by Debie Lohe, Director, Reinert Center
This question arises frequently in conversations with faculty from all disciplines and at all levels of teaching. Although we’re quick to blame our attention-deficit culture – they’re too busy texting! – the fact is many students don’t do the reading for our classes because we haven’t actually taught them how.
Rather than “why won’t they read?” perhaps the more interesting question is “why don’t they?”
While there are many answers to this question, here is one of mine:
They don’t “do the reading” because they don’t know what we mean by “do the reading”.
As experts in our fields, we are pros at what I think of as “reading strategically.” We skim when necessary, picking out the important concepts and data almost effortlessly. We skip when necessary, reading past multiple examples for concepts we have already grasped. And finally, we read with a motive in mind: typically we seek out the material we read because we know it will help us answer a burning question or prove a hypothesis or more fully appreciate the complexities of a topic.
Disciplinary novices don’t read this way – unless we teach them to do so. And if they don’t know that this is what we mean by “reading,” they may see the task as motivated by a completely different goal: to put their eyes on every single word on every single page and to remember them all. That’s a pretty daunting task, especially if they have to “read” for every course.
The fact is, our students often don’t know that reading a geology textbook is a fundamentally different act than reading a novel, or a procedure manual on flying an airplane, or primary research papers in biology.
If you find yourself frustrated with students who “won’t” read for class, ask yourself how you would like them to read. Then, tell them that. A little guidance on how to read strategically might just do the trick.
Do you have other ideas about why students don’t or won’t read for class? Do you have strategies for getting them to do it? Please share your thoughts in the comments section.