pesky questions that wouldn’t show up on Spark Notes so they would HAVE to do the reading. I was totally beating them at their own game! Ha-ha! Victory!!! Until it hit me one day—what the heck was I doing? I loathed this as a student, so why was I doing it as a teacher? I was a self-proclaimed hypocrite, and that realization did not taste good.
Upon this revelation, I immediately took action to find something that worked. But first I had to figure out what I truly wanted from them. Well, I wanted my students to be reading the text, interacting with it, and dare I say, enjoying the reading. Hmm…. After a few days of mulling it over, I decided on introducing annotations into my classroom. The students needed to learn how to do this before they went to college. It’s an invaluable skill to learn how to pick out key quotations, important information, and it’s a great way to interact with the text and become active readers. AND I could make sure that they were doing the reading, because let’s face it, you can’t really fake annotations. Can I tell you, this is the best thing I ever did. For the most part, the kids even like doing them. But I think what makes it successful is that I read each and every one of them. Since they know I’m going to read them, they put more effort into them. It gives me a chance to hear their voices and it allows them to inadvertently prepare themselves for our class discussions.
So, the CliffsNotes version? Don’t be a hypocrite. If you didn’t like it as a student, don’t do it as a teacher.