Students and Reading – the deep end or the shallow end of the pool?

Often when students are assigned to read an article, essay, or from their textbook, they are expected to jump into the deep end of the pool, and thus they panic and merely dip their big reading toe into the pool, if that.

   ( the following were comments I shared with Deb Seline’s submission on reading  which I have decided to submit as an independent reflection on students and reading)


  On the second and third classes of my thinking critically and creatively classes, I set time aside to help them wade in the shallow end of the pool by showing them an example of a former student’s reading analysis of a chapter in the text as illustrated below:


Student’s sample of analyzing a chapter

The following example by Nicole, a former student, demonstrates an example of a critical analysis of  chapter 5 (what is opinion?) in the thinking critically and creatively course – she assesses the logic of what she is reading:

Nicole – “The author has strong opinions and I didn’t’ happen to agree with them all (big surprise, no?). I object to a couple statements on page 61 —‘Yet, however deeply and sincerely such opinions are held, they are most likely wrong.’

Nicole – “Says who? You? Why? Because you don’t hold them? Hmmm tisk, tisk, where’s that open minded thinker keeping value judgments in check”

Author of the text – “This popular perspective may seem eminently sensible and broadminded, but it is utterly shallow.”

Nicole – “The examples he used were on an extreme end of the moral compass, however, I don’t think having the, “to each their own” idea is shallow. He asks how many people we have heard claim that rape, spouse abuse, child molesting and burglary, etc. is morally acceptable. We all have and do every day. They are filling our prisons, backing up our courts, related to us and living next door. If their doing it their claiming it. Statistics only show the reported and known, not the unknown.”

Nicole – “I did not know there are criteria to use in order to increase the correctness of our personal moral judgments. I don’t know how I feel or think about this just yet. I need to ponder it a bit more.”


Nicole – “On page 65 it states that expert opinions are more highly valued than non-experts. In general, without specifics I think it depends on what type of opinion you’re talking about, courts of law or issues of health? I mean if your foot hurts you go to a foot doctor, heart, a heart doctor. In the smaller yet bigger picture everyday people have the same opinions of those on TV, writing books or winning peace prizes (Obama, really?). I have heard the profound from educated and uneducated, eloquence versus simplicity? More valued no, better stated, maybe, but that would depend on whom you ask.”


——————————————————————my analysis

Nicole’s analysis prompts the following series of questions you can ask when reading any text; keep in mind that every piece is not of the same quality. You assess what you read by applying intellectual standards to it, standards such as clarity, precision, relevance, significance, depth, breadth, logic, and fairness. Some authors adhere to some standards while violating others. For example, an author might be clear in stating his or her position, while at the same time using information that is not accurate. An author might use relevant information but fail to think through the complexities of the issue, that is, fail to achieve depth. An author’s argument might be logical but not significant. As the reader, then, you need to become adept at assessing he quality of an author’s reasoning as exemplified in Nicole’s critical analysis of chapter 5 on forming opinions. You do this only when you can accurately state in your own words an author’s meaning.


To assess an author’s work, answer the following questions:

  1. Does the author clearly state his or her meaning, or is the text vague, confused in any way?
    2. Is the author accurate in what he or she claims?
    3. Is the author sufficiently precise in providing details and specifics when specifics are relevant?
    4. Does the author introduce irrelevant material, thereby wandering from his/her purpose?
    5. Does the author take us into the important complexities inherent in the subject, or is the writing superficial?
    6. Does the author consider other relevant points of view, or is the writing overly narrow in its perspective?
    7. Is the text internally consistent or does the text contain unexplained contradictions?
    8. Is the text significant or is the subject dealt with in a trivial manner?
    9. Does the author display fairness or does the author take a one-sided narrow approach?

