Supporting College Level Reading

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When many of us Baby Boomers and Gen Xers received our composition training, discussions of how to teach reading were an afterthought, if they were addressed at all. Fortunately, in recent years that has changed, and there’s currently a much-needed emphasis on integrating reading and writing in all composition courses, whether or not the word “reading” appears in the catalog description. While contemporary research about reading has begun to flourish (see the Works Cited and Suggested Reading List in the CCCC Statement below), in this post I’d like to focus on three especially valuable sources for supporting college level reading: the Reading Apprenticeship program, the essay collection Deep Reading, and the “CCCC Position Statement on the Role of Reading in College Writing Classrooms.”

The Reading Apprenticeship program began in San Francisco in the 1990s and has become a robust and many-armed national entity. While enrolling in a Reading Apprenticeship class is not cheap—the 7-week introductory course costs $750—many institutions are willing to cover the cost for interested faculty. Moreover, much of the good sense and practical classroom activities covered in the courses are distilled in Reading for Understanding. The book and program employ an equity-minded, asset-based approach, building on students’ previous experiences as readers and creating a safe space for practicing common problem-solving strategies such as collaborative reading, chunking, inference, LINK (List, Inquire Note, Know), and the “Think Aloud” routine, in which a student reports to another student what they are thinking during the act of reading aloud. Throughout the book and courses, the emphasis is on metacognition, a conversation that is “both internal, as individual readers observe their own minds in action, and external, when readers discuss what they are noticing, what they are stumped by, and how they are solving reading problems” (89).

Deep Reading: Teaching Reading in the Writing Classroom (NCTE, 2017) is a “celebration of literacy, intellectual generosity, and classrooms alive with deep reading and deep learning” (xxiv). In the book’s introduction, editors Patrick Sullivan, Howard Tinberg and Sheridan Blau refer to Elizabeth Wardle’s theories of two distinct learning propensities: “problem-exploring dispositions” and “answer-getting dispositions.” Clearly, the latter is preferable for inquiry-based college reading, and yet legislators continually attempt to proscribe the “messiness of deep thinking,” which Wardle argues “can be understood as an attempt to limit the kind of thinking that students and citizens have the tools to do” (xvi). The editors cite another reason for the disconnect between reading and writing in higher education: much of the most vigorous work on reading has been “written by and for secondary school teachers,” which “has helped perpetuate the idea in our discipline that reading instruction is the concern of K-12 educators only and does not require the attention of college instructors” (xvii). Happily, Deep Reading offers a wealth of approaches to reading instruction from a variety of instructors. Among the important areas the collection addresses are the reading attitudes and practices students bring with them from high school to college, strategies for cultivating reading skills students already possess, and the necessity of teaching “rhetorical reading,” which Tinberg argues in his chapter is particularly important in peer review, where “any reading of another’s draft needs to take into consideration the situation that produced the draft and the criteria and set of expectations that helped shape the writing” (253).

In March of this year, CCCC released its “Position Statement on the Role of Reading in College Writing Classrooms.” The statement “affirms the need to develop accessible and effective reading pedagogies in college writing classrooms so that students can engage more deeply in all of their courses and develop the reading abilities that will be essential to their success in college, in their careers, and for their participation in a democratic society.” Those familiar with the Reading Apprenticeship program and Deep Reading will find a number of familiar concepts in the statement, including the four central principles for supporting the teaching and learning of reading:

  1. Teach reading comprehension.
  2. Teach reading approaches that move beyond basic comprehension.
  3. Foster mindful reading to encourage students to think metacognitively about their reading in preparation for a variety of reading in different contexts
  4. Teach students how to read texts closely and focus on significant details and patterns.

Helpfully, each of these principles is accompanied by five specific strategies for employing the principle in the classroom. And the CCCC Statement offers a pointed reminder that instructors are never too old or young “to develop reading pedagogies that serve ever-changing student populations and are responsive to the contemporary moment.”