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What Is College Reading Instruction?

Jordan Irwin Fabish, Professor of Reading
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College-level reading poses myriad challenges to Long Beach City College students, from increased complexity and sophistication in vocabulary, syntax, and organization to increased levels of abstraction in text written by academics. A college education is meant to expand and challenge, but the heightened tasks of textual comprehension can be daunting to many of our students.

Yes, there is a problem. Is there a solution? LBCC reading courses are the essence of student support at our college, hastening achievement of students’ goals and dreams. We, therefore, earnestly exhort incoming students to take LBCC reading courses early in their program. While we cannot bring a student who tests at, for example, a sixth-grade level to proficiency in four semesters, we can markedly improve all students’ reading comprehension, and, thus, their success in content areas.

The reading process is not linear, and neither is its instruction. However, guiding students to improved comprehension of text is both systematic and full of variety and creativity. Such balance includes the following research-based strategies that are always linked to meaning because mere decoding is not reading; “reading” is always a meaning-based thinking process.

  • Decoding (sounding out words). Decoding is not reading, but it needs to be in place. We help students fill in their decoding gaps by re-teaching phonics, word parts, sight words, and structural analysis principles.
  • Vocabulary. Comprehension is thwarted when the student is overwhelmed by too many unfamiliar words. Therefore, both explicitly and implicitly, we work to expand students’ college-level vocabulary and strategies for continued improvement.
  • Cognitive Comprehension Strategies. The research of the cognitive scientists replaced the passive “blank-slate” reading model with one that recognizes and encourages the active participation of readers, who bring schema—the sum of their life experiences—to text. We purpose to build students’ background knowledge and to teach them to activate it and make connections to it during reading. We demon-strate the invisible thinking process and help them to be aware of and to describe if and how they are learning—metacognition. Here is where the “variety and creativity” of each instructor energizes the chosen strategies to give students many styles and experiences of learning.
  • Real Reading. Not surprisingly, reading improves with . . . reading! Reading builds fluency, comprehension, vocabulary, background knowledge. LBCC instructors pro-vide exposure to many genres of both fictional and informational text. If we can capture a student’s interest in reading, s/he will acquire the crucial practice and motivation needed to read more and allow the text to teach.

In 1917, an educator named Thorndike wrote, “Reading is thinking.” What we really teach is logical, critical, interpretive, intuitive thinking necessary to understand text. All our students deserve a huge measure of support to do so, and that is why we urge them . . . TAKE READING FIRST!