Many students today are over-whelmed with the language, syntax, and density of college texts. They are confused by primary sources and find academic discourse unfamiliar (it’s very different from their text messages!). Some students highlight everything they read, unable to discern important information from supporting details.
There are many reasons for these reading difficulties and faculty members can help students to overcome some of these barriers by trying a few of these suggestions:
Explain to students how your own reading process varies with your purpose for reading. When do you skim? When do you read for gist, not details? When do you read carefully and slow down your pace? When do you make margin notes? When do you read a research article and skip to the discussion section? How much are you influenced by the reputation of the author?
Show your students your own note-taking and responding process when you read. We all like models. Explaining what you do as mentioned above is good; but this idea takes it one step further. Bring in a book or article of your own that has your marginal notes, highlighting, paper notes, etc. Use those documents to explain what you do. Many students believe that good readers just “get it” without any effort. Show them your strategies for comprehending.
Help students get the dictionary habit. Unfamiliar words in a text hamper comprehension. While reading, a student can make small ticks in the margins next to words they are unsure of and look them up later. Once they have the definitions, they can go back and review that section of the text. However, in this technology age, instant gratification is the norm. E-readers make this function easy; you just highlight the word and it goes to the dictionary. Many students have smart phones and can “google” a word immediately. There’s still a place for a good old-fashioned paper dictionary in the mix also! The point is to get students to use these tools. Just skipping over unknown words is not in the students’ best interest.
Devise an interest-arousing pretest. Create an interesting non-graded pretest over the upcoming reading. Sometimes these can be in the format of an “anticipation guide”. The purpose is to expose students to the content before they begin reading and to become aware of their own gaps in knowledge. If the pretest or anticipation guide spark interest, you will have planted a seed of curiosity about the topic.
Help students to see that all texts are trying to change their view or attitudes about something. Students tend to believe that almost everything written in a text is fact rather than an attempt to change thinking. If students understand this concept, they become more engaged with the reading and begin to “interrogate” the text to decide what to accept and what to doubt. Free write responses to the following questions will help students to appreciate this role of text:
1. Before I read this text, the author assumed that I believed _____________.
2.After I read this text, the author wanted me to believe ________________.
3.The author was (was not) able to change my view. How? Why or why not?
(questions based upon those listed in Engaging Ideas by John Bean)
Source: Bean, J. (1996). Engaging Ideas: The Professor’s Guide to Integrating Writing, Critical Thinking, and Active Learning in the Classroom. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers.
FGCU Library Collection: PE 1404.B35 1996