Helping students engage with course readings

5 October 2018

I have heard quite a few faculty thinking about how to help students engage with readings for their courses. In some cases, students don’t have any reading strategy, or perhaps students have a strategy that works in one context, but they don’t understand that different contexts require different types of reading strategies. Clearly conveying our expectations for reading, as well as disciplinary conventions for engaging with reading, is important. Explicitly discussing strategies that we use when reading in our own fields can help students identify when they will need to develop new strategies.The Brown University Sheridan Center for Teaching Learning has a resource page about how to help students develop as critical readers

Even for students who have effective reading strategies, sometimes the amount of reading that faculty assign doesn’t allow students to use the strategies they have developed and cover all assigned readings in a timely manner. Cognitive psychologists have researched how fast people read depending on the difficulty and purpose of the readings. Some concerns about student engagement with reading may reflect that, as faculty, we are assigning more reading than is feasible given the amount of time available and the amount of comprehension we want students to achieve. The Rice University Center for Teaching Excellence developed a course workload estimator, and the portion of the workload estimator that has the most solid research basis is the portion about estimating workload for reading assignments. You can plug in how many pages of reading you assign per week, the word density on the page, the difficulty level of the reading, and the level of engagement you hope students will have (survey material, understand material, engage material), and the estimator will tell you how many hours your students would have to spend to complete and engage with the readings at the level you hope. In addition, the workload estimator website provides information about the research underlying the estimation of how long it takes people to read.  This tool is an eye-opening reminder that sometimes what seems to be low student engagement with course readings may be the result of how much reading we assign.

What are some of your favorite strategies to help students engage with course readings? If your reading assignments grow long, how do you help students prioritize how to engage with readings?