Acquiring Knowledge from Texts

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Acquiring Knowledge From Texts

Helping students develop their strategic reading skills and giving feedback on how much knowledge they're actually acquiring from the text can improve their experience of our assigned readings.

How Can I Do This?

Think of ways to help students see the value of the assigned materials, appreciate their relevance, and navigate through them more fluidly and skillfully.

Choose readings that are relevant to the class.

Textbooks do not have to be read straight through in the order they were written, or in their entirety within one semester. They also don't have to be the only source of information. Supplement books with other media and materials like newspaper articles, blog posts, videos, diagrams, infographics, or cartoons that give them information in another format.

  • Make sure the main ideas you want students to get from each reading align with your learning outcomes.
  • Explain to the students why they are being asked to read these texts and link them to the learning outcomes for the class.
  • Give students the context for the readings before they read so they have some background information.
Choose readings that are appropriate for the students.

Students at different levels in their degree program should have different levels of reading. As students progress toward graduation, readings can be more advanced and more “academic.”

  • Check the reading level against the class level and make sure it is appropriate.
  • Remember students are novices with this material; they cannot read as quickly or as deeply as you.
  • Check the density of the information with the number of pages assigned (it's better that they read a few pages they understand than 20 pages they don’t).
  • Undergraduates do not need to read every seminal study or classic article. One way to expose students to important works in the field is to go through them in class where students can ask questions and you can explain nuances and context.
  • Think about whether students need to read the whole chapter or article to get the main idea you want them to learn.
  • Try to find supplementary readings about the content that are relevant to the students’ lives.
  • Rather than assigning an overwhelming amount of reading to every individual, get students to read part of the book or different articles, then teach each other. This “jigsaw” technique sets up interlocking areas of expertise within teams of students.
  • Learn More about Jigsaw Technique
  • Measure Your Text's Readability
Presume the students have read the texts.

If you assume students have not read the texts, and in the lecture tell them what they would have read, they will not do the readings. Presume they have read, and get evidence of their preparation before class starts.

  • Talk about the information they acquired from their readings and use it in your lectures.
  • Use peer pressure to encourage reading. Put students in groups to discuss aspects of the readings or teach others in their group.
Teach the skills and strategies that will help students understand texts.

The most common way students try to make sense of the text is to highlight what they think is important as they read, but this is not effective. Teach strategies to help students become effective readers.

  • Give students prompts, tables, or partially filled out notes to help them know what is important.
  • Share good examples of note-taking or graphic organizers and say what is good about them.
Assess whether they have understood the text.

Students understand that you assess what you think is important. If you do not assess their understanding of the readings, they will think it is unimportant. Asking students to do something with the reading -- to produce something, is one way of “getting inside the students' heads” to know how much they have understood.

  • Ask students to create some representation of their understanding of the text, like a graphic organizer, outline notes, annotations, etc.
  • Ask students to post their product in Canvas at least a few hours before class so you can check their level of understanding and look for misconceptions that you can address in the lecture.
  • Give them a few points for completing the work, and if possible give them feedback.
  • Read More about Graphic Organizers

Why Is This Important?

Students have to learn to process information from texts if they are going to come to class prepared and read strategically once they have left college. Students need guidance and feedback to learn how to identify important information when they read.

The reading process is a learned skill that requires time, effort and practice.

Throughout their time at college, students should be learning how to read strategically in their discipline. They do not always arrive knowing how to do that, but they should leave with it mastered.

  • We do not want students to merely remember facts verbatim from the readings, but construct meaning on their own.
  • We need to teach students how to find main ideas, organize information, and analyze arguments.
Reading strategies help students read more efficiently and effectively.
  • Strategies help students realize what they know and don’t know from the text.
  • Students who take interactive notes while reading leave with a product that can be used later for review.
  • Good strategies provide a structure to reduce cognitive load while reading.
Learning how to read strategically equips students better for lifelong learning.
  • Students can improve at extracting information and gleaning meaning from text.
  • Experiencing more success at learning from texts can improve students' attitudes toward reading.