The following is a synopsis of an IDEA paper on helping students prepare to read the academically dense texts with which they often struggle. First-year students often cannot listen well, take notes, read with comprehension or write referentially about the world, but they are capable of learning.

Compliance problems

Techniques for helping reading comprehension are of no value if students don’t read and research establishes that compliance with course reading is only 20-30% for any given day and assignment. Because students see a weak link between reading and academic success, they are not always strongly motivated to do assigned reading, especially when the syntax is difficult, the conceptual level complex, and the vocabulary load heavy.

The course-based characteristics that reduce likelihood that students will comply with reading include no justification for reading selections, little or no differentiation between texts really required and nominally required (for passing), and a mismatch between a text's literacy level and students’ reading ability.

  • Improving student reading 

    The most successful approach to improving student reading is to address the teaching or cause traits that undermine student motivation and to increase the reading strategies available to students. 
    • Assess assumptions
      • assumed inevitability of texts
      • weak correlation between student reading and course success
    • Assess the course
      • text is problematic when it is beyond reading ability of the students
      • text is problematic when it is really aimed at specialists
      • Exercise triage on reading assignments—which ones are really essential. More manageable reading load and accountability for completing reading assignments makes compliance more likely
    • Assess the audience
      • professors overestimate motivation of beginning students to read-
      • profs don’t understand that students lack to knowledge base to enable critical reading
      • See quote on skilled vs unskilled readers: “The language use teachers expect, and far too often take for granted, must in fact be developed through concentration and practice.” 
  • Improvement and Implementation Strategies

    • Tip # 1: Not every course is served by requiring a textbook.  Consider not using a textbook if:
      • in-class lecture and discussion primarily covers material found in the text
      • no available text offers a good fit with the course; use reading packet instead
    • Tip # 2: ‘Less is more’ applies to course reading
      • an effective reading list should have fewer, carefully chosen texts
      • remaining texts or reading assignments should connect obviously to course
    • Tip # 3: Aim reading material at ‘marginally skilled’ students-
      • choosing reading that is too hard becomes negatively reinforcing
      • use course structure to encourage reading
    • Tip # 4: Use syllabus as a teaching tool
      • help students understand reason for selection of readings
    • Tip # 5: Explain reading assignments’ relevance
      • explanation of reading’s relevance is important because novices are not adept at making inferential connections
    • Tip # 6: Assign reading close to use date
      • will help close gap between too vague Day 1 statements and precise day-to-day activities
      • students more likely to read if the material will be used close to reading date
      • shape class activity to encourage reading
    • Tip # 7: Preview the reading
      • some in-class intro will help students who are overwhelmed by the organizational complexity, length, and foreign vocabulary of text (as well as assumptions about reader skills)
    • Tip # 8: Use class activities that increase compliance and effectiveness-
      • reading guides: summarize important points; identify possible tough areas
      • study questions: keyed to key points in the material
      • short writing assignments: link between reading and a specific topic
    • Tip # 9: Use class time
      • allow students to reading priority assignments during 15 minutes in class
    • Tip # 10: Require prior reading
      • random questioning at beginning of class will help students know that you mean for them to read
    • Tip # 11: Test over reading material
      • a more heavy-handed method of enforcing student compliance
      • often helpful for getting students to read material that is supplementary
      • develop needed reading skills and attitudes
    • Tip # 12: Teach reading strategies overtly
      • teach students how to mark their texts
      • may need to be taught since it is forbidden in HS
      • relates to good study skill—provides easy review
      • reproduce several pages of text and show students how to mark text
      • provide annotation of the marking that explains the strategy used
      • teach students to read a text like a pyramid not a road
      • Novices can create their own knowledge context by reading and thinking about the chapter title; then skim all the major sub-headings; then the next level; then a quick read of the beginning sentence of each paragraph; finally the student can read the actual chapter.
    • Follow-up Tip # 13 : Use classroom assessment techniques (CATs) to assess compliance-
      • periodically ask students to anonymously indicate if they have done reading-
      • routinely include question “I have done my entire assignment for today” on class quizzes-
      • see Angelo and Cross for list of CAT’s
    • Tip # 14 : Get assistance when/where needed-
      • consult campus specialists who run reading programs
  • Sources of students’ reading difficulties

    1. Misunderstood the reading process.
    2. Fail to adjust reading strategies for different purposes.
    3. Struggle to perceive an argument’s structure as they read.
    4. Struggle to assimilate the unfamiliar.
    5. Struggle to appreciate text’s rhetorical context.
    6. Struggle to see themselves conversing with the author.
    7. Lack ‘cultural literacy’ assumed by the text’s author.
    8. Lack adequate vocabulary.
    9. Struggle to track complex syntax.
    10. Struggle to adjust reading strategies to the varieties of academic discourse.
  • Strategies to help students become better readers

    1. Explain how our reading process varies with your purpose.
    2. Show students your note-taking and responding process when you read.
    3. Help students get in the dictionary habit.
    4. Teach student how to write ‘What it says’ and ‘What it dos’ statements.
    5. Make students responsible for texts not covered in class.
    6. Awaken student interest in upcoming reading.
    7. Show that all texts reflect the author’s frame of reference and warrant questioning and analysis.
    8. Show students the importance of knowing cultural codes for comprehending a text.
    9. Create ‘reading guides’ for particularly difficult texts or for texts with unfamiliar cultural codes.
    10. Help students see that all texts are trying to change their view of something.
    11. Teach students to play the “believing and doubting” game.