Why professors should assign less reading

Shae Slaughter

Academia has grown and changed a lot over the years, but pedagogical techniques in the classroom oftentimes seem to be stunted by traditional learning tools, such as assigned readings. I’m not talking about a couple of sections—I’m talking about whole chapters. While reading has always been one of my passions, I believe that the modern college system puts a little too much emphasis on textbooks and reading assignments. 

I am a quick reader and I still struggle to get through all of the pages I am assigned between Tuesday and Thursday classes. On average, I would say that I am assigned at least 200 pages to read between those two days. This is the culmination of all four of my classes, of course, but yikes—that is still a lot to read in 48 hours. 

This reading doesn’t include any lectures I need to attend, any discussion boards I need to post or any papers I have to write, but still it must get done. Assuming that reading these 200 pages takes one minute a page, I need to spend almost three and a half hours reading. If you add that to working, sleeping, eating, classes and other general activities, it leaves very little room to do anything else in the off day between classes.

But besides the issue of getting the reading done, we are then faced with the problem of how much students can really retain if they read the material that quickly and just once. Chances are, not a lot. This doesn’t even take into account students who struggle with reading and comprehension. Where can we find the time? 

I want to learn the material, but it’s hard to let all of it really sink in when I have to read that much in that short time frame. Instead, I think we should be focusing on how we, as students, can really learn and appreciate the material we’re presented. The very simple saying of “quality over quantity” holds true here, I think. Actually being able to engage with coursework and focus on its intricacies would be much more beneficial, allowing students to explore the depth of a subject rather than just its breadth. 

I understand the pressure to teach a wide variety of material in the handful of weeks that make up a semester, but maybe we can flip the syllabus on its head. I know that I have been most successful in classes that assign a reasonable and accomplishable amount of reading. In those classes, I feel like I can really understand and succeed. It might only be the difference between assigning 30 pages and assigning 60 or only one chapter instead of two, but that time and information to learn really adds up. 

I want to finish my classes, take all of the knowledge that I’ve gathered and put it toward further studies. I want to read to learn in the long-term and not just to pass that week’s test. In my mind, that’s the best way to go. I don’t know all of the finer details when it comes to education, and I will definitely defer to my professors on this, but I think that a new attitude when it comes to reading could be refreshing.