I make no secret of my love of reading. I pretty much tell anyone who will listen. I also write regularly on this site about things I’ve read or update you on the progress of my goal to read 150 books this year.
It’s also not surprising that I read a lot of things I want to share with my students or that I think they should read. I decided this semester to require reading of two “mainstream” (non-textbook) books in each of my classes.
I chose books related to each class, then provided students with reading schedules. The reading schedules amounted to a chapter or two a week in each class. I also assigned discussion papers for each week’s readings. The discussion paper format was:
- One or two paragraphs summarizing the content,
- A paragraph on what surprised you or caught your attention in the readings,
- A reflective paragraph that ties the readings back to the course and your future role as a public relations practitioner, and
- Any further questions you would like to discuss with the class.
I collected the summaries following our in-class discussions of the weekly reading. They were worth 100 points. Students got full credit for completing them and following the correct format. I also encouraged students to discuss their readings in the class Facebook groups.
My mass media writing students read On Writing by Stephen King and On Writing Well by William Zinsser. The books were pretty similar. I didn’t realize this because I hadn’t read On Writing Well until I read it with my students. In the future, I will require it and another book, perhaps Ann Handley’s Everybody Writes.
My principles of public relations students read How to Win Friends & Influence People by Dale Carnegie and Spin Sucks by Gini Dietrich. My students loved both of these books. They also worked well together, with Carnegie’s book being more about relationship building and Dietrich’s book focusing heavily on public relations in a connected society. I will require these books again.
My news editing students read Work Happy: What Great Bosses Know by Jill Giesler and The Elements of Journalism by Bill Kovach and Rosenstiel. They loved Giesler’s book, and it led to amazing class discussions about management and leadership in the newsroom. The students found Kovach and Tom Rosenstiel to be heavier lifting, but said they appreciated having read it. I will require these books again.
Informal feedback from the students about reading the books was great, even though they had to purchase them in addition to a textbook in two of my three classes.
One student said she enjoyed reading the books because they helped her see how what she was learning in the class applied in “real life.” She did, however, say she thought we spent too much time discussing the reading in class. She thought the reading discussions took valuable time away from lecture materials. Another student in the same class said she liked that we talked about the readings in class. She found this more helpful than just reading the books and submitting discussions. I will take these comments into account in future classes and be careful to limit book discussion to about 15 minutes in class.
Another student said he was afraid the outside reading would be too much, but he really enjoyed it. A student who said she dreaded reading the books because she’s “not a big reader” admitted that she really enjoyed the books and was glad we read them. She said they were books she needed to read, but probably wouldn’t have read on her won. She also thought the reading discussions helped expand her knowledge even further.
Another student said she enjoyed reading How to Win Friends and Influence People so much that she plans to read it again in just a few months.
My approach to education is based somewhat on trial-and-error. This is an experiment that worked. I will continue requiring mainstream books in most of my classes.
I did learn some administrative-type issues during this experiment. I decided to do this right before the semester began. So, I did not add the books to my requirements in the university bookstore. I figured it wouldn’t be a big deal since my students could purchase the books online, in eBook format or at local bookstores. It was, however, a problem for students with scholarship that pay for or provide their books. Also, we had some issues with students having different versions of the book that did not coincide with my assigned readings. I will put the books in the university bookstore in the future.
Let’s Talk Nerdy!
Do you require mainstream books in your classroom? If so, what do you require? I’m also interested in any books you recommend for my classes. What books do you think mass communications students should read?