Stories from
the trenches

Why don’t students keep up with the reading

U.S. faculty member, CMU-Qatar

When I was teaching in the U.S., I assigned a lot of reading. It seemed only appropriate for college-level courses. But the students I teach now speak English as a second language. They struggle to read even short texts. Talking to colleagues from the same culture as my students, I’ve learned that the style of writing, as well as the language, poses challenges. My students are used to readings that follow different conventions vis-à-vis the presentation of argument and evidence, so when they are reading an English text which would take a U.S. student an hour to read, they might take 2-3 hours. If they even get through the material – and they frequently don’t – they can’t engage in a meaningful discussion because they don’t fully understand what they’ve read.

I’ve found some teaching strategies that help. First, I’ve prioritized and cut my reading list so that students can focus more deeply on fewer readings. Second, I’ve incorporated more short videos and other multimedia material, using them both in class and as homework to generate discussion of key principles. Since these particular students have sophisticated media literacy and listening skills, I’ve found that they can engage with audiovisual materials more easily than they can with readings, where their lack of English literacy gets in the way. As a result, they bring more of their analytical skills to bear in class discussions and learn more.

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