Student-Faculty Reading Colloquium

by Michael Neagle, PhD & Mary Trottier

Sponsored by the Faculty Development Committee, we organized a Student-Faculty Reading Colloquium on April 6. Featuring 12 students and six faculty, our discussion focused on student reading habits. We talked about why students may or may not read for class, what they like to read, and how faculty can enhance the reading experience.

Most students indicated a general interest in reading and recognized its importance regardless of subject. Outside of class, fiction seemed to be the most popular genre when reading for pleasure. While textbooks generally were not considered “fun” reads, students recognized their utility as a resource, particularly when they were directly linked to a class project.

The biggest problems when it came to reading were:

  • Recognizing the most important ideas. Some students felt frustrated not coming to the same conclusions as the professor or other students, or missing significant points. Others felt overwhelmed trying to manage the volume of pages or information in the text, and prioritizing what they needed to learn for an assignment. Others noted that some readings were too difficult to understand without prior in-class grounding.
  • Time management. Give a variety of responsibilities (work, extracurricular activities, other classes), students indicated that they felt like they did not have the time to work thoroughly through difficult readings. Furthermore, they would be de-motivated to keep up with the assigned readings if they were not clearly relevant to the following class. If forced to prioritize, students admitted they would put more time and work into a course in their major than a non-major class.
  • Prices and usage. In light of the high cost of some textbooks, a few students noted they typically wait until a few weeks into the semester to buy the book, especially if it was underutilized in class. Some do not buy the book(s) at all if they found it wasn’t being used frequently enough.

Some suggested ideas to help with reading included:

  • Discussion questions. Students suggested that a list of questions to consider before they do the readings could serve as a guide to identify important ideas or concepts. Such questions could serve as the basis for in-class discussion and/or writings to help them better understand the readings.
  • Chapter outlines. Another idea was for a professor-provided framework of the chapter, one that would signpost key terms, concepts, and ideas that the reading would address in more detail. Alternatively, a suggested assignment would be for students to write their own outlines, particularly early in the semester. Faculty feedback on such assignments could provide effective guidelines on how to deconstruct a reading and to develop active reading habits and strategies.
  • 1-on-1 and group work. Students with reading or learning disabilities considered individual help to be critical. They appreciated the time that professors take either in class or during office hours. Reactions about group work were mixed. Some students greatly enjoy the approach because it enabled them to exchange ideas and questions among their peers, with whom they felt more comfortable taking intellectual chances. Others, however, expressed concern that students who don’t sufficiently prepare and neglect the readings could negatively impact learning outcomes and grades for the broader group.

In sum, students indicated that they would like more faculty guidance in readings, whether it be in the form of outlines, questions, or class discussion. Such guidance, they argued, could help them to read more effectively. Some faculty expressed concern about providing too much structure to reading, especially given the emphasis on helping students learn and discover ideas on their own. Such independence of discovery not only can help instill important skills and confidence among students, but they might also arrive at ideas and insights that professors had not considered.

Ultimately, our discussion verified the notion that although we all read individually, the practice of reading is not a solitary pursuit.

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