college students reading as a group September 15

A Method for Deep Reading

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Many students struggle with college-level reading and writing assignments. Part of it is simply not knowing how to get the essentials from a text. I have been experimenting with a simple method I call GSSW: Gather, Sort, Shrink, and Wrap.

The goal of using this method is that students learn to write an essay, based on the readings, that is exemplary of organized, clear, accurate, and critical thinking.


students reading June 1

Reading Assignments, Activities, and Approaches to Promote Learning

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A collection of resources on getting students to read what's assigned and strategies for developing college-level reading skills

Many students do not arrive in our courses with college-level reading skills. That usually ends up meaning a couple of things. First off, they don’t like to read and will challenge (usually quietly and covertly) teacher announcements and syllabus admonitions telling them they must do the reading. They’ll come to class, sit quietly, take a few notes, and see what happens if they aren’t prepared. If there are no negative consequences, they decide maybe they don’t have to do the reading or they can put it off until just before the exam. In the Relevant Research section below you’ll find a study that documents the number of students who come to class not having done the reading as well as what they say is the most effective tactic for encouraging them to read what’s assigned.

Getting students to read “boring” textbooks is especially challenging. To them, what’s in the reading is complicated, unfamiliar information that doesn’t seem all that relevant. What’s most important? What do they need to know? Why won’t the teacher just tell them what they need to know? After all, isn’t that the teacher’s job?

Without good reading skills, students often resort to dubious approaches when tackling their reading assignments. With brightly colored markers, they underline entire paragraphs, if not whole pages. They attempt the reading while attending to numerous distractions; TV, music, and electronic devices of various sorts. Their eyes glance across the words on the page, skipping over unfamiliar vocabulary and without stopping when they don’t understand something. The idea of interacting with the text—thinking about the contents, relating the content to what’s been talked about in class, trying more than once to understand a passage, keeping mental track of what they’ve just read in light of what they’re reading now—all of these close reading strategies necessary to understanding text material are not used at all or only modestly.

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small group discussion February 20

An Activity That Promotes Engagement with Required Readings, Even in Large Classes

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On the first day of class, I often say something like this to my students: “Nothing floats my boat more than great discussion. Nothing promotes great discussion like having completed the readings. And nothing promotes completing the readings like having points attached to it.”


students reading July 22, 2016

An Old-School Approach to Getting Students to Read

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During semester breaks, I prepare my courses for the upcoming semester, a regular ritual for most academics. My process begins with reflecting on my formal and informal teaching evaluations and considering ways to improve the course. I add new topics and delete others. I review assignments and change them as needed. And I spend a lot of my preparation time choosing timely, thought-provoking articles to assist students in learning the course content.


September 25, 2015

Getting Horses to Drink: Three Ways to Promote Student Ownership of Reading Assignments

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There’s no arguing with Ryan’s (2009) observation that “coming to class prepared and with some background knowledge transforms students from passive to active learners” (para. 3). But how to get our students to this state of “transformation readiness” is an age-old issue challenging most instructors throughout their careers. I’m sure the struggle also extends to my own students, who are aspiring or practicing language-teaching professionals juggling multiple personal, academic, and professional demands. Research shows that reasons for not completing reading assignments also include factors such as reading comprehension, low student self-confidence, and lack of interest in the topic (e.g., Lei, Bartlett, Gorney, & Herschbach, 2010).


reading textbook June 26, 2015

Getting Students to Do the Reading

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Getting students to do their assigned reading is a struggle. Most teachers don’t need anyone to tell them what the research pretty consistently reports. On any given day, only 20 to 30 percent of the students arrive at class having done the reading. Faculty are using a variety of approaches to up that percentage: quizzes (announced, unannounced, online), assignments that require some sort of written response to the reading, reading journals, a variety of optional reading support materials, and calling on students to answer questions about the reading. Which of these approaches work best?


yellow highlighted text May 6, 2015

Lost in a Sea of Yellow: Teaching Students a Better Way to Highlight

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A lot of students are in love with their highlighters, especially those bright, fluorescent-colored ones. They use them to highlight course materials, sometimes underlining whole pages of text. When I first saw a text so fluorescent that it all but glowed, I wondered why in the world somebody would spend that much time underlining. Later I understood it was really a cry for help. “I can’t tell what’s important, so I’ll just highlight the entire section so I don’t miss something.” Highlighting can be a useful way of interacting with text, but it needs to be done in a thoughtful way.


March 30, 2015

Using Student-Generated Reading Questions to Uncover Knowledge Gaps

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Editor’s note: The following is an excerpt from Student-Generated Reading Questions: Diagnosing Student Thinking with Diverse Formative Assessments, Biochemistry and Molecular Biology Education, 42 (1), 29-38. The Teaching Professor Blog recently named it to its list of top pedagogical articles.

As instructors, we make a myriad of assumptions about the knowledge students bring to our courses. These assumptions influence how we plan for courses, what information we decide to cover, and how we engage our students. Often there is a mismatch between our expectations about what students know and how students actually think about a topic that is not uncovered until too late, after we examine student performance on quizzes and exams. Narrowing this gap requires the use of well-crafted formative assessments that facilitate diagnosing student learning throughout the teaching process.


March 27, 2014

Reading Circles Get Students to Do the Reading

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In my course, the required reading is intensive and extensive. Students must read multiple texts that range across disciplines, genres, history, and culture. The goal of this interdisciplinary course is improvement of critical reading, writing, and thinking skills. My students, like many others, live complicated lives. Add to that the fact that many are not particularly good readers or people who like to read, and the result is students arriving in class not having done the reading. When that happens, the teacher becomes the best student in the room. She talks about the text while students dutifully listen—or appear to listen.


May 6, 2013

The Little Assignment with the Big Impact: Reading, Writing, Critical Reflection, and Meaningful Discussion

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Several years ago, I came across the Purposeful Reading Assignment that was reported to encourage students to read, reflect, and write about readings assigned for class. Research (Roberts and Roberts, 2008) and experience tell us that supporting students’ reading, writing, and reflective practices is one of the most challenging aspects of learning and teaching. Although this assignment appeared to be simple, it has proven to be an influential tool for learning and has increased engagement and participation among my students.