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Reading Effectively Across the Disciplines (READ): A Strategy to ImproveStudent SuccessJuanita C. But, PhDAssociate Professor, Department of EnglishNew York City College of Technology of the City University of New YorkPamela Brown, PhDAssociate ProvostNew York City College of Technology of the City University of New YorkDavida S. Smyth, PhDAssociate Professor and Chair, Department of Natural SciencesMercy CollegeThis paper describes the structure and activities of READ (Reading Effectively Across theDisciplines), a pilot initiative to improve students’ critical reading skills, disciplinary literacyand academic success. READ employs a multimodal design that consists of faculty trainingin disciplinary literacy instruction and curricular enhancement, development andimplementation of active reading assignments and assessments, peer-led team learning, andthe dissemination of discipline-specific teaching and learning resources on an Open Lab site toprovide an interactive teaching and learning environment for students and faculty. Empiricalevidence of the initial effectiveness of the pilot in three gateway courses in Biology,Electromechanical Engineering Technology, and Marketing showed improvement in studentpass rates after implementation of reading strategies and instructional approaches that guidestudents through the reading process.College reading requires skills and strategies that differ from those requiredfor high school reading in many ways. Even though college and high school coursesmay carry similar titles, college courses are more challenging due to a larger amountof material covered, demanding learning goals, and more diverse and complex readingrequirements (Conley 2007, 2008; Conley, Aspengren, Stout, & Veach, 2006). Given thegreater breadth and depth of content knowledge taught in college courses, studentsneed a series of advanced thinking and learning skills, both general and disciplinespecific, to succeed.Among these skills are effective textual engagement and deep understandingof texts, which require inferential and elaborative processing (Graesser, Millis, &Zwaan, 1997; Kintsch & Rawson, 2005; Pressley & Afflebach, 1995). Evidence suggeststhat students generally do not develop these skills extensively in high school (Conleyet al., 2006). Studies in cognitive developmental processes indicate that students arestill acquiring the ability to use and understand adverbial conjuncts and idiomaticinterpretation late in high school (Chapman, 1983; Nippold & Martin, 1989). Inaddition, inferential reasoning, abstract thinking, and recognition and use ofstructure/features, are developed only with maturity and experience (Chambliss, 1995;Kletzien, 1992). As Conley (2007) points out, in college courses,students are expected to make inferences, interpret results, analyze conflictingexplanations of phenomena, support arguments with evidence, solve30Volume 12 2017

complex problems that have no obvious answer, reach conclusions, offerexplanations, conduct research, engage ideas, and generally think deeplyabout what they are being taught. (p. 6)These are the thinking and reasoning skills that students may not readilypossess and apply while reading as they enter college. Another challenge that theyface is their lack of background knowledge of both content and structure (Moore &Scevak, 1997), especially for certain discipline-specific and discipline-related texts.From the perspective of disciplinary literacy education, the question is notwhether reading should be taught, but what, how, and where it should be taught incollege, and who should be involved in the process. College reading is disciplinespecific (Fang & Schleppegrell, 2010; Shanahan & Shanahan, 2008) and literacy variesin different domains (Alexander, Schallert, & Hare, 1991). Disciplinary literacy ischaracterized by “the ways of thinking, knowing, and doing that are consistent witheach discipline,” rather than by “a set of strategies instructors use to help studentsorganize text or make connections among words” (Zygouris-Coe, 2012, para. 2). In thissense, reading, as disciplinary literacy, should be taught not just in English courses,contrary to the perception of many, but also in the content areas. Content area facultyshould make reading requirements clear, understand their students’ ability, andintroduce strategies to facilitate discipline-specific thinking and critical reading of textmaterial. It is important to know that they are not expected to teach students to learnto read, but to read to learn in the disciplines (Richardson, Morgan & Fleener, 2012).Lastly, college reading requires faculty to engage students by using relevantassessments and approaches to enable them to develop their own strategies whilereading in the disciplines and become independent readers.Development of the READ programTwo institutional challenges framed the development of the READ program:(1) a college-wide general education reading assessment, which suggested that over70% of students were found to struggle with college-level reading, much greater thanthe national average of 52% (ACT, 2012), and: (2) a university funding opportunity todevelop, implement and evaluate student success initiatives to increase pass rates ingateway courses where over 100 students failed in Fall 2011. Our proposal includedfunding to develop and implement professional development initiatives for faculty tocultivate the skills to enhance students’ reading skills in various disciplines throughcollaborative effort between reading and content area faculty, disseminate developedcurricular materials, provide student stipends for peer led team learning, and assessactivities. In Fall 2012, we were awarded funding. From Spring 2013 to Spring 2014,we focused on enhancing student performance in three gateway courses — Biology I(BIO 1101), Essentials of Marketing (MKT 1100), and Electromechanical ManufacturingLaboratory (EMT 1130), all with more than 100 students not successfully completingthe course (withdrew or failed) in Fall 2011.This paper describes the structure and activities of READ. We hypothesizedthat our students’ low level of college readiness in reading was due to their lack ofvocabulary skills and the active reading strategies needed to become effective readersand learners in the disciplines. Instead of engaging in reading-to-learn, strugglingInSight: A Journal of Scholarly Teaching31

