Two Iron Laws of College Reading

by Harry on December 22, 2021

Someone (my daughter) preparing to teach her first Sociology college class (Sociology of Education, yes, that is funny) asked me how much reading to assign. Here are what I think of as the two iron laws of college reading.

Law One: The more reading you assign, the less the students will read.

Law Two: The more you talk in class, the less the students will read.

I suppose there must be a limit to Law One: if you assign no reading at all, they don’t do any, whereas if you assign 3 pages some of them will do it. If you assign 300 pages they won’t do less than if you assign 200 pages. So it only applies within a range. And Law Two can be broken by not talking about the reading at all, but then basing assessments on the reading alone.

My advice was: assign about 60 pages/week, given the conceptual complexity of the material I know she’s assigning (Philosophy the limit would be less than 60 pages, in English Literature or History it would be more). And talk no more than 50% of the time in class. (She’ll have about 30 students; if it were one hundred I’d go up to 2/3rds. Also, she’s a former secondary teacher, and I know she has pretty good skills; the less skilled a teacher is the more they have to talk).

This advice is grounded in the assumption that doing the reading contributes a great deal to student learning; as does spending a lot of time thinking in the classroom. If you don’t think that, then go ahead and assign as much reading as you want them not to bother doing!

One of my Ice Breakers: “Name a book that you think you ought to have read, but haven’t.”
Best answer: “Well, that would be all the novels that I was assigned in my English Literature class last semester”. She got an A.