Amy Sexton, Purdue University Global Writing Center Tutor
As a writing tutor, I often tutor reading. Those who understand the inextricable connections between reading and writing will realize that this is not a contradictory statement. College students often face what may be a daunting task of making meaning from complex texts and other materials and then writing about what they have learned. For example, an English education major taking a required general education science course may find the more scientific course material very difficult to understand. Even students completing courses in their major may find comprehending the formal language used in academic texts a challenge. How can tutors and teachers assist students in their reading efforts? Here are three suggestions based on my work with students:
- Help students realize that reading for understanding takes time and effort. When students tell me in live tutoring that they are having trouble understanding a reading, I always ask them how many times they have read it. Typically, the answer is once, sometimes twice; rarely do I hear they have read it more than twice. I often tell students that, depending on the complexity of the material and their familiarity with the topic, they may need to read some pieces five or six times. Students are usually surprised to hear this number, which indicates that most of them are probably not reading difficult material as many times as they need to be. Think about your own experiences reading new, complex information. Do you immediately comprehend the material after one or two readings? Or, are you like me, and find that you only fully understand after several readings? Along the same lines, I also talk to students about what it means to read actively. I ask them what note-taking strategies they are using to help aid in their comprehension. Often students do not realize that simply taking notes or annotating texts can be very effective reading strategies!
- Demonstrate close reading. One of my most rewarding tutorial sessions occurred when I was working with a student who was having trouble finding and summarizing an article for a course assignment. He said that he had found a couple articles, but that he did not understand them. We selected one article, and then, as he listened, I verbalized my own thought processes as I read the first paragraph. As I read each sentence aloud, I vocalized my metacognition by saying things like “This sentence is about….” And “I think the rest of the article will be about ….”. After around five minutes of my modeling close reading, the student experienced a light bulb moment: “Well, I hadn’t been reading it like that”, he exclaimed. In my experiences teaching and tutoring students reading skills, many of them are not aware that effective reading involves actively thinking about the material they are reading.
- Introduce them to online study aids like Wikipedia and YouTube. Internet sources, especially sources like Wikipedia, often receive a bad rap in academia, but they can be valuable study aids for students who are struggling to read more traditional course materials like textbooks and lectures. While students should be aware that internet sources, especially collaborative wikis might not always be accurate, they should not be afraid to use them as auxiliary aids to help them comprehend complex texts and process complicated information. Teachers can also select and curate these types of study materials for students in their courses. While students will still need to read and understand their required course materials, exposing them to less difficult readings, study aids, and videos may give them a starting point for doing so. Having a starting point for understanding can make any task seem less overwhelming.
Teachers and tutors can easily share these strategies with students in tutorial sessions, writing conferences, course discussions, seminars, and workshops. By helping students improve and develop their reading comprehension skills, we also empower them to begin writing about what they are reading, and in the process, become better students and thinkers.