This is another in a series of interviews with campus QEP leaders – those staff, faculty and administrators across campus promoting the goals of EKU’s Quality Enhancement Plan. The current QEP, Read with Purpose, calls for Eastern to develop critical readers through the use of metacognitive strategies. Building on the past QEP, which focused on developing critical and creative thinkers, this effort represents the University’s commitment to institutional improvement, and provides a long-term focus for faculty and staff professional development and student learning.
This installment in the series features Dr. Lynnette Noblitt, chair of the Department of Government:
Q: In what ways have you been involved with the EKU QEP, Read with Purpose?
A: I wanted to be involved from the very beginning. I was excited that EKU would be focusing on reading skills. I have long been frustrated that our students often struggle with reading college and professional materials. Sometimes students can be really motivated to learn the material, but reading stands in their way. I once had an advisee admit to me that she failed a history class twice because "the professor wants us to read a WHOLE book!" At first her response shocked me. I wanted to either laugh at her or kick her out of my office. However, she was a genuinely dedicated student and hard worker. She just really struggled with sustained reading tasks because she was never assigned such tasks in college. As a new college faculty member, I did not think that it was my "job" to teach reading, but now I realize that teaching reading in my discipline, particularly pre-reading and other reading strategies, is pivotal to teaching in my field.
Q: In what ways is the QEP relevant to your discipline?
A: I teach legal classes. The ability to read, understand, and apply case law is the central skill in my field. Case law is often written in a language and format that is difficult for students to understand. I recall as a young law student that case law was difficult to conquer. It took practice and sustained concentration. Years ago, I used to simply encourage my students to "read carefully" or "work harder,” but I found that was not enough. Through participation in the QEP, I discovered strategies I have used subconsciously for years to pre-read and read case law. Ironically, some of the behaviors I engage in when reading (i.e., scanning the full text, skipping sections and later returning), I attributed to my lack of patience. I thought I was "cheating" and actually being a poor reader myself. It turns out that these behaviors actually improve reading understanding and retention. As a good reader, I had discovered these techniques on my own. I was never taught them. Once the QEP helped me identify these as ""strategies" that actually improve reading skills, I could start to teach them to my students.
Q: In what ways has QEP professional development impacted your teaching?
A: I am very careful with the readings I now assign students. I used to assign reading and assume that the good students that wanted to learn would complete it. I now am very disciplined and direct when I assign readings to a class. I don't just list pages on a syllabus. The class prior to the reading, I tell the students what they will be reading. I explain why I have assigned the reading and what I think they need to learn from it. I sometimes provide "scaffolding" for the reading by giving background information that the students may need to know to fully understand the reading. Sometimes, I will even put the reading up on a screen and skim it with the students. I teach them the pre-reading skills that I use and I think out loud about the reading while I am doing this to mimic what the students should do once they start to read on their own. I try to focus classes now on applying reading and preparing for reading.
Q: How does the QEP benefit the campus community?
A: Better readers are better scholars and better members of society. The importance of reading cannot be underestimated. We are surrounded by print in digital and paper form all day every day. If we make our students better readers, they will be better equipped for every aspect of their life, both personal and professional.
If faculty start to understand the embrace their role in teaching reading in their field, I think that they will see positive results. When students find reading accessible and understandable, they are more likely to complete the reading. Sure, you will always have the handful of unprepared students in every class, but even those students will learn more from a classroom discussion full of students who completed the reading you assigned.
Faculty need to realize that students need help before they read to understand the reading. This took me a long time to understand and fully accept. The metacognitive processes that take place when an "expert" in the field reads are very different than when a novice in the field reads something. We need to identify those processes ourselves and then teach our students those processes.
Q: How will you continue to promote critical reading in your courses, discipline, or across the University?
A: I continue to refine my teaching by focusing on reading and how to make that reading more accessible and understandable to my students. I find that I am now able to cover more material in a class because the students eventually can read and understand the material on their own. At the beginning of every semester, I now spend significant time teaching students how to read and understand material with the knowledge that this early investment will pay off by the end of the semester. A few hours of teaching pre-reading and scaffolding reading for students can give them the ability to access reading material with less support. It teaches them skills that are useful well beyond my class or even the field in which I am teaching.