Hi Roberta,

You ask some great questions. I am faced with this type of challenge 
every day here at UC Berkeley. Outstanding students are overwhelmed 
by the amount and difficulty of reading they are assigned and the 
expectations of what they are to DO with these texts. I've made a few 
observations that underlie my approach to working with students faced 
with these demands. First, these reading demands are almost always 
embedded in a different kind of course design than is customary in 
the typical textbook-centered course. This difference in design is 
both a key reason for and the basis of the solution for meeting these 
reading expectations. A second source of difficulties lies in the 
types of texts assigned. Once instructors move away from the 
conventional textbook, they inevitably assign scholarly--or 
expert--texts. These pose new and different challenges to students 
for a variety of reasons stemming from audience, purpose, genre 
conventions and the knowledges authors assume of their "intended" 
reader. In short, students haven't developed strategies for these new 
types of texts and the texts are not designed for them or  to  be 
teaching tools (as textbooks are).

Given this constellation of factors students face greater demands in 
terms of cognitive (and other) processes. For instance, since they 
are reading multiple texts by various authors, they must, themselves, 
build cohesion among the texts. Similarly, they must synthesize 
across these texts and must adjust their ways of reading to the 
variety of genres assigned. Since they likely do not possess the 
general background and discipline-specific knowledge assumed by these 
scholarly authors, they must find ways  to go outside the texts to 
augment their knowledge (yes, I mean wikipedia--at least to 
start--and other references). They need to read critically as well, 
since they will have to evaluate, even adjudicate, among competing 
claims and so will need to distinguish these competing claims and the 
evidence in support of them. They must also read much more 
selectively since these genres of text are more repetitive, but 
mostly because much of each of the texts is largely irrelevant to the 
themes of the course. This is because the course was not designed 
"around" the textbook as many textbook-centric courses are, and 
because the texts were likely written for different purposes than the 
way they function in the course. That is the texts weren't written 
for the course, so they include much that is not directly or 
indirectly relevant to the aims of the course.

My fundamental strategy is to help students grasp the organizing 
framework of the course-as-a-whole by doing a careful reading of the 
syllabus and close reflection on the initial lectures of the course 
where the overview is provided. Students need to understand this 
framework because it was on the basis of this framework that the 
instructor selected the texts for inclusion in the course to begin 
with. Once they know WHY a text has been assigned and how it 
functions in the course, they can read selectively and  connect it to 
lectures, other texts, etc. (i.e. build cohesion). To get started on 
this, I have students write out a short summary of the course in 
their own words, focusing on the topics, themes and relationships 
among them. Then, using that summary, the syllabus and any other 
resources, I ask them to create a visual diagram that captures the 
organizational structure of these topics and themes. They then to try 
to map the texts onto this diagram, that is, they try to specify 
which texts address which topics/themes/purposes of the course. With 
this in mind, they can read much more efficiently. I've had much 
success with this approach (Which I call "The Blueprinting Approach" 
because students first build a blueprint of the course and then 
construct their knowledge as they read.)

Whew! I realize that's a lot, but there's actually a lot more. I hope 
this gets you started. I've been thinking about, reading about, and 
teaching to this challenge for about 10 years now. But, I'm not sure 
that this forum is the place for other comments I might make.

Let me know what you think,

>Hey listers,
>I need some guidance. I am working with a self-selected group of students
>who are experiencing difficulty with the content and quantity of materials
>they have to read for their classes (across all areas of the curriculum).
>For the most part these are sophomores through seniors, so I don't think
>the issue is adjustment to college. Also, we are a highly selective
>college, so I don't think the issues are related to ability, prior
>experience or prior exposure to difficult course work. All of the students
>have great GPA's ( B+ or above).
>We have ruled-out learning disabilities, although this is based on some
>general discussions and pre-screening tools and not a full-scale
>professional evaluation. 
>I need to provide these students with resources and advice that goes
>beyond the SQ3R type of assistance. Quite frankly, I have looked at their
>course materials and I can agree, the material is dense, difficult and
>Any suggestions?
>thanks in advance,
>Roberta Schotka
>Director of Programs
>PLTC, Wellesley College
>co-chair NADE 2008 Conference
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The classroom remains the most radical space of possibility in the 
academy.--bell hooks
The university...becomes subversive...when students are encouraged to 
learn how to learn. --Robin Lakoff

Dominic (Nic) J. Voge
Study Strategies Program Coordinator
University of California, Berkeley
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