Dr. Janis Prince is an associate professor of sociology and chair of the Department of Social Sciences at Saint Leo University. She has taught at least 16 unique sociology classes, including the sociology of deviance, gender, race, medical sociology, along with quantitative and qualitative methods. In this blog post, she outlines her unique “Entrance Ticket” strategy for getting students to engage with their assigned reading.
One of the most common gripes and concerns among faculty is that our students do not read. The relationship between learning and reading is obvious to many of us—and given our professions, most of us are probably big readers. Yet, despite short or long lists of readings, easy pieces mixed in with harder ones, pop quizzes, and a multitude of creative assessments, our students do not read. Believing that there is a long list of gains from reading, as an instructor you must consider this question: What would motivate students to read class materials if they can succeed in your class without doing so? This post will provide tips designed to help instructors encourage their students to attend class (in person or by videoconferencing) having already read class materials.
Starting on the first day of class and in subsequent sessions, in a transparent style with students about my pedagogical approach, I explain to students how we learn. Among other methods, we learn through repetition and accessing material in multiple ways such as reading, writing, listening, observing, and discussing. I explain that students who do not read the materials cannot participate in higher-level classroom conversations. Further, being able to summarize material we read is a valuable and marketable skill. Because being able to summarize the reading in one’s own words is so important to meaningful class discussion, and because these conversations help facilitate deep learning, I have students do this before every class. I call these summaries the “Entrance Ticket” to the class—like a guest gift one hands to the host when entering a party; I tell students that we want to be polite and not show up to class empty-handed. I created my version of Entrance Tickets (ETs) as aids in student learning based on these basic principles.
ETs are typed summaries of assigned readings that answer focus questions I provide. The focus questions highlight areas of the text on which I will focus; they might be derived from learning outcomes for the course. For each week’s reading assignment, I provide three to seven focus questions that students must answer in their ETs.
Here are examples of focus questions based on one chapter in a gender class:
- What is sex?
- What is gender?
- How are gender and culture related?
- What is the role of socialization with regard to gender?
And here are examples of focus questions based on one chapter in family class:
- What motivates people to marry?
- What are three marital rites of passage?
- What are five characteristics associated with successful marriages?
The syllabus indicates when each ET is due—always before we discuss the relevant readings in class. I explain to students that their ETs are a “first pass” at the material, but that in class, we will move to higher-order thinking such as applying and analyzing the material. I encourage students to use ETs as a place to note areas of confusion with texts, but few ever do so. Students in my classes must submit each ET assignment to a Turnitin-enabled dropbox in our learning management system.
I encourage students to use an outline format for their ETs and show them examples of this. However, I think it is more constructive to be flexible and not too focused on the format of student summaries, so I accept whatever versions students offer. When I receive an excellent first ET of the semester, with that student’s permission, I share it with the class to serve as a tangible example of what they might produce. I also direct students’ reading by pointing out that many of their class materials include summaries; reading a summary first helps us, especially novice learners, know the major points of a work. I direct students to underline or highlight those central ideas after reading focus questions (such as those provided above) but before reading an entire piece.
If ETs sound like too much additional work to grade, they do not have to be. First, I use a simple rubric:
0 – no submission
1 – skimpy/does not address the focus questions
2 – moderate attempt but lacks sufficient detail
3 – excellent
I do not provide a page length or word count for this requirement but explain to students that a page or two is usually enough. The first ET is typically due by the second week of classes so that students have a chance to try the assignment quickly, as they tend to have lots of questions about what is expected. I try to grade the first ET within a few days, providing detailed feedback to students who score less than “3.” After the first ET, unless a student struggles with this assignment or asks me to do so, I grade ETs only two more times: after the midterm and after the final.
ET grades in all of my classes are a portion of what counts as participation. Additionally, if students submit all ETs on time, they are allowed to use them during exams! I was apprehensive about this initially, but it works well. Today, information is at our fingertips, so why not allow students access to what they summarized? I believe these carrots explain why I have about a 100 percent compliance rate with submission of entrance tickets! As I explain to students, not doing ETs is like not taking your company’s 401(k) match. The ETs are as useful as students make them, and more than half of my exam questions require higher-order skills, so having the information is only a first step. Although I have not done a systematic study of it, my impression is that students do much better on exams since I implemented the use of ETs across classes. The weakest students have some material to answer questions, even at a limited level—while the strongest students use ETs as a springboard to soar.
Apart from submitting electronic versions of their ETs, I request that students print them and bring them to each class. In the classroom, you can use the printed ETs in various ways, including:
- Class discussion. With all—or most—students having read the materials, they can consult their ETs to answer questions posed in class. Students who might otherwise be less prepared now have “something to say.”
- Binder swap. Students read each other’s ETs. This works well for students to learn how to summarize from each other.
- Duo quiz. Working in pairs—or small groups—students try to stump each other with questions based on their ET summaries.
- Group think. I pose a focus question and allow students to work together using their ETs to create the most comprehensive answer.
- Study guide. The focus questions indicate areas that the instructor considers significant, so they and well-done ETs are a great study guide. Plus, students don’t have to ask, “What’s on the test?”
Of course, students find ETs challenging! But they get used to them, and many have told me how useful they found them. For example, Demareus Godbolt sent me the following email after graduating:
Hi Dr. Prince,
I hope this e-mail finds you well! I hope you had a great semester and Thanksgiving. I was talking to Mary the other day and was saying how much we missed your class, even with the weekly entrance tickets due 😂…
Hope to hear from you soon,
From my side of the classroom, ETs have transformed my classes. My students seem to do better on exams and engage in very high-level discussions based on class materials, and many show ownership of the material—a major goal of my teaching! I hope you’ll experiment with this concept and you’ll find it as effective as I have.