Center for Faculty Excellence

Building Skills

Teaching College-Level Reading

In 2008/2009, Rivier faculty from nearly every discipline on campus gathered during two events to discuss ways to promote college-level reading skills, exploring the obstacles students face and the solutions faculty might pursue.

Many students…

  1. may not value reading—their world is dominated by visual media
  2. thus, may not read what’s assigned
  3. may not read all that’s assigned
  4. may not have pre-reading strategies
  5. thus, may not begin by noting how their prior thinking and experience may connect to a text, increasing its relevance
  6. may not look up unfamiliar terms
  7. may not step back, as a habit, to see format/organization and thus use that awareness to comprehend a text’s orientation and aims
  8. may not easily summarize a text’s main idea/thesis
  9. may not easily restate the logic of a text—the “line of development” of its central claims
  10. may not easily make connections between grouped readings
  11. may be inclined to substitute what they generally think a text should be saying for what it actually says
  12. Tend to move quickly away from text specifics to thoughts on a topic, whether speaking or writing.

Therefore, faculty could:

(in general...)

  1. communicate a message that students are indeed entering a different culture and have to adapt to its valued ways of knowing and communicating
  2. repeatedly communicate this idea in first-year courses

(in large-course settings...)

  1. specify reading-based homework tasks
  2. consider very focused reading quizzes as an assessment option
  3. when possible, integrate commentaries by other writers on a particular course reading, thereby giving models of how others read texts
  4. integrate online discussion boards related to readings, framing specific reading tasks (find thesis; predict author's next study, etc.)
  5. model in-class conventional “moves” expert readers make in the field, and progressively give over that role to students
  6. consider the benefit of open book exams
  7. establish voluntary study groups

(in smaller seminar settings...)

  1. consider selecting shorter, more difficult readings, with essential questions to match
  2. divide up different reading tasks among students, in-class and out
  3. integrate a reading journal, following a format that requires engagement with texts (typing up quotations that capture three key ideas; pairing quotations from two different readings to find connections/contrasts)
  4. establish a routine summary assignment for all major readings (see Writing Center resource)
  5. consider the benefit of students reading aloud in class
  6. integrate online discussion boards related to readings, framing specific reading tasks (find thesis; predict author's next study, etc.)
  7. during class, model conventional “moves” expert readers make, and progressively give over that role to students
  8. establish voluntary study groups.

Additional resources: 

A summary of Chapter 8 from John Bean's Engaging Ideas 
A handout for students on being a critical reader 

The following web resources may also help you to develop critical reading strategies in students: 

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