July 25th, 2012

An Exemplar of Pedagogical Scholarship Takes on Student Reading


I read lots of articles on teaching and learning. Most are solid pieces of pedagogical scholarship; a few are exceptional and I found one of those here lately. I prepared a long and detailed summary of it for the August/September issue of The Teaching Professor newsletter. For this post I’d like to identify several features that make this such an outstanding exemplar of pedagogical scholarship.

For years I’ve been trying to make the point that scholarly work on teaching and learning shouldn’t look like research in our disciplines or educational research. Most of the work teachers do on teaching and learning doesn’t advance knowledge the same way research does. It is work that asks questions related to practice and answers them using a range of pragmatic approaches and methods. Articles don’t focus on the next areas of inquiry. They’re written for practitioners interested in how the findings might be relevant to what, how and who they teach.

This particular article illustrates what pedagogical scholarship looks like when it is unique. The article reports on the reading strategies of undergraduates taking a required writing and reading course. The author, an English professor, has the usual concerns about students not reading well. She thinks the place to start is by identifying what strategies they use when they do read. She wonders if they define reading the same way she does and she sets out to answer these questions with an interesting study design.

But unlike so much research where the authors are absent in the interest of objectivity, this faculty researcher uses the research questions to challenge her own assumptions about students and reading. Should she be expecting students to read texts as she reads them? She’s a “professional” reader; her students are not. She’s not excusing her students from reading or developing their reading skills but exploring whether her expectations for students are realistic.

She looks at relevant educational research and finds a useful typology of reading strategies that she shares with students and that become part of the criteria she uses to identify the strategies they’re using. Her study involves a reflective reading log assignment in which students regularly respond to assigned readings. They write about how they read the assignment and what they thought about the reading strategies they used. She includes quotations from their logs showing that students, too, are learning about how they read, discovering there are alternatives, and they are beginning to understand that reading is a skill they can develop.

Using a coding system, the faculty researcher identifies which strategies her students are using and how often they are using them. But she does much more. She reports on other things she learned, including things that surprised her, like student discoveries she thought were self-evident. For example, several students noticed that an essay isn’t the same the second time you read it.

She also explores how what she’s learned might be relevant and applicable to others with concerns about student reading. She doesn’t think just giving students more reading improves their reading or their learning. She thinks teachers must pay attention to how students are reading and she doesn’t think instruction on reading strategies is enough either. Will students see their value? Will they apply them? Some, perhaps, but all students need to discover what they do when they read. They need opportunities to practice alternatives and they need to reflect on their efforts to change. Her assignment accomplishes these goals.

For a long time now, I’ve been arguing that the scholarship of teaching isn’t just about credible work that counts for promotion, tenure and other forms of academic advancement, as important and appropriate as that is. It’s also about the potential of the work to improve practice. That means it needs to be written so that it’s readable by busy faculty without educational research backgrounds. It should also be written in a way that prompts personal reflection, motivates change and encourages others to explore aspects of their practice with the same rigor and intellectual robustness. This article does all of those things, qualifying it as serious scholarship and great reading.

Reference: Manarin, K. (2012). Reading value: Student choice in reading strategies. Pedagogy, 12 (2), 281-297.