Not Reading: Student Resistance and Teacher Enabling

Posted May 24th, 2011 by Albert DeCiccio Ph.D., Provost, Southern Vermont College

Not Reading:  Student Resistance and Teacher Enabling

Not reading for class, next to not attending class, is a problem college faculty and high school teachers are encountering more frequently in the age of the Internet.   Not reading for class is a form of resistance to learning, to be sure.  As William J. Broz asserts in the most recent issue of the English Journal, “Not reading, even for many good students, has become a mode of operation with respect to book-length texts assigned in school.  Many students enter our secondary and postsecondary . . .  classes intending to not read the books we assign” (15).  

Broz suggests it is possible that faculty and teachers are enabling the practice by not teaching.  There is a problem, Broz argues, even “in many smoothly operating classrooms:  teachers pretending to teach and students pretending to learn.  In such classrooms everyone agrees to go through the motions while little learning is taking place” (16).  Arum and Roksa, in their much-discussed book Academically Adrift, also point out that our nation’s college students are not reading and, as a result, are not learning very much after four years of post-secondary education. 

“Houston, we have a problem.”

In “Not Reading: The 800-Pound Mockingbird in the Classroom,” William Broz reminds teachers at all levels about the importance of teaching the reading process.  His article is well worth reading, and I won’t summarize it all here.  What I will offer in this entry are his lists of Dos and Don’ts.

A List of Dos for Discouraging Not Reading (Broz 16-19)

  1. “Recognize that knowing what happens in any particular book, even canonical books such as To Kill a Mockingbird, is of little importance compared to developing students’ abilities to read and make meaning from a text.”
  2. “Ask students to capture their reader responses to texts in journals or other informal writing that you review and grade and that students use to develop and refine their interpretations.”
  3. “Invite students to read books that they can read and that they might want to read.”
  4. “Support students in developing their reading and interpretive abilities by inviting them to read any high-quality text, including popular texts, young adult texts, regionally and culturally relevant texts, and texts in non-traditional formats such as graphic novels.”
  5. “Encourage student reading by facilitating small-group discussions and other student-centered activities that support reading.”
  6. “Invite students to participate in a robust interpretive process that involves choosing their own points of interpretation, refining the articulation of those interpretations, and presenting those interpretations to the community of readers that is the class through short . . . essays and other performances such a graphic response .  . . .”


A Few Don’ts for Discouraging Not Reading (Broz 19-20)

  1. “Don’t spend class time recapping or summarizing assigned reading chapters to compensate for students’ not reading.”
  2. “Don’t use film versions of books as crutches or rewards.  If students know you are going to show the movie, especially if your class is focused on right answers about what happens in the story, then it makes sense to not read.”
  3. “Don’t make [your subject] a right-answer game by assigning comprehension quizzes and tests or lecturing and testing over ‘received interpretations,’ which students must parrot back to receive credit.”

Broz concludes his essay provocatively:  “If we do the reading and interpretation for students, we have no right to expect them to read the books” (20).  Clearly, we have to teach students how to read, the process of reading, so that they may become the “full” people Francis Bacon told us 400 years ago reading makes us.

Works Cited

Arum, Richard and Josipa Roksa.  Academically Adrift:  Limited Learning on College

     Campuses. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 2011.

Broz, William J. “Not Reading:  The 800-Pound Mockingbird in the Classroom.”

     English Journal 100.5 (2011):  15-20. 

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