At a December meeting of the Committee on Undergraduate Education, students and faculty members expressed concern about a growing trend toward the use of reading period as a time for writing papers or completing projects rather than allowing for studying.
Dean for Undergraduate Education William M. Todd III suggested "sending out a memorandum to professors reminding them that reading period is to be used primarily as a study period."
Reading period, the 12 days prior to the start of final examinations, is supposed to be a time for students to complete unfinished reading assignments. Harvard professors typically assign more reading during the semester than is possible for students to complete. Thus students need reading period to prepare for final exams.
But reading period provides a more important opportunity than catching up on reading. The sheer amount of content and conceptual knowledge students are asked to synthesize in a semester is staggering. Reading period provides a chance for students to look back over the term, compile the vast body of knowledge they have been presented with and reach a new plateau of understanding.
Pulling together 4,000 pages of historical text on why Rome fell or two biology textbooks on how our nervous system regulates body function is a daunting task. To do so for four classes in 12 days is even more arduous. Add to that review sections, foreign language classes and a term paper or two, and students find themselves in quite a predicament.
To prevent overzealous professors from denying students the opportunity to adequately study over reading period, regulations are needed.
Introducing new material should be restricted to the semester proper. Term papers should be due in the first week of reading period so that students' studying is uninhibited in the five days before exams.
If a professor chooses to hold section or classes, they should be optional review sessions and not mandatory lectures. In foreign language classes, where participation may be necessary to maintain comprehension, classes should meet on a reduced schedule.
Over the course of the semester students have dedicated sizable portions of their lives to the classes they take. To teach them professors have spend much time and effort. Allow students to reach that new plateau of understanding: leave reading period for reading.
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