LTHEChat no. 95 – “Student Reading: Challenges and Strategies” with Margy MacMillan @margymaclibrary

The next LTHEChat Wednesday 8th November 8-9PM (GMT) will be based on questions from Margy MacMillan @margymaclibrary on “Student Reading: Challenges and Strategies”.

margyphotoMargy is a librarian recently retired from Mount Royal University in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. After many years of teaching students how to find scholarly information without seeing vast increases in their use of it, she began to probe more deeply into the challenges students face in reading scholarly works. This lead to a deeper engagement with the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SoTL) and work to scaffold student learning from text. She is insatiably curious about how students operate in the alien environment of higher education, how they solve learning problems, and what we can do to improve learning.

Over to Margy to tell us about her interest in this topic and help us prepare for the LTHEchat:

What is the problem with reading scholarly literature?

Little attention is given to scaffolding reading in most post secondary settings. Many academics seem to assume that students in their classes arrive in first year with the skills to read scholarly literature in the disciplines and tend to be dismissive of their struggles. The literature is full of references to ‘non-compliance’ and hallway conversations often categorize students as too lazy to do the readings. We ask students to read material that was never written with them in mind as audience and to use that material effectively in discussions and research papers. Often we expect students to assess these individual artefacts of scholarship as part of an ongoing conversation they have no idea is taking place among people they do not know exist.

Students, too, assume that as they have (for the most part) been reading since elementary school, that reading shouldn’t feel like work. When it does feel laborious, they become intimidated by the material and the discipline, and many give up on deepening their understanding. Compounding the issue, different instructors may mean different things when they ask students to ‘read’ – some require extraction of facts, others a critique and still others a conceptual understanding of a particular work.

Larger forces are at work as well – the amount of articles available to students grows exponentially, and the readings themselves become more specialized in language, method and tone. Students may be less familiar with sustained, deep reading. Instructors may face pressure to cover more content leaving little time for scaffolding this essential skill.

In this chat I’m looking forward to hearing how you see reading challenges in your courses and to unpacking what we mean when we ask students to read, and whether there are disciplinary differences in those meanings. Finally I am excited to hear about your strategies for scaffolding reading and for assessing when effective reading has taken place.

And speaking of reading… I have a number of readings to suggest…

If you have time before the discussion Weller’s work is really interesting – what the lecturers say about reading research outside their home disciplines – that they don’t understand the language, don’t know if the authors are credible, don’t value/understand the methods – is very similar to what I’ve heard from undergraduate students about the scholarly reading they’re assigned…

Weller, S. (2011). New lecturers’ accounts of reading higher education research. Studies in Continuing Education33(1), 93-106.

More, if you’re interested…

Chick, N. L., Hassel, H., & Haynie, A. (2009). “Pressing an Ear against the Hive” Reading Literature for Complexity. Pedagogy,9(3), 399-422.

Gillen, C. M. (2006). Criticism and interpretation: teaching the persuasive aspects of research articles. CBE-Life Sciences Education5(1), 34-38.
Jolliffe, D. A., & Harl, A. (2008). Studying the “Reading Transition” from High School to College: What Are Our Students Reading and Why?. College English70(6), 599-617.

Manarin, K., Carey, M., Rathburn, M., & Ryland, G. (2015). Critical reading in higher education: Academic goals and social engagement. Indiana University Press.

Roberts, J. C., & Roberts, K. A. (2008). Deep reading, cost/benefit, and the construction of meaning: Enhancing reading comprehension and deep learning in sociology courses. Teaching Sociology36(2), 125-140.

Rosenblatt, S. (2010). They can find it but they don’t know what to do with it: Describing the use of scholarly literature by undergraduate students. Journal of Information Literacy, 4(2), 50-61

Säljö, R (1984). Reading and everyday conceptions of knowledge. In F. Marton,D. Hounsell, & N. Entwistle (eds.)The experience of learning. Edinburgh: Scottish Academic, pp. 71–89.

The Storify from the chat:


A reflection by guest Margy MacMillan after LTHEchat no. 95

WOW, the hour’s over already? I am so glad the volunteers looked after posting the questions as I could easily have become so deeply engaged I wouldn’t have gotten beyond Q. 1! Thanks to all the volunteers, and all the participants. I am especially grateful for the Storify as it showed how much I missed during the discussion. In reviewing the tweets, they echo similar conversations I’ve had on this side of the pond. Mostly we had little or no formal support for academic reading, and more or less muddled through, although we may not have been required to use scholarly articles and similar works until later in our programs or even graduate school. And many of us are still learning….

Reassuringly, although I understand that LTHE tweeters may reflect a more learner-centred end of the professoriate spectrum, there seems to be wide understanding of challenges students face in approaching academic texts (including  non-texty texts like art and video representations of scholarship), and a commitment to helping students overcome those challenges. The Storify is full of great ideas, and I’d like to isolate three themes I saw throughout the discussion – the power of discussion, the benefits of reading with questions, and the notion of selecting readings carefully, particularly for students early in their degrees.

Allowing students to discuss readings engages them in peer-to-peer negotiation of meaning, where they can deepen their understanding of the text through defending their interpretations and hearing those of others. It can also prompt them to share the connections the article has for them personally to build a group’s view of how the article fits with experience and other texts in the discipline.

Many people tweeted that they read with questions and encouraged their students to do so, in some cases providing starter questions to read for. This is terrific and can be very effective, as long as the questions align with what you mean by reading.

Finally the notion of choosing carefully what kinds of things you ask students to read while they are entering the discipline is, I think, a critical path to moving students from what Lave and Wenger would call legitimate peripheral participants to eventual deeper disciplinary identity.  Some of the faculty I worked with said these ‘on ramp’ articles were becoming harder to find as academic writing has become hyper-specialized – and I’m curious if that’s been your experience as well, or if you have some tips for finding these bridges into scholarly literature.

On a final note, I was very happy to see all the comments about involving librarians and I heartily endorse the strategy!… There seemed to be more mixed feelings on the change from 140 to 280 character limits.. I look forward to reading the results of any research on the impact of the change on #LTHEChat.

Thanks again for a great discussion.


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