Why do students come to class unprepared? Because teachers tend to lecture on the material, and students find it most efficient to let them lecture first and then read later. But if your students came to class prepared, would they acquire a deeper understanding of the material?

What I’ve heard for years from teachers is, “If I could only get my students to come prepared, then I could rock and roll in class.” But how do you get students prepared? Rather than finding a solution, this quandary typically comes down to a faculty member bemoaning the current state of students. But it *is* possible: you can get your students to come to class prepared.

If they came prepared, how would that change the way you teach? Once students come prepared, teachers have to adjust to that fact. We can get our students to come to class prepared, but it requires a different course design.

Let’s compare the traditional model of teaching to an interactive model of teaching. We have class time, we have student alone time, and we have teacher alone time. And for the aspects of learning, we have first exposure, higher-order reasoning like critical thinking, and then we have teacher response time.

In the traditional model, first exposure to material is done during class. The teacher lectures on the material. The student receives it for the first time. In student alone time, we send the students off by themselves to do critical thinking on problem sets or homework where they have to apply, analyze, or synthesize the material without the instructor’s help at that time. And then in teacher response, the instructor gets back the homework or problem sets, and grades them one by one by one by one like a cottage industry, if you will.

With the interactive model, we change up when we do first exposure, higher-order reasoning, and then teacher response.

With first exposure, we direct students by giving them a guided reading assignment and have them gain the knowledge of first exposure by themselves. Then, when they come to class, we’re all together to do higher-order reasoning like applying, synthesizing, evaluating, and critical thinking. And we do it all *during* class time.

When you do a problem set in the traditional model, students may be working on the problem at 2 a.m. when the instructor is dead asleep. But in class time, when you’ve got students working on higher-order reasoning at 2 o’clock in the afternoon, they’ve got other students and instructors in class to guide them. So in the interactive model, we’re doing the heavy lifting of critical thinking in class when students can work with each other, and instructors can guide them through any troubles that they’re having with the problem.

Then with teacher response, instead of grading all these problems one by one by one, we can sit during class time and guide the students, giving them feedback on what’s wrong; we can do all the problems at one time or at least do lots of them at one time. So it’s more efficient in terms of responding. Then in the interactive model with teacher alone time, the teacher can come up with learning activities to sink the students into deeper understanding of the material during class and also come up with activities and questions to guide their reading for the first exposure.

This interactive model uses class preparation assignments and a definitional grading system. The class preparation assignments are guided writing assignments that give students something to read and questions to keep in mind while they’re reading. This guides them and serves as a basis for discussion in class when we come back together. Class preparation assignments are pass/fail. Once you receive them from students, you can determine pretty quickly whether somebody’s done the work.

**To earn a class preparation assignment (CPA) credit, a student must:**

**Show a good-faith effort on every question**– First, students have to show a good-faith effort on every question. The response doesn’t have to be perfect—this is first exposure. But students*must*make a good-faith effort in answering every question.**Submit one copy before discussion**– Students must bring two copies of their answers to class, one to turn in and one to refer to during class.**Participate in in-class learning**– Students have to attend class to be able to get credit for class preparation assignments. And students must successfully complete class preparation assignments and pass all quizzes and exams in order to get a passing grade.

**CPAs change the way we teach**

Once students come prepared, instructors need to teach accordingly. Students are ready to go, so the instructor must use active learning strategies to seek higher-level critical thinking and informed opinions on what students have already read.

Now that students are coming to class prepared, instructors must change the way they teach. A straight lecture will cause students to lose motivation. Students have read the material. They’ve come to class. They know something about it. This means teaching strategies must change. Applying active learning strategies can help facilitate this change.

**Make space and time for student voices.**Now, in a certain sense, college students are kind of like teenagers. They’re talked at and talked to quite often, instead being respected and asked for their opinions. I think it shows a lot of respect to students to have a class where instructors talk less, students talk more, and everyone takes part in an informed discussion.

Not only are CPAs used to flesh out what students think, we can also use them to sink students into deeper understanding. So we as instructors come in and say, “Okay, they’re informed.” We want to hear from them, but we also want to train them to have skills that show they can understand high-level thinking.

**Use cooperative learning.**Group work, workshops, and other active learning strategies lead students to engaging in deeper learning and really critically thinking about the material.

A think, pair, share strategy, where the instructor throws out a problem, gives students about a minute to sit and think or write about it, and then asks them to pair up and share what they’re talking about, gets about 50 percent of the class talking about the class material to one another and responding to each other with feedback. This approach gives space to introverts by giving them time to think. In this way, you’ve given them time to talk to other people, instead of allowing extroverts to dominate the conversation.

**Conclusion**

Having students come to class prepared is a course design issue. Solving this problem involves setting up incentives and constraints that the students will respond to. If you use the definitional grading system and the class preparation system, you’ll get your students to come prepared, and you can then focus much more on deep analytical thinking. It’s not the only way to get students prepared, but it’s a very effective way to get students prepared.

Adapted from the Magna 20-Minute Mentor presentation, *How Do I Get Students to Come to Class Prepared?*