So Your Students Aren't Reading!?

Reading to Learn

Reading to Learn Resources

Metacognition & Reading to Learn

Reading at WSU

Workbook Academic Reading
with self-audits

A Guide to Reading & Analyzing Academic Articles

PSU Study Module on Active Reading

climbing stairs

A Big Challenge

Try to remember the last time you picked up something to read that required your full attention in order to comprehend and remember the message. Maybe it was a text from a field different from your own, or a manual for a new hobby.

Consider what it was about the text that made it more challenging to read: new vocabulary and concepts, unfamiliar jargon or structure? What was happening in your mind as you read and tried to make sense of it? How did you determine the quality of the material? What determined your willingness to keep going through the challenge?

These are skills that need to be made explicit for readers new to difficult academic texts. Acquiring the skills takes time and practice.

Reading to Learn

Once students reach college, they become responsible for their own learning. Much of this learning comes from the textbooks, print, and digital material assigned by faculty, and much of it is done independently, so students need to get up to speed fairly quickly with how to tackle difficult academic texts, so that after they have read something, they have also understood it!! But it doesn't stop there in college.

K-12 instructors say that from first to third grade, children learn to read. From that point onward, they read to learn. I would add that in college, students read to learn so that they can comprehend, apply, analyze, synthesize, and evaluate what they have read! So it doesn't get any easier. As teachers, we should realize that it doesn't happen automatically! Students need to be able to understand what is in a text before they can approach it critically.

What can help students to conquer difficult texts? For one thing, you can discuss the strategies listed below with your students as you assign more difficult readings.

Understanding DIfficult Texts

1) Understanding the structure of academic texts helps - Talk to students about the author's purpose for writing? Is it:

Is there an abstract or another part of the text that can give them a good overview beforehand? Knowing this can help supply the context for what they are about to read.

2) Difficult language - What can students do when they encounter a new word?

3) Notice transition words to follow the flow of thought. Think about how important words such as however, additionally, in contrast, as a result of, first, second, third,etc. can be to understanding the flow of thought in a text. They are often the icing on the cake when we write, so point them out and get students used to noticing them when they read.

4) Tell students that academic reading is a new ball game. They can't read challenging material if there are other mental distractions going on. Multi-tasking is impossible when you need to attend with full attention to this type of reading. No longer can they leaf through a book, listen to music, IM a friend, and glance at their favorite TV show and expect to have learned anything from the text.

5) Model your own reading behavior. Do a "read aloud" with your students- articulate the mental processes that are going on as you approach and begin reading. What are you actually doing? Do you take breaks more often than when you read for pleasure? Students need to know this. It is good to get up, clear the cobwebs, then return to the reading when your head has cleared.

6) Describe how your work space is organized - is it quiet, well lit? There's a reason why people study in the library!

7) What are you doing as you read that keeps you actively involved with the text?

Gillett, A. Using English for Academic Purposes. Retrieved July 18, 2007, from Using English for Academic Purposes Web site:

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Active Reading

When you are reading for details and reading to learn something new, you know you have to be actively involved in the reading . You may highlight the main points, or take notes as you go. Perhaps you've jotted down questions or connections in the side margins. You may even stop periodically to summarize what you've read. These are all great strategies to share with your students. One other method for staying actively involved in the reading is the SQ3R method.


Survey, Question, Read, Recall, Review (SQ3R) is an active learning strategy that you can practice or model with your students.

Reading Skills. Retrieved July 18, 2007, from Academic Skills: University of Southampton Web site: tips/reading_skills.htm

Motivation - > Gap -> Strategies - >Reading to Learn - > Intellectual Development

Students should become aware that learning in college is often a self-directed endeavor which happens through their reading of academic texts. The amount of reading required is also greatly increased, so their behaviors in high school will most likely not lead to success in a college environment. No longer is it enough to simply read and reproduce the material in a text, students will need to learn how to think in more complex ways, to approach texts critically. How, then, can faculty support students' intellectual development?

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