This is a topic that isn’t discussed enough among the general public, in my opinion. We assume that because a child has been accepted to college and has done well in high school, they should be fine with the academic load, aside from the natural transitional time. However, the first semester in college particularly can be extremely difficult for even the brightest students. In addition, many students are unable to pass the required state reading exams, which require them to attend a developmental reading course each semester until the test is passed. Both situations can pose a problem for college retention, but the good news is, both situations can be fixed if the student receives quality reading instruction.
When we think of reading instruction, we often think of small children, but older children need it just as much, and can often times make progress even more quickly. Several years ago, I took a job working with student-athletes at Texas A&M who came to college without being fully ready for the reading requirements. By meeting with these students on-on-one, two to three times each week, I was able to see these students go from significantly behind college level to functioning very well in college and even graduating. In fact, our data showed that they were able to improve by 2.5 grade levels every semester. The unfortunate news is that there are few programs like this that exist in college. The majority of colleges and universities groups students into lecture halls in which general reading skills are taught, which can be beneficial, but the power behind the progress my students made came from an assessment-driven program, where I knew the strengths and weaknesses of every student and was able to spend time teaching based on exactly what I found as their reading deficits.
So how do we apply this idea to your son or daughter who is struggling with reading in college? I’m going to give you a few of my secrets to college reading success that I discovered as I worked with my students. A word of warning, these tips will make the reading process take a little longer if they are done correctly, but because they will be understanding what they read, it will be a far better use of time than racing through words without understanding.
- All college students can benefit from a “read and note” method. The majority of college textbook reading is “non-fiction” or informational. The other category would be if a student is taking an English literature class and has an assigned fiction text. Either way, it is very important that students are comfortable with taking notes as they read. Here’s the read and note method: When they are reading something very carefully, they stop every 3-5 sentences, ask themselves “What was this part about?” and write a few words in the margin (or on a sticky note) and put it next to those sentences. This is valuable for a few reasons. 1) when they have finished reading, they can review all of their notes and have a pretty well written summary of the text 2) If they need to locate something that happened in the story, they can look back through their notes instead of having to re-read the entire passage. And most importantly 3) if they are unable to write a few words about what the sentences they read were about, they likely didn’t understand it, and this signals to them that they need to re-read just those few sentences. The beauty of number 3 is that oftentimes, children grow up being very comfortable with reading words that they don’t understand, finishing the passage or story, and having no idea at all what they just read. This is a habit that has to be broken in order to be a successful college reader. As students get more comfortable with this method, they can instead take notes every paragraph or at every section header. If they are unable to think of what to write, they need to stop and re-read it more slowly to make sense of it, go back in class lecture notes to read the section on the same topic, or ask for help. Another advantage of “read and note” is that in taking the time to stop and consider what he/she has read and write it down, it improves memory retention of the information, which will contribute to easier studying later.
- All college students can benefit from comparing reading to class notes. Instead of reading before lecture, if the student reads after the lecture, he or she already has some background knowledge on the topic from the class discussion. This is helpful in those cases where the subject is completely unknown information to the student. Another method that can boost comprehension significantly is if the student opens his/her notes from class, reads a portion, then finds in the textbook where it talks about that information. After reading that, the student can do the “read and note” method above.
- All college students can benefit from reading for enjoyment. If someone would have told me this in college, I would have laughed and said “when would I have time for that?” Now, as a mom, I look back on that time and laugh thinking about how much free time I actually had compared to what I have now. Regardless, the more you read, the better you get at it. It’s as simple as that. College is a time that you really want all your reading muscles strengthened, and that can be done in really fun ways. It can be a Sports Illustrated or Vogue magazine, Bible study, book for enjoyment, anything. Just make sure that you read every day to build those reading muscles. You can also practice the “read and note” method above with your fun reading so that it comes easier when you are reading assigned texts.
- Some college students need remedial reading instruction at much lower levels. The above three steps will help ALL students, and will be all that most students will need. However, students who have been struggling readers their entire lives (whether they realize it or not), will need to receive reading instruction on their level. This requires an assessment of needs to determine where the student’s weaknesses are and interventions accordingly. If this is you or your child, please look into my coaching options so that I can develop a plan to help you or your child catch up to college level. As I mentioned above, it is entirely possible!
Any college reading success stories! I would love to hear them in the comment section below!