Should universities have ‘reading weeks’?

Shortly after the beginning of my career as a university lecturer my department first introduced the concept of a ‘reading week’ – a week around half way through the term when teaching would stop an d student were encouraged to reflect on and read back over the materials of the course experienced so far. I think that may, perhaps most, students used this week as intended, but some clearly did not; I discovered this when the parents of one of my students sought my permission for this student to ‘extend reading week by four days’ because that is how long their skiing trip would take.

Reading weeks have been a feature of all the universities I have worked in since then. But are they doomed? At a recent conference I attended some colleagues from other universities told me that their institutions had abandoned reading weeks. In some cases this was because doubts had set in as to whether these weeks were being used properly, and in others it was because they made the teaching terms too long, thus creating problems for the organisation of the academic working year. Indeed this is not entirely new: an article in the journal Times Higher Education in 2000 had already reported that reading weeks were coming under pressure.

Does this matter? Was the ‘reading week’ a mistake in any case? Or is there some pedagogical value in letting students reflect a little during the middle of the semester? Does the reading week need to be saved, or should it be allowed to die peacefully?

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8 Comments on “Should universities have ‘reading weeks’?”

  1. Vincent Says:

    Why not have a 15 min aural run by the tutors but with a professor sitting in much in the vein of Alan Sugars boardroom as the terminus of that week.
    I could guarantee a doubling of firsts.

  2. Al Says:

    Rather than downing tools for a week, would it make sense to reform into something that actually promotes reflection or even the ability to read for periods of time longer than Simpsons episodes.

  3. Cormac Says:

    I often go skiing during reading week in the 2nd semester. It does help me think, and I usually come back refreshed. Perhaps a break from routine can itself be beneficial.
    Worth remembering that Schrodinger cracked his famous wave equation while on a ski holiday – I live in hope.

  4. Death to reading weeks. Stupid waste of everyone’s time. Lecturers should lecture, students should study during terms. Summer, Xmas and Easter breaks can be used for catching up if necessary. The one time one was guaranteed a seat in the Berkley library in the 1990s (there was no Ussher then) was during reading week.

  5. If there’s no documented benefit to the Irish tourist and travel industry, those Reading Weeks should be canned.

  6. Sadly some students see a reading week as a Holiday, But I think reading weeks should be monitored, There should be a system where you have to sign in and do some work also the lecture for that module could also have a drop in session that week.

  7. Alina Says:

    what is wrong with you people? reading week is awesome! Some countries have break in the fall AS WELL as reading week!!!! You are all so mean !!!!

  8. Lisa Says:

    I think that reading week is fantastic. It gives students a chance to catch up, or even work ahead, and seeing as many profs choose to assign midterms or major assignments immediately after reading week, that time off of regular classes is a necessity. Not to mention, we students get really burned out; I for one in the last month was feeling completely exhausted, between classes, extra shifts to meet rent, and housework, and am so grateful to for once have the energy and time to devote myself to my schoolwork completely.

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