Explore potential strategies.
Students did not focus on the relevant aspects of reading.
Despite having done the reading, students are still unable to participate because they have not focused on the relevant aspects of the reading. Because every discipline has its own conventions (e.g., historians want students to be able to identify an author’s argument and psychologists want students to understand the implication of study size), students may inappropriately focus, for example, at too abstract or too detailed a level.
Give students a sense of how much time it should take them to get through a particular kind of reading (bearing in mind that it is normal for students to take 3-4 times longer than you do to read a text). Tell them that if it is taking them significantly longer than this (6 hours for a 15-page article, for example), they should come talk with you or (depending on the problem) advise them to seek help from the Intercultural Communication Center, Academic Development, or Equal Opportunity Services.
Give students tips for reading efficiently and effectively. While all college students have experience reading, they may not have experience reading the types of material you assign, e.g., a journal article, a monograph, a case study. For example, you might encourage students to read the abstract and quickly scan an article before beginning to read, and for monographs to use the table of contents, chapter titles, subheadings, etc., to determine the organizational structure of the book.
Give students a set of questions to direct their attention while reading. This is particularly important for the first several reading assignments if your students are new to your discipline (e.g., freshmen, sophomores, or non-majors). This will help them learn, for example, to identify the author’s argument and distinguish ideas from minutia in order to cultivate the kind of meta-cognitive behavior you want them to have. As a result, they will develop the skills to become more effective and critical readers in your discipline and hence be able to more meaningfully participate in class discussion. Make sure to integrate the questions as part of the discussion.
Make explicit to students what you expect them to be able to do after completing a reading. For example, you might inform them that they should be able to tell you the name of the author, the date of publication, the central question posed, the argument made, and three pieces of evidence enlisted to support it. Or you might ask students to come to class with a one-sentence summary of the reading’s main point, a question it raised for them, or a critique. You could ask students to submit this information in writing, quiz them on it informally in class, or simply pose it as a set of expectations.
Begin the course with simpler readings and work up to increasingly complex, theoretically challenging or sophisticated readings. This allows students time to build the skills necessary to read effectively.
Model for students how you (an expert) approach different kinds of texts in your disciplines. Talk students through how you yourself read: What parts of a book or article do you look at first, and why (date of publication, author’s name, table of contents, preface)? What questions do you have in mind when you begin to read? What parts do you take time with? Skim through? Come back to? How do you approach a book differently than a journal article or a primary document? Perhaps show them how you annotate articles or books to indicate key arguments, ideas, or concepts.
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