I shared a conversation with my university colleagues last week on the topic of students reading assigned material before class. Unfortunately, students NOT reading outside of class seems to be a persistent issue concern across levels and disciplines. Instructors notice (or students tell them) that they are not reading, or that they are not reading deeply. This is not likely a new topic, but I think it has new dimensions with the formats of content we’re assigning students. When we assign text selections, in combination with asking students to view flipped content or review other sources, like curated collections, other media, blogs, and so forth, we’re depending on students quite a bit to prepare for successful experiences in our classrooms. This is student accountability, to be sure. This is also an instructor responsibility, in that, as instructors, we must work to integrate readings purposefully into class, and facilitate opportunities for students to think critically as they interact with texts. In other words, our in-class activities must give students a reason to read and prepare.
I think this planful engagement in class is where an interesting similarity across settings unfolds. As teachers of K-12 students, undergraduates, or graduate students, we select readings (or use readings that are part of a mandated curriculum) for many of the same goals. We want the learners to build and deepen literacies, to generate new questions, and engage thoughtfully with information that offers ranging points of view, content background, and stories.
I read about reading a lot, mostly because I’m teaching new school librarians about embedding reading instruction in their school library programs. Recently, this idea of making sure MY students have meaningful engagement with texts is giving me another angle to pursue. Perhaps not surprisingly, the topics converge. Take a look at these two selections about supporting reading comprehension.
(1) Four factors contribute to the success of a discussion. The first two are related to planning. Teachers should select texts that are compelling enough to spark a discussion. Teachers should also create a discussion guide consisting of “higher-order” questions that prompt students to think more deeply about the text and articulate key aspects of the story. The second two are related to sustaining and expanding the discussion. If higher-order questions are challenging for students, teachers can use follow-up questions to point them in the right direction. Teachers can also split the class into smaller groups and ask students to discuss the text among themselves, checking in on them periodically to ensure that they are on the right track. This approach can build students’ ability to think more critically and independently about what they read.
(2) The typical . . . student dreads hearing, “Let’s review the chapters you read for homework.” What generally ensues is a question and answer drill in which students are peppered with questions designed to make clear who has and hasn’t done the reading. In reality, these exchanges do little to encourage deep thought or understanding of the assigned reading. They produce awkward silences during which students squirm in their seats, hoping to become invisible. Other times students decline to answer for fear of giving the wrong answer. Almost all the time a negative tone permeates the classroom during this review. I decided to restructure the way that I approached reviews of reading assignments, and found that by doing things differently, I could change both the tone and outcomes of the review activity. I’d like to share some of the ideas and techniques that I have found useful . . .
The techniques from the second excerpt are these: having students work in collaborative groups to build top ten lists of findings from readings; assigning students to identify and read secondary sources related to texts and share in class; having students journal about what they read; and dividing text selections among jigsaw or similar student groups for shared reporting and discussing.
Can you guess which setting is K-12, and which is the college classroom?
Ok– the word “teacher” probably gives away that selection #1 is from a guide to elementary reading comprehension (K-3, to be exact), and the second selection is written about teaching undergraduates. But consider the parallels! Both of these instructional guides aim to deepen reading comprehension through active, purposeful in-class dialog and interaction with the text, and the techniques aren’t that dissimilar. Both aim to make in-class experiences deeper and more productive. So what conclusion might we draw from this similarity?
Good teaching is good teaching, could be one conclusion. Another could be that rigor in reading is being examined in fresh ways. Possibly, a takeaway is that we might turn to colleagues across arenas to share observations and strategies about engaging our students with what they read. I think that’s especially true for people with work with pre-service teachers (through college programs, practica, etc.) and new teachers (through induction or mentoring)– there’s cross-pollination to explore in how the teachers engage with texts, and how they expect or guide their own students to do so.
What do you think about these similarities? What are your observations about reading outside of class, in any level of instruction? Do you have favorite resources for guiding how you lead engagement with texts in the library or classroom? Please share in the comments.
Source #1: IES Practice Guide, What Works Clearinghouse. Improving Reading Comprehension in Kindergarten through 3rd Grade, http://www.readingrockets.org/sites/default/files/readingcomp_pg_092810.pdf
Source #2: Sarah K. Clark, Making the Review of Assigned Reading Meaningful, http://www.facultyfocus.com/articles/effective-teaching-strategies/making-the-review-of-assigned-reading-meaningful/
Image: Reading a book, by Karoly Czifra on Flickr. Used with a Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike 2.0 License.