A Strategy for Improving Student Reading Comprehension

07.10_a-strategy-for-improving-student-reading-comprehension

When instructors assign readings to students, they generally assume that anyone who has done the reading must know the information in it and that if they don’t, they did not do the reading. In reality, students often have a hard time determining the main point of a reading or what they should get out of it because they lack the background knowledge that an expert brings to bear on a text. We have heard this from our students, who tell me that they can read a paragraph over and over again without understanding it or do not know what is important when taking notes.


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When instructors assign readings to students, they generally assume that anyone who has done the reading must know the information in it and that if they don’t, they did not do the reading. In reality, students often have a hard time determining the main point of a reading or what they should get out of it because they lack the background knowledge that an expert brings to bear on a text. We have heard this from our students, who tell me that they can read a paragraph over and over again without understanding it or do not know what is important when taking notes.

The instructors’ perspective is a good example of the “expert’s blind spot”—the inability of experts to understand the struggles of novices because experts do not see the world the as novices do. Experts have both knowledge and experiences that novices lack, and this is something we often forget as instructors. We build knowledge of the periphery of what we already know by connecting it to something in our current knowledge web, which includes experiences as well as facts. For this reason, it is helpful to connect course content to student experiences. That is why Carrie accompanies readings in her group fitness instructor class with two types of worksheets: text–experience and key concepts. These both guide student reading and help them make the connections to their experience needed to assimilate the information. The student completes both worksheets while they go through the reading.

Text–experience

The text–experience worksheet has two columns. Students use the first to write a summary sentence about each section of the text in their own words. They use the second to identify a class experience or an experience they had with their group fitness mentor that demonstrates this summary statement. Here, students connect what they are reading to their lived experience, intentionally deepening their comprehension of the readings.

After completing the worksheet, each student uploads it to the online discussion forum, where everyone in the class can enhance their learning by reading their peers’ observations and reflections. Carrie offers industry-specific insights to their lived experiences to further deepen the comprehension and application of the content at hand.

Key concepts

The key concepts worksheet requires students to identify important themes in their reading for the week and then map those themes to an experience they had during their experiential requirement when working with a mentor teaching group fitness. The worksheet keeps them on task as they read, essentially requiring them to take notes in an active and structured manner, then supports them in transposing the content to their lived experience. Students must identify the chapter’s key concepts and include a minimum of four key points within each concept. Once they have identified the key concepts and supporting points, they must include a story, example, or connection from their mentorship to bring those concepts to life. They then upload the worksheet to the discussion forum, where everyone can review each other’s experiential applications of the content and Carrie can respond to each, sharing her professional industry experiences to further enhance their content comprehension.

Here is feedback from one of Carrie’s students reflecting on the effectiveness of this strategy:

Working on each assignment taught me new and more efficient ways to organize the information I was learning. One example would be the key concept activity from week 2. Doing assignments like this helps me slow down and relate all the new information I am reading to real life experiences and provides a good method for remembering things.

These assignments not only improve reading comprehension but also offer instructors an assessment strategy to identify any gaps in student knowledge or additional needs students may have before progressing onward in the class. While these activities work great for classes that require an experiential learning component, they’re not exclusive to those. You can ask students to connect any content to any lived experiences they may have had, which can offer a platform to enrich discussion forums by seeing topics from different perspectives. Because of the noticeable increase in their own reading comprehension, students have also reported adopting these reading strategies for classes that don’t require them.

Please feel free to use either or both of the linked worksheets in your courses to improve student understanding.


Carrie Jarosinski, DPN, is a health and wellness promotion faculty member and Lea Ann Turner, MS, is a manager of academic and professional excellence at Mid-State Technical College.