(Critical Thinking Reading and Writing Test by Dr. Richard Paul and Dr. Linda Elder, 2006, page 9)


————————————————————-another method

reflect, relate, and question via these four prompts:

  • “Identify one important concept, research finding, theory, or idea … that you learned while completing this activity.”
  • “Why do you believe that this concept, research finding, theory, or idea … is important?”
  • “Apply what you have learned from this activity to some aspect of your life.”
  • “What question(s) has the activity raised for you? What are you still wondering about?” The response “Nothing” is not an option.



————————————–the following is for the instructor

Professional article

For many college instructors, getting students to read their textbooks is a continuous struggle. Not only are students unmotivated to read, but even when students do read they often lack the necessary skills to fully comprehend the material. As a result, instructors may subtly or unwittingly communicate that reading the textbook is not necessary in order to pass a course. This communication can take the form of providing students with elaborate study guides or notes that summarize the reading or include all the answers to upcoming tests or quizzes.
Faced with these obstacles, I created the Reader’s Guide, a step-by-step exercise that students complete while reading their textbook material. It consists of three separate sections: (1) Planning, (2) Reading, and (3) Evaluation.



Within the planning stage, the reader is asked to engage in skimming, questioning, and evaluating the organizational structure of the assigned reading. These techniques are to be completed without any reading of the text. This prepares students to begin the process of setting reading goals, devising questions to be answered by the text and to begin preparing for the organization of the chapter.
In the planning stage, students are prompted with the following questions:

Before you begin reading …
1. What is the title of the chapter?
2. Name three questions you would like to have answered from this chapter?
3. What are the subheadings listed in this chapter?
4. For each subheading listed in question three, write one statement describing what you think the paragraph will discuss (based on the subheading).
5. What are the bold face words in this chapter?
6. Using questions 3 and 4, briefly put together an outline that effectively displays the organizational structure of this passage?
7. Skim each of the paragraphs, noting whether or not the paragraph will discuss what you predicted in question 4.


The next section in the Guide is the reading section. The reading section prompts the reader to begin reading the chapter and to underline important points, code sections of the text, take notes, elaborate on information, and monitor failures in comprehension.
In the reading stage, students are given the following instructions:
Read the chapter …
8. While reading the chapter, underline any ideas you believe are important.
9. While reading the chapter, write the following symbols next the sentences as you feel
they are necessary.
? = I have a question about this
A = I agree with this
D = I disagree with this
! = Interesting or important point
C = Confusing
10. Write down two ideas from the text that you believe your instructor may put on a test.
11. Using the two ideas from question 10, write down any information you knew about these items before reading the passage.
12. Can the information from the chapter be easily associated with the information you knew about these items prior to reading the chapter? Yes or No?
13. While you are reading, write down the number of times you noticed that you experienced a failure in comprehending the material? What did you do about it?
Finish reading the passage.



The last section requires the reader to engage in an evaluation process. Within this section, the reader is asked to reflect on his or her reading process and to summarize key points, and reflect on the piece to determine if all questions addressed during the planning stage were answered.
14. Looking back to question 2, were the questions you wanted answered by the chapter answered?
15. Give a brief summary of the chapter you just read.
16. Was summarizing the chapter difficult? Yes or No? Why?
17. Was your summary accurate? Look back at the passage to determine your accuracy.
18. On a scale of 1 to 10 (1 = very inaccurate to 10 = very accurate) how would you rate your summary?
I make the Reader’s Guide a required assignment for all chapters that are covered in a course. The Guide requires little to no instruction and can be easily implemented into any college course. Students seem to like the format and find that it is less anxiety provoking than quizzes used to increase reading compliance. Many students comment that the Guide helps them to better understand their reading material. For me, grading the Guide is easy and requires little time and effort. It makes reading the textbook mandatory and also holds students accountable for reading in order to receive a good grade in the course.

For a PDF of the Reading Guide, go here >>
Tiffany F. Culver, Ph.D. is an assistant professor of Psychology at Sul Ross State University, Rio Grande College.
Roger J. Vanden Busch


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