Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Answers in the Back of the Book

I had a special math book when I was in the fifth grade. It had coded answers in the back for all the homework assignments. I cracked the code, and got 100s on all my homework assignments, but I didn't learn a thing. I credit the difficulty I still have with math to that wasted year. I was just a kid. I didn't tell anyone in authority about it, and I thought I was pretty smart to have cracked the code.

I still use the "back of the book" often: when I want to find information, I go to a book's index. When I find a book without an index, finding the "answer" I need is very difficult. Sometimes I just give up and go to another source.

Every semester I notice that a student or two spends a great deal of class time copying definitions from the glossary in the back of the text book (the 5th edition of Listening to Music by Craig Wright). I let them use their notes for the final exam, which is a listening-only final, so some students figure that all they need to know is in the back of the book. Some think that using their class time to do this is time well spent (even though they miss most of what I'm trying to teach them). Before exams I see too many students studying those glossary pages. I tell them at the beginning of the semester not to do this, but they are drawn to the glossary like hawks to carrion.

I make study guides for exams available at the very beginning of the "unit" that we are studying. I even have a blog page where I put supplementary material and offer links to articles to clarify what we cover in class. Many don't bother to use the blog page. I suppose that the students think that the true "authority" is the 10-page glossary in the back of their textbook, with definitions that the can memorize (outside of any context) without understanding much of anything. It seems that the more students rely on their glossary, the worse they do on exams. The latest exam proves it in spades, bruises, and gum wrappers swirling in the wind that this method of studying just doesn't work.

My solution would be to integrate the glossary with the index. If you are listening, Dr. Wright, please consider this request.

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