Next semester I plan to experiment with "flipping" a classroom, by assigning required readings from the textbook (perhaps with supplementary notes) so that lecture doesn't have to "cover all the material", freeing up some class time for discussions, questions, group work, etc. In planning the course, I have run into a meta-obstacle: I'm not sure how big the "chunks" of assigned reading should be and how and how frequently they should be assigned.

Suppose (for the sake of argument) that I want to cover one chapter of the book per week (they're short chapters). Should I ask students to read the whole chapter for that week by Monday (say)? Or should I break it up and assign section 1 for Monday, section 2 for Wednesday, and section 3 for Friday (say)?

Also, when should I give out the assignments? Should I give out a list of assigned readings at the beginning of the semester (recognizing that it may need to be updated as the class progresses)? Should I tell them the next week's readings each Friday? Or the next class's readings each class meeting?

I expect that probably the only general answer that can be given is "it depends", but lacking any personal experience with this sort of thing, I'd like to hear about the factors that ought to influence my choice.

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    $\begingroup$ This surely depends on the course material and the textbook chosen, but ... I think a very important aspect to keep in mind is that students likely do not know how to effectively read a math book on their own. Part of your course will become teaching them how to read. $\endgroup$ Commented Apr 25, 2014 at 19:19
  • $\begingroup$ @brendansullivan07, absolutely! That's already part of my plan. $\endgroup$ Commented Apr 25, 2014 at 23:39
  • $\begingroup$ @brendansullivan07 "students likely do not know how to effectively read a math book on their own" Most students (at the college level) have had their share of poor lecturers, and hence have plenty of experience reading the book on their own. And even with a good professor, reading the book is standard practice. If this was a high school question, then that would be a different matter. (I'm basing this off of Mike's about page.) $\endgroup$ Commented Apr 26, 2014 at 9:41
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    $\begingroup$ @AmadeusDrZaius, practice reading a book on their own doesn't necessarily translate into knowing how to effectively read a book on their own. In my experience teaching at college level, few students read the book and even fewer learn anything from it. $\endgroup$ Commented Apr 26, 2014 at 20:26
  • $\begingroup$ @MikeShulman I guess it depends where you go and what level of students you're talking about. I could see first-year calculus students having that problem. But students in their second/third/fourth years studying upper-level math cannot have this problem, or they will fail their classes (flipped or not). $\endgroup$ Commented Apr 27, 2014 at 0:42

2 Answers 2


I've found it more natural, and more helpful for the students, to arrange the out-of-class work around the learning objectives you have for your instructional units rather than the number of pages in a book. There's not always a natural linear relationship between page numbers and concepts -- sometimes a concept that takes a couple of pages takes twice as long as simpler concepts that take up more space.

Here is a blog post I recently wrote about learning objectives and the design of pre-class activities. The tl;dr version is

  • For each particular class meeting, decide what learning objectives you would like to see students address in their work.
  • Order that list from lowest cognitive complexity to highest cognitive complexity using something like Bloom's Taxonomy.
  • Decide where the cutoff should go that demarcates what students should be responsible for before class and what they should expect to see in class. Not all learning objectives for a given day are good material for pre-class work.
  • Organize the reading or video watching or combination of these around the "basic" objectives that students are responsible for prior to class. Organize your class work around the more advanced objectives.
  • Design good in-class work about the learning objectives and assess before, during, and at the end of class on how students are doing with those.

There's a link in my blog post to the finished product of a pre-class activity on the Chain Rule for my flipped calc 1 class, if you want to see the finished product. We use the book Active Calculus by my colleague Matt Boelkins (free to download) and a whole bunch of videos that a colleague and I made for calculus, found on YouTube here.

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    $\begingroup$ Oops, I forgot to add that I usually post these "Guided Practice" documents 10 days in advance of the class meeting date that requires them. Some students really like to work ahead. Students submit their work online using a Google Form. $\endgroup$ Commented Apr 25, 2014 at 20:22
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    $\begingroup$ I was only using the "chapters/sections" example as a way to explain the question of how big the chunks should be; I certainly agree that not every chapter or section will take the same amount of time! Thanks for the link, it'll be very helpful to me (although reading this sort of thing does frequently leave me feeling "when do you people have time to do all of that?"). $\endgroup$ Commented Apr 25, 2014 at 23:48

This depends a fair amount on the class and the textbook. I'm going to answer for the only sort of class I'm familiar with, an early college level calculus course.

  • First, as brendansullivan07 points out in the comments, reading a math textbook is a skill in its own right, and one that your students likely don't have yet. You should indeed plan on teaching them how to read, and you should also have low expectations, especially early in the course, for what they'll actually get out of reading it.

  • Relatedly, I'd recommend breaking it up day by day, as part of a general practice of giving a lot of guidance about what reading entails. In other words, don't say "Read Chapter 1 by Friday", say "Read pages 182-186 for Monday. When you're finished, you should know what the definition of a Blah is and be able to give two examples, and you should understand how to solve problems similar to Examples 1 and 2."

  • I'd recommend trying to announce reading in multiple ways---giving a list of readings at the beginning of the semester (updating if needed), and also announcing them either daily or weekly. Many students do still have their schedule planned at a week by week level, so some of them will want to do their reading for the week in advance, or do both the Wednesday and Friday reading on Tuesday so they can participate in some activity Thursday evening or something like that. So you want them to be able to get ahead if they want to. On the other hand, if you only give them a list at the start of the semester, a bunch of them will lose it and be too shy to ask for a new copy (and forget to look at the website), so they won't know what the assignments are.


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