Faculty Research Ways to Improve College-Level Reading Across the Curriculum

May 5, 2020
By: Victoria Konicki

Worcester State faculty members want to create a “reading-across-the-curriculum climate” on campus, because they have noticed students need help with tackling college-level reading as much as they need help with college-level writing.

Associate professors Pamela Hollander, Ed.D., and Douglas Dawson, Ph.D., and Professor Emerita Margaret Pray Bouchard, Ed.D., all of the Barbara (Hickey) O’Brien ’57 Department of Education, and Professor Emerita Maureen Shamgochian, Ph.D., of the Department of Biology, are researching reading on campus to find out why students are reluctant to read, and how to help students get more out of what they read for classes. Hollander and her colleagues are concerned about the “lack of support services in the area of reading and the lack of acknowledgment of reading issues on campus.”

“We had been experiencing it in our classes and hearing about it anecdotally from other professors for a number of semesters, so we decided to investigate in a more quantifiable way,” Dawson says. “We were also curious to see if the reluctance to read was discipline specific or if there were general obstacles across disciplines.”

They wrote a chapter about their research entitled “Creating a Reading-Across-the-Curriculum Climate on Campus” in the book What is College Reading, by Alice Horning. The chapter was praised in a review of the book by Meghan A. Sweeney, where she writes that the method used “could be repeated on other campuses and in other disciplines.”

The idea for a reading-across-the-curriculum climate was inspired by Fayetteville State University’s Reading-Across-the-Curriculum Program, which used both general and discipline-specific strategies to increase student reading.

“Students have little experience that prepares them for discipline-specific, college-level reading, and while professors in great numbers worry about reading, they feel unsure about what to do about it,” Hollander and her colleagues wrote in their chapter.

They focused on the discipline of science during this study, though they spoke with professors from several disciplines, and interviewed 10 science professors, who had concerns that were both general and subject-specific.

“Their responses led us to think more deeply about the quality of student reading and how best to prepare students to read particular genres, such as journal articles and textbooks,” Hollander and her colleagues wrote.

Many professors discussed the issue during a workshop where they shared their own successful strategies to improve student reading and use it to assist in their teaching rather than simply a “delivery method for material.”

“Professors we have talked to are interested in increasing the effectiveness of their reading assignments as teaching tools,” according to the chapter. “They talked about student reading as a shared problem between professors and students.”

Hollander and her colleagues are continuing to collect data about student reading and hope to repeat the model they used with the science discipline with other disciplines on campus, such as the Department of History and Political Science, where they have already begun including Assistant Professor Erika Briesacher, Ph.D., Associate Professor Charlotte Haller, Ph.D., and Assistant Professor Martin Fromm, Ph.D.

“We have made some strides in that area [gaining attention for reading on campus and changing the curriculum] through the Center for Teaching and Learning workshops we have done about our research,” Hollander says. “We have been able to begin a conversation on campus between professors, administrators and students about college reading. We hope that we can keep this dialogue going, and that all will benefit.”

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