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Subject:

Re: Article on why students don't read textbooks

From:

"Lefevre, Vicki G." <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

Open Forum for Learning Assistance Professionals <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Thu, 1 May 2003 08:43:42 -0400

Content-Type:

text/plain

Parts/Attachments:

Parts/Attachments

text/plain (173 lines)

Thank you so much, Karen Agee. I really wanted to see this article too.

Vicki Lefevre
Ohio Dominican University

-----Original Message-----
From: Karen Agee [mailto:[log in to unmask]]
Sent: Wednesday, April 30, 2003 6:33 PM
To: [log in to unmask]
Subject: Re: Article on why students don't read textbooks


Miguel,

To get a copy of the article, you could become a member of NCLCA. The newsletter contains lots of
excellent information and great ideas.

And here's the article below. :-)

Karen

Why University Students Don't Read Textbooks
(and What We Can Do to Help)

Those of us who work in learning centers at four-year schools encounter students who do not read their
textbooks. The assistance we provide should be based on the reasons students avoid reading - especially
since many of these motivations not to read are in fact logical, learned, and positive.

Why is this a problem?
Learning center personnel are charged with helping students achieve academic success but often meet with
students who do not read their assignments. We are concerned not only as professionals but because this
problem has so many other dimensions:
1. Moral. Especially in the Midwest, where the work ethic reigns, we wonder if college graduates who
haven't read their assigned texts might graduate to become deadbeats in other ways.
2. Financial. Parents often pay book bills of more than $200 every semester. At a state-supported school
(even if that support has been sagging lately), taxpayers provide part of each student's education. Not
reading texts indicates a lack of appreciation for the investment made by others.
3. Historical. One professor here says that lack of student initiative is a sign of a more general social
and educational decay.
4. Political. It is difficult to negotiate for limited funds to help students achieve academic success
when they scorn to read their textbooks.
5. Spiritual. Non-readers have been accused of a lack of aesthetic appreciation, perhaps even an absence
of soul. Certainly someone who does not read seems more tied to the material world, the here and now.
Faculty expect learning assistance professionals to lead the crusade to engage students with their texts,
and we do want to help.

How do we know students are not reading?
Besides the anecdotal data all of us could share, survey data are available on campuses that participate in
certain national surveys of college student effort, involvement, and experiences. One of these surveys,
the College Student Experience Questionnaire (CSEQ), has been administered for several years at the
University of Northern Iowa.

The CSEQ data nationwide indicate that about 45% of first-year students (and 41.5% of all students) spend
ten or fewer hours a week studying. And about 22.3% of all students say they complete their reading
assignments "occasionally" or "never." Unfortunately, the CSEQ does not invite students to explain why
they do not read assignments.

Of course, we can also directly inquire of students who participate in the programs of our learning
assistance centers: Why don't you read all your assignments? Why do some students read all their
assignments? The responses students gave me when I asked these questions caused me to re-examine my own
biases toward textbook reading. When students say they do not enjoy reading textbooks, exhortations based
on my own joyous experiences with textbooks are inappropriate.

Because many of us work in student services rather than academic affairs divisions, we see our role on
campus as helping students meet the expectations of the faculty. On the other hand, we also understand our
role in student development and need to take students from where and who they are. How can we adapt our
advice to their experience? The assistance we provide should "fit" the student's situation.

Besides the usual reading difficulties, "disabilities," and dislikes, all of which require direct
intervention of a reading specialist, students' responses about why they do not read seem to fall into at
least seven discrete categories. Here are those typical responses, with a few strategies that may be
appropriate for each.

1. Past experience. Many students tell us that they never had to crack a book in high school or community
college, yet they did well academically. For these students we explain the hidden curriculum, show them
the academic expectations of their professors (as written in their syllabi and websites), and also
highlight the novelty of the college experience as distinct from high school. Especially if these students
come to us after they have encountered a challenging exam or two, they enjoy and say they benefit from most
of our regular programs, including speed reading and effective study reading workshops.

2. Self concept. Some students self-identify as non-readers, often in the context of families who call
themselves non-readers. It's not so much that they are certain of success without reading, as are the
students mentioned above; rather, reading has never been something they do. Reading groups ("book clubs")
in high-risk courses and social learning opportunities led by peer instructors or mentors seem especially
appropriate for these students. Because they do not see any benefit to reading at all, speed reading and
efficient reading workshops are not useful interventions, at least for the first few months. When working
individually in a relationship of trust with a "non-reading" student, it can be helpful to discuss and
explore this self-identification directly.

3. Strategic thinking. These students tell us, "Why read if I don't need to? The test comes from
lecture." Often their assessment is correct. (A discussion strand on the LRNASST listserve in 2002
indicated that on many campuses very little reading is really required.) These students take particular
delight in knowing exactly how many points are necessary on upcoming exams to earn desired grades, and they
delight in "just in time" and "just enough" brinksmanship. These strategic thinkers especially appreciate
learning effective note-taking techniques and can have their minds challenged with big-picture thinking
(thinking outside the "game"). They also benefit from efficient reading strategies and syllabus
dissection, tools that help them make wise decisions in the future about how much of which books must be
read for academic success.

4. Time constraints. Some students are telling the truth when they say they do not have time to read all
their assignments. Jobs, children, athletics, or campus activities are high priorities, despite a full
academic schedule. Because these students often need at least cursory knowledge of their texts for academic
success, they appreciate speed reading instruction.


5. Motivation. Students who endure education, who do not see relationships between coursework and real
life, quite naturally balk at reading textbooks, no matter how well written and illustrated. There may be
other reasons for "low motivation," as well; in Making the Grade (1992, Cambridge University Press), Martin
Covington demonstrates how fear of failure can cancel out high achievement motivation. These students
benefit not only from the chance to clarify goals and obstacles but also from low-risk, success-oriented
strategies, including guided study groups and cooperative reading activities with competent tutors or
reading specialists.


6. Authority issues. Non-traditional students in particular may indicate that they do not want to read
"assignments" at all, especially if their life experiences seem devalued by an instructor younger than
they. These students appreciate self-directed learning and reading activities -a kind of SQ4R approach to
textbooks that focuses on what we as learners want to get out of the text for our own purposes - as well as
options assessment in which they choose which assignments they will read based on likely outcomes.


7. Relationship issues. Some students say they do not read their assignments because their professor
doesn't care about them or their instructor is unjust. In these cases we can not only discuss
misunderstandings (as when students assume that an instructor who does not take roll does not care if they
attend class or not) but also offer reading strategies that create relationships - first with us and then
with their instructors. One such strategy is simply asking students at every meeting what novel and
interesting ideas they are discovering in their reading. Another is making "concept cards" for key terms
in the text, when we know the student will be tested on this knowledge. Sending the student to the
instructor for help with a particular question or two about the reading, especially after coaching the
student to show the instructor how s/he is learning text material thoroughly and creatively (particularly
after privately asking the instructor to be supportive!) can be a transforming experience for the student.
Another strategy that may work particularly well with these students is to help them read well and score
high on tests in spite of (or to spite) their instructors. So far I have not had occasion to try this more
cynical and aggressive strategy.

Regardless of what reasons students give us for not reading their textbooks, it probably does not help if
we scold. We should eschew the reading and study skills textbooks that imply that our non-reading students
have moral, spiritual, or psychological deficiencies and instead craft interventions that serve their
needs.

Karen S. Agee, Ph.D.
Reading/Learning Strategies Coordinator
University of Northern Iowa
[log in to unmask]



miguel Acosta wrote:

> Where could we find this article??
>
> Miguel
>

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