Reading Assignments

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Today the Faculty Center connected to a workshop facilitated by the Schreyer Institute for Teaching & Instructional Technology on strategies to encourage student reading. We began by discussing three questions:
  1. In general, do your students complete their reading assignments? What are some of the reasons your students might not be reading?
  2. Basing your answer on a discipline-specific course, what does your typical reading assignment look like?
  3. What purpose do your reading assignments serve in your course, and how do you integrate these assignments into the content?
The consensus was that students might not be reading because they consider the text boring, they need guidance on what to read and how to read it (reading strategies), they might have an expectation for the instructor to teach what is in the text, they have a lack of time to spend reading, and/or the reading assignment is not a priority in light of their other assignments. A typical reading assignment simply listed the pages to be read. One interesting integration of the reading assignment into the course content was the use of a study guide that students needed to complete which they were then able to use during the weekly in-class quiz. Both the study guide and the quiz were graded.

Different ideas about what it means to READ can lead to frustration. Does it mean to read every word? Does it mean to skim or glance over? Students tend to lack strategies, or use ineffective strategies, for reading. Additionally, strategies might not be transferable across disciplines. They need assistance in setting priorities - with limited time, what is most important to read?

Comprehension occurs where text characteristics, reading context, and reader characteristics intersect:
  • Text characteristics - Is the text "considerate" and appropriate? Is it easy for the reader to understand?
  • Reading context - Is the reading situation meaningful, integral, relevant, and unambiguous?
    • Is there a clear purpose for reading?
    • Do students know why they need to read?
    • Are there clear instructions provided for why and how to read?
    • How do YOU read?
  • Reader characteristics - Do students possess requisite skills and appropriate motivation for reading a particular text? A textbook assumes a prior level of knowledge - does this match your students?
We reviewed two different text examples, both on archaeology, to tease out things that help learning and things that hinder learning.
Things that hinder learning:
  • Difficult vocabulary
  • Awkward flow
  • Long table with dense information
  • No structural flow
  • Dense information
Things that help learning related to the text:
  • Well-written (coherent across sections, paragraph to paragraph, and sentence to sentence)
  • Clear structure
  • Signals (clear headings and subheadings distinguished by different font sizes and styles)
  • Useful pedagogical (study) aids
  • Visual appeal and utility
Things that help learning related to the context:
  • Varied types of reading
  • Meaningful activities that link reading to course goals/objectives
  • Explicit references to reading ("As you read in the reading for today. . .")
Things that help learning related to the reader:
  • Adequate background knowledge for the text
  • Knowledge of discipline-specific reading strategies
  • Expectation for reading success, that reading will make a difference in learning
Teach Active Reading:
  • Assign appropriate reading.
    • Require students to take notes while reading.
    • Formulate questions, note words that need to be defined.
    • Note agreement/disagreement with readings.
    • Note connections to other course materials or prior knowledge.
  • Ask students to engage with the text.
    • Generate a "Top Ten" List from assigned reading (Clark, 2010)
    • Locate an alternative perspective; plan to discuss (Clark, 2010)
    • Cooperative reading approaches (e.g., Jigsaw)
    • Identify a question that emerged from reading; share in group; reach consensus about one to ask the instructor/class (Bonwell)
    • Think of an example of how a concept discussed in reading relates to student's own life
    • Bring a question from reading on a 3x5 card (Bonwell)
    • Write 2 or 3 top ideas from reading in a Minute Paper (McKeachie)
    • Answer thoughtful, integrative questions provided by instructor
    • Respond to low stakes iClicker questions in Think-Pair-Share format (Freedman)
  • Require students to reflect on all the interactions with the text.
Additional resources suggested by the Faculty Center:

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