It is a fact of college life that students will have to face classes with required reading materials. In fact, required reading is such a common part of college classes, many students don’t consider the delicate behind-the-scenes process of choosing required reading, but the truth is, there is much more to required reading assignments than meets the eye.
Michael Stubbs, an associate lecturer in English at ISU, is no stranger to the process of choosing required reading materials for his classes. This semester in particular, Stubbs is teaching Survey of World Literature, which, as the name suggests, involves a variety of literature from different cultures around the world.
“I’m trying to capture a broad range of historical time periods and groups of people,” Stubbs said, which includes novels ranging from ancient Babylon to the Vikings.
According to Stubbs, maintaining diversity within his required reading is a necessity, especially in a course designed to study literature from across the globe.
“I don’t just choose dead white guys,” Stubbs said, adding that he attempts to include female authors as well as authors of various races and cultures.
However, Stubbs does encounter some limitations on what he can and can’t teach, such as language barriers and the culture of the time period.
It is often hard to find older books written by women and other minorities because they were not allowed to write. Stubbs counters this issue by discussing the way that these minorities are represented in the books they do read.
“I try to teach my students to question the way things were being done,” Stubbs said. “I try to keep diversity a central issue.”
Other hurdles Stubbs finds himself jumping when choosing reading materials is the difficulty of the class.
“I don’t choose whatever I want; I choose whatever I want within the guidelines of the class,” Stubbs said. He discussed how the materials that he chooses must match the skill set of the students as well as the context of the class.
In fact, Stubbs stated that his number one priority when considering required readings is that the content of the material matches the expectations of the class.
“I try to choose something that will be new and challenging, but not too challenging,” Stubbs said.
Other aspects Stubbs considers are if the theoretical approach of the book matches his philosophy of teaching and the cost of the books.
Many students would be surprised to learn just how much time professors put into choosing and teaching required reading materials. In Stubbs’ case, the number can be astronomical.
“If I’m working towards a class that I haven’t taught before, I’ll spend three or four months of the summer just digging through materials,” Stubbs said, adding that he also spends two to three hours before every class reading the assigned section and preparing notes and ideas.
With how much time Stubbs spends choosing and preparing these readings, it’s no surprise that he has high hopes for how they will affect his students.
“One of the goals of [my] class is to get students interested in reading,” Stubbs said. “I try to choose books that are going to wake students up and help them care. I hope they discover a new author, or a new genre or a new ability. I hope that I can make them more aware.”
This is a goal that, according to Stubbs, can sometimes be challenging, particularly when students don’t offer much feedback.
Stubbs said that although some students are very vocal about their opinions on his reading selections, it can at times be difficult to encourage students to choose what they are most interested in.
This leads to some quick thinking and compromise on Stubbs’ part.
“Sometimes I choose the subjects that I’m an expert in because I know I can lead a good discussion, and sometimes I choose the subject I believe students have the most experience in,” Stubbs said.
But most importantly, Stubbs chooses selections that he believes will further both his students’ education and their understanding of the world.