UNE SASC Reading Support Training

Learning Outcomes | Main Presentation | Learning Activities | Activities to Use with Tutees | Resources | Recommended Reading | Sample Readings | SASC Professional Reading Consultants


Reading is a primary channel of learning in college. Professors expect students to be able to read and understand complex written material, often with little guidance or in-class discussion. Further, they may expect students to form their own perspectives on the material, draw connections to other readings or ideas, or apply the concepts they learned to solve problems or interpret phenomena.

For a variety of reasons, today’s students enter college with relatively little experience reading complex texts in the ways their professors expect them to. Whether because of online media privileges flashy, easy-to-understand video and audio or timed-testing protocols that favor recall, today’s students have become adept at a shallow, grazing style of reading that can be very useful in many situations, but works against them when they must read academic texts and work rigorously with them. Some students are also reluctant to print readings distributed as pdfs and many are reading assignments on smartphones while on the go (Cohn)

Reading is an essential academic literacy, with “over 80% of college-level academic tasks involving reading” (Nist and Simpson qtd. in Holschuh). Yet a significant percentage of entering college students begin college with limited reading skills and experiences. Just 37% of 12-graders met National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) proficiency standards in 2015 (National Center for Education Statistics). About half of all students entering 4-year colleges are not prepared for college reading (ACT). 4-year-college-bound members of IGen read less and perform worse on tests of academic skills than did Millennials at a similar time in their lives (Twenge). Anecdotal evidence from SASC reading and writing support professionals and instructors in Chemistry, English, Biology, HWOS, and Environmental Studies corroborate the importance of reading and the need for first- and second-year UNE students to develop their academic reading capacity.  

According to Black and Rechter, “the cultural capital embodied in academic literacy is strategically critical in achieving professional employment as well as intrinsically valuable.”

To be successful in college, students need to learn to read critically, deeply, and creatively, as well as to develop the stamina to read more than they ever have and the persistence to cope with texts that they find difficult to read.

In this training module, you’ll learn how to recognize some of the reading challenges incoming students may face, how to help them, and to whom to refer them when you feel that their needs exceed your resources.

Learning Outcomes

Tutors completing this module should be able to:

  1. Describe 4 ways that incoming college students’ lack of experience with academic reading manifests itself in their attitudes towards reading and their reading behaviors and practices
  2. Explain 8 reasons why students struggle with complex texts
  3. Define 5 high-impact reading practices
  4. Know and begin to use 6 strategies to help students better read complex texts
  5. Be able to locate 7 UNE SASC resources about reading to use with students in tutoring sessions
  6. Reflect on their own reading attitudes and practices
  7. Know to whom to refer students for further reading support
  8. Know who to ask questions about reading support

Main Presentation

Helping Students Read Complex Texts – UNE SASC’s Dr. Eric Drown

Excerpt from Penny Kittle’s “Why Students Don’t Read What’s Assigned in Class”
Watch the full video on YouTube

Reading Support Activities

What Can Faculty Do to Help Students Read Challenging Texts?

If you can only do one or two things, chose a few of these (gen ed. or introductory courses):
  • Encourage the practice of annotation and help students recognize what your discipline values in the texts it uses
  • Give students practice in paraphrasing what they’re reading in their own words
  • Prime student interest in the reading
  • Scaffold students’ engagement with the text with vocab lists, discussion questions, and supplemental resources
  • Make sure your reading is “right-sized” to your students’ developmental level and domain knowledge
If you can do a little more, implement one or more of these (early courses in the major):
  • Pull back the curtain on your own reading and meaning-making practices using the talk-aloud protocol and showing students samples of your own annotations and notes
  • Help students learn to read for concepts and to use examples to make sense of concepts
  • Scaffold students’ understanding of challenging texts by reducing their cognitive load and their individual workload
  • Make individuals or small groups responsible for specific segments of a challenging reading
  • Develop mechanisms for social annotation (Perusall, Hypothesis)
  • Teach students to read for and map the conversation among the texts you assign
If you can do even more (upper level & graduate courses)
  • Socialize students into the textual genres and practices of your field – help them recognize the essential moves of your discipline in exemplary texts and help them learn to make those moves in their own writing

Further Reading

Question Stems to Use in Tutoring Sessions

By Allison Neeland

Questions to initiate conversations about reading:

  • Which of your assigned texts would help you understand __________?  Let’s skim through the text(s) together.
  • Are there any images in your textbook that would help you visualize ___________? (If they don’t know, help them look.)
  • What is the purpose of this reading assignment?  What do you have to do with the information?

Questions to help students engage in their texts:

  • What do you do when a reading assignment has several words that you don’t know?
  • Which part of the reading did you find most difficult to understand?
  • Which part of the reading did you find most interesting?
  • How does this text help you accomplish a goal?
    • Which details do you need to study for the test?
    • Which parts may you want to quote or paraphrase in your next written assignment?

Reading and the Study Cycle

By Allison Neeland

Learning Activities for Tutors

How to Read a College Textbook – College Info Geek


​​​​​​​ACT. (2013). The Condition of College and Career Readiness 2013. Retrieved from https://www.act.org/content/dam/act/unsecured/documents/CCCR13-NationalReadinessRpt.pdf 

Black, Michelle and Rechter, Sue. (2013). “A Critical Reflection on the Use of an Embedded Academic Literacy Program for Teaching Sociology.” Journal of Sociology 49 (4) [Australia]. 

Holschuh, Jodi P. (2019). “College Reading and Studying: The Complexity of Academic Literacy Task Demands.” Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy 62 (2). 

Kennelly, R. A. and others. (2010). “Collaborative Initiatives Across Disciplines for the Improvement of Educational Outcomes of Students.” International Journal of Education Integrity 6 (1). 

Murray, N. (2010). “Considerations in the Post-Enrollment Assessment of English Language Proficiency: Reflections from the Australian Context.” Language Assessment Quarterly 7 (4). 

National Center for Education Statistics. “How are American Students Performing in Reading?” Retrieved from https://nces.ed.gov/fastfacts/display.asp?id=147 

Nist, Sherrie, and Simpson, Michelle L. (2000). “College Studying” in Handbook of Reading Research v. 3 ed. M.L. Kamil and others. Erlbaum. 

Palmer, Lorinda and others. (2018). “First Year [Nursing] Students’ Perceptions of Academic Literacies Preparedness and Embedded Diagnostic Assessment.” Student Success 9 (2).  

Twenge, Jean. (2017).  iGen: Why Today’s Super-Connected Kids Are Growing Up Less Rebellious, More Tolerant, Less Happy–and Completely Unprepared for Adulthood–and What That Means for the Rest of Us. Atria. 

​​​​​​​Wingate, U. (2006). “Doing Away with ‘Study Skills’.” Teaching in Higher Education 11 (4). 

Reading as an Endless Conversation (Kenneth Burke reimagined by Eric Drown)
The social dimensions of reading and writing

Recommended Reading

  • John C. Bean, “Helping Students Read Difficult Texts” in Engaging Ideas
  • Ruth Schoenbach and others, Reading for Understanding
  • Richard Strong and others, Reading for Academic Success: Powerful Strategies for Struggling, Average, and Advanced Readers, Grades 7-12
  • Allison J. Head, “Reading in the Age of Distrust”The ability to read analytically and deeply should be one of the most important takeaways from college. But are educators equipping students with the skills they need for today?

Sample Complex Readings

SASC Professional Reading Consultants

  • Eric Drown
  • Megan Grumbling
  • Allison Neeland