Students who feel frustration from reading should approach the task like a sport with faculty as the coach
By RICHARD MCGRAIL
Staff Writer, UAS Whalesong
There are many reasons why reading can be frustrating, but a big one is focus, namely, being able to understand what a text is saying, instead of just recognizing words on a page.
Maria Romfoe, an exchange student from the University of Wisconsin said “It’s hard to focus on hefty articles, or articles on topics that I don’t really enjoy, or articles that have small print. If I look at an article and it has really small print, I feel intimidated because I know it’s going to take a long time, and then it feels like a chore. I have to drink a crap-ton of coffee to even be able to focus on stuff like that.”
The scenario Romfoe describes then leads to a lot of re-reading.
“I’ll be reading something and will maybe get through three paragraphs but then realize that I saw the words and know what the words are, but my mind was thinking of something completely different—my mind just wandered off. Then I have to go back and back and back and reread, which is exhausting and takes forever,” she said.
But it’s not just long articles with small print that are tough.
Even short and interesting ones can be challenging if there’s a lot of jargon, if the point is unclear, or if a student has ADHD.
Amy Spencer, a first-year student at UAS said “Academic reading can be really difficult. I recently had to read a two-page, double-spaced article that was fairly interesting, but even then, it took me like 45 minutes because I had to just keep reading paragraphs over and over again.”
Spencer said that it’s helpful when faculty tell students, ahead of time, to focus on certain key ideas or issues so students know what to look for when then sit down to read.
Lisa Richardson, a professor in the School of Education at UAS, would agree with Spencer. Richardson’s research focuses on reading pedagogy and said that it’s quite possible that both college professors and the culture as a whole tend to take reading skills for granted.
“Some teachers might make the assumption that reading is a skill you learn in the third grade and therefore don’t have to develop or practice as you get older. It’s a ‘one-and-done’ way of thinking about reading: once you learn to do it, we [teachers] don’t need to keep working with you to improve,” said Richardson.
But those assumptions about reading aren’t always productive—or accurate. Richardson said that it would be helpful if teachers would take a few moments discuss reading assignments before sending students off to the library on their own.
“Teachers could outline the purpose of an article beforehand, they could also frame what’s at stake in an article and model how to critically unpack a text. Above all, they should create a space for students to be able to engage with a text during class,” Richardson said.
What’s more, teachers should not presume that students don’t read because they are lazy or because they have a learning deficit.
Instead, students need to be coached in specific skills that take time and practice to develop.
The effects on writing
Richardson’s comments were echoed by UAS Writing Center employee, Allison Neeland.
Many students who come to the writing center often don’t have a writing problem, but often a reading problem.
“Often times, students struggle writing essays because they didn’t fully comprehend the readings assignments on which their essay is based, so they aren’t sure what to write about,” Neeland said.
Students can easily feel overwhelmed by reading. The amount of reading, the vocabulary, the style of academic writing.
When asked what students can do when faced with this situation, Neeland said that students could try to “think about reading in a different way—a bit like a math problem. They should think ‘I can do this’ if I use certain strategies.”
Strategies include approaching faculty with specific questions about a text, rather than broad “I don’t get it” statements.
She went on to say that students should work to develop more stamina with respect to reading.
Reading is a physically engaging task and should be practiced the way one might practice a sport.
Just as a student would practice reading, faculty should model for students how to critically engage with a text just like a coach.
“Teachers can select a passage, read it aloud, and explain what they are thinking of as they read the passage—whether it’s making connections between other texts, expressing honest confusion about why the author wrote what they did, or questioning why the text matters: what’s at stake in the text,” Neeland said.
Above all, students should try not to despair over reading and remember that it’s a skill which takes practice and which requires patience.
For information on the Writing Center go to http://www.uas.alaska.edu/juneau/writing-center/index.html