“My students aren’t doing the reading.” Sound familiar? I hear this all the time and certainly have experienced this universal phenomenon in my own classes. Students cite a lack of time as the most common reason for not completing the assigned reading, but if we probed a little deeper, I suspect we might learn the real reasons why they opt out. Many students don’t see the value in the reading or more specifically, think they can get by without doing it. This fact alone reveals an important problem – many students haven’t learned how to be self-directed learners.
The good news is that we can help them figure this out. Simply taking a few minutes to describe, or better yet, show them what an article, chapter, or passage might look like if they annotated it, should help. I’ve done this before and was surprised at how many students didn’t read this way.
The main point is to get students to think about what they’re reading and ask questions, relate content to what they already know, and emphasize the “aha!” moments. We can help them do this by creating reading guides ahead of time that prompt them to interact with the content they’re reading, or taking a look at their reading notes for some low-stakes points, but the real value here is in moving students toward the intrinsic reward associated with learning.
Well-read students can draw upon a much richer memory and make connections between what they are learning and what they already know. Brown, Roediger, & McDaniel, in Make it Stick, call this Deep Learning and it occurs when we develop the ability to integrate what we are learning with our existing mental models of our world. Deep learners consider the ambiguities in a text and can therefore engage with the material on another level.
Students’ ability to engage in active inquiry will grow with practice. Here are a few things to consider:
- Don’t go completely digital. There is power in putting pen to paper while reading a paper book. It is difficult to highlight, circle, write questions, draw, connect ideas, and create new synapses when it’s all on a screen (and much less distracting too).
- Provide some scaffolding. Beginning learners need more guidance so teach them how to read, annotate, ask questions, internalize, and test themselves. I teach my students not to get lost in the weeds. In a journal article, the “weeds” is often the methods and/or results sections. If they get stuck there, they lose sight of the take home message.
- Promote a growth mindset. Students who believe that they have only one learning style may be missing out. We learn better when we engage with material in a variety of contexts. Read, discuss, listen, mind map on whiteboards, demonstrate, move around the room, and get creative.
Don’t back down! Reading is often difficult and students need to develop an appreciation for difficult reading. Provide the right supports and treat the act of reading for deep learning as a lesson in and of itself. This will be time well spent for both you and your students.