Enhancing Students' Readiness to Learn

September 27, 2006 
By Jennifer L. Romack, California State University, Northridge 


Over the years, I have probably said, "Have you done your reading? Is
everyone ready?" more times than I care to count. But as the years passed,
it became apparent that more and more students weren't doing their assigned
reading and were not ready for class. 

Several semesters ago, out of sheer frustration, I stopped talking during
one of my lectures. I turned up the lights, walked to the chalkboard, and
wrote in quite large letters, "Are you ready for class today?" I underlined
the word "ready," faced the class, and let about five seconds of silence
simmer uncomfortably. Finally I asked the students to respond honestly and
anonymously to my question on a sheet of paper. 

I collected the responses and quickly tallied the results. Seventy-five
percent of the class responded "no." Only a few responded "yes." Most
interesting were the students who responded, "I think so." I asked with
disbelief, "How can you not know whether or not you are ready for class?" To
this day, I have not forgotten how they answered: 

"Well I read the chapter a few days ago, but I don't really remember
"Right before class I studied all of the bold text in the chapters."
"I looked over the graphs because they're usually in your PowerPoint."
"I'm ready because I'm here."

I had two pedagogical revelations that day. First, I never communicated to
my students what it meant to be ready for class. And second, I never made
them accountable for being ready. I decided to remedy both omissions. 
I began by declaring explicitly in my syllabus what I expected of my
students. Here's what my syllabus now says:

"Learning is not a spectator sport. Fundamentally, the responsibility to
learn is yours and yours alone. For learning to happen in any course, you
must take an active role in the process. For our class, you are expected to
come to class 'prepared' and 'ready to learn,' which requires you 'to read'
and 'to study' the assigned reading 'before' you come to class. Being
prepared for class enables you to construct a knowledge base on which
subsequent learning rests.

"During our class, we don't 'cover' content, which means I talk less to get
you to talk about what you are learning. You will be engaging in Learning
Tasks (out of class and in class) that require you to (a) use a variety of
reasoning strategies to address issues and problems, and (b) write
reflectively about what you are learning, how it relates to what you already
know about the content, and how it relates to your life. Your performance on
these tasks will be evaluated using a Learning Task Rubric, with a minus
indicating unsatisfactory performance (55 percent), a check indicating work
that satisfactorily meets expectations (75 percent), and a plus indicating
strongly engaged, high-quality performance (100 percent). Learning Tasks
cannot be made up and late Learning Tasks are not accepted."

What I teach, course content, hasn't changed much over the years. But when I
introduced the readiness concept into my course, what changed was "why" and
"how" I teach. Now my course is more interactive, with student learning at
its center. 

When preparing for class, I focus on why and how the content (i.e., the
process) will be delivered to the students. Learning tasks are designed with
two main goals in mind: students attaining learning outcomes and getting
students motivated about learning.

Being ready for a learning-centered class takes more work, for students and
for the instructor. Those students who come prepared and actively engage in
class need to be rewarded for their learning, and those who don't need to be
held accountable. Assessment practices, therefore, must align to an
instructor's explicit expectations. 

I have developed the scoring rubric chart
<>  to evaluate student
performance on learning tasks. To qualify for a +, a student's work must
meet four of the six criteria.  

Since implementing a readiness component into my course, I have discovered
that the weighting of this component affects the quality of student
preparedness and motivation. The first semester I weighted it at 15 percent
of the course grade. 
Based on student feedback collected over numerous semesters, I have
gradually increased the weighting so that it now counts for 25 percent of
the course grade, and I'm seriously considering increasing it to 30 percent.

This readiness concept is not discipline specific. Therefore I welcome you
to either use the concept as it currently exists or to revise it and refine
it according to your needs or scholarly inquiry. 

Ed.'s note: The author should be credited with developing the readiness
concept, and she invites you to share with her any changes you make that
enhance its effectiveness.  

Contact Jennifer L. Romack at [log in to unmask] 



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