I am very sensitive to students not reading the work and getting through classes okay. I got a B in a class where I was reading (but not comprehending) the long texts and another student got an A by reading the Cliff Notes. (This was grad school, btw.)
So reading on the Chronicle’s fora about students not reading really struck a chord with me.
Here are the best suggestions:
[L]azy ones got by reading Wikipedia, SparkNotes, etc., paraphrasing daily questions from those, then taking notes on class discussion. Found this out as OP did, overhearing comments. Made the ID part of the final exam a weed-out by reading the cheat sites I knew students were using, then making sure that ID passages were not referenced in any. Oh, the sweating bullets atmosphere in the final exam room. Funnily enough, earnest strugglers did fine; lazy ones, not so much.
This is what I do regularly. It does take more work. But I like it. It avoids those students like the one in my Am Lit class.
I ask them to take out a piece of paper and summarize the text in two paragraphs. (Longer or shorter depending on whether the text is a novel or a short story.) Then I ask someone to read theirs aloud and we all contribute pieces that should be added. Then I collect them. It really reveals who’s been doing the reading — [it] exerts pressure to do it, since they won’t be able to hide. It also helpful reveals where they tend to have misunderstood the plot.
I like this, too. It lets me know who is reading and it does let the skimmers know they are going to have to actually read and/or finish the work.
I make sure to put questions on the exams that come directly from the reading; they’re specific enough that students who are coming to class but not doing the reading won’t be able to answer them.
Again, I do this. It’s because I’ve had students come to class and use other students’ reading to do well on the tests. I don’t like that.
Oh, Hegemony has another good idea:
There’s another thing I do when students are unprepared — I say, “Ah, you didn’t get to the reading? Okay, we’ll count on you next time.” And the whole class watches as I note the name down on a sheet of paper. Then I start the next class with a question like, “Jim, will you summarize this week’s reading for us?” I have to say they’re never unprepared at that point. And once their name’s on my list, I keep them in my sights, asking them questions for the rest of the term. Later, if I suspect they’re unprepared, I say, “Jim, are you with us today?” If not, the name goes down on the paper with a matter-of-fact expression. Sometimes I do joke with them: “Scott, you haven’t done today’s reading either? Or you, Brittany? Is that the Corner of Shame over there?” The names go down on the paper. You’d think the students would resent this, but I’ve never got a nasty comment on it. They seem to accept it as well-deserved, and I even get the sense that some appreciate it.
I’m going to keep a list like this. The Reading List of Shame. And perhaps one for the Reading List of Honor. How would you get your name on there?