Wednesday, March 21, 2012

faculty and reading skills

I recently had the opportunity to speak to 45 or so university faculty. I was invited to speak about how to improve student reading skills. The faculty increasingly feel that their students aren't doing the reading - at all or do it with little comprehension and ability to speak about it in class. Having done this kind of presentation in the past, I am wary of the reception that an "outsider" can have -- tellling faculty about how to do their work.

But I was encouraged by the university hosts that their faculty are friendly and receptive to ideas that will help them with their teaching. They wanted practical skills.

So, I decided to present a mini version of the reading improvement course (aka speed reading) that I teach each term at Dartmouth. I've learned what helps students the most with improving their reading rate and comprehension is to introduce them to and have them practice fewer fixations per line and the SQ3R method. I add information about reading related factors (e.g. not reading in their rooms) and getting the sleep they need to do quality reading.

While most of the faculty were quite receptive (I sensed they worked with the "developmental" students), a few of the faculty were a bit hesistant about having the students learn how to initially skim, scan, or survey. "We want our students to read slowly," a couple of the professors said. They weren't quick to appreciate that pre-reading or surveying skills would allow the students to get the "advance organizer" or big picture, which would then allow the students to look more closely at what the text is saying.

My experience in these situations paid off. I knew that some faculty have discovered (usually on their own) a technique or two that helps them get their students to learn how to read the course material better. I encouraged the faculty to share a success story or two. One faculty member talked about how he has his students read a short primary text. He then spends a good portion of the class discussion on not only what the text is about, but also the ways in which students can/should read the text so that they can know what the text is saying -- reading skills, in other words.

He then has them read and discuss the same text a week later. Even though this approach takes time and "cuts into other course content," the professor has stuck with it because students tell him every term how useful they found it. The students often say, " I got so much more out of it when I read it a second time and because I knew how to read it."

I had the latter part of the presentation be small group discussions where the facutly spoke to each other about improving student reading. When we got back together as a large group and each of the small groups reported out, the most repeated point was the many of the faculty were realizing that they needed to spend class time (and not just once at the beginning of the term) talking about how to read the course material.

My additional point was that if students were being intentionally taught how to read in different ways for different courses and subject matter (reading skills across the curriculum), the faculty would be giving their students a wonderful and powerful learning gift. And a life-long gift, as well.

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