readers often rely on their listening skills in class (Schemo, 2006). Even for studentswho read their text, many only accumulate facts and memorize correct answers whilenot able to engage with the text and practice the metacognitive thinking needed. Wefurther hypothesized that effective instruction of active reading strategies andvocabulary skills in the content areas would improve students’ general and disciplinespecific reading and thinking skills and enable them to become independent readers,and thereby achieve greater success in their courses. While focusing mainly ondelivering content knowledge, instructors across the disciplines often overlook theimportance of reading proficiency and do not feel ready to address the challengesstudents face in reading text material (Hall, 2005; Stewart and O’Brien 1989). It is alsocommon that faculty across the disciplines lack instructional and assessment strategiesthat scaffold reading assignments to guide students through the reading-to-learnprocess.As our college is an open access, public, minority serving institution, wefurther hypothesized that by incorporating evidence-based practices, such as peer ledteam learning (PLTL), we would further advance our goal to improve pass rates. WithPLTL, more advanced, successful undergraduate students are trained as peer leadersto facilitate small group learning. These peer-led groups meet weekly, separate fromthe lecture and the instructor. Peer leaders do not provide answers, but instead askleading questions to promote students working together to solve problems that arestructured to help them develop conceptual understanding and problem-solving skills.PLTL has been demonstrated to lead to increased student success, particularly amongminority students (Snyder, Sloane, Dunk, & Wiles, 2016).To test our hypothesis to improve our students’ critical reading skills,disciplinary literacy and academic success, we embed literacy into content instructionto engage students in the reading-to-learn process within the discipline. Theeffectiveness of this approach relies on the practice that literacy specialists assistcontent area instructors to identify literary practices unique to their disciplines. AsMoje (2008) suggests, “it may be most productive to build disciplinary literacyinstructional programs, rather than to merely encourage content teachers to employliteracy teaching practices and strategies” (p. 96). As supported by research over thepast decades, disciplinary literacy instruction is crucial to improving literacy skills andknowledge acquisition (Alexander & Jetton, 2000; Alvermann & Moore, 1991; Meltzer,2002).MethodREAD is a multi-component program in which reading and content areafaculty work together to design discipline-specific reading strategies to improvestudent learning in selected courses. The four program components are facultydevelopment, Peer-Led Team Learning (PLTL), reading assessments, and a READOpen Lab website. The activities involved in the implementation of READ are shownin Table 1.32Volume 12 2017

Table 1Summary of READ arning(PLTL)Open LabREAD siteREADAssessmentSpring2013-READ teamplanning-IntroductoryReading Acrossthe CurriculumWorkshop (ledby a readingfaculty fromBMCC-CUNY).-College-wideREADworkshop torecruit contentarea faculty.-Recruitmentof peerleaders inBIO 1100,MKT 1100,and EMT1130Developmentof disciplinespecificreading tasksand teachingstrategies-IntroductoryWorkshop: 12participantsfrom fourdepartments.- College-wideREADworkshop:There were 14participantsfrom eightdepartments.-Baselinereadingassessment inselected BIO1101, MKT 1100,and EMT 1130sectionsSummer2013-READ facultyworkshop forcontent facultyteaching BIO1101, MKT 1100,and EMT 1130-Interviewsof peerleaders inBIO 1101,MKT 1100,and EMT1130-Setting upREAD OpenLab Biologysite-Workshop: 16participants.Fall 2013-Reading andcontent facultymet to discussimplementation,challenges, andmodifications ofreadingstrategies andassessment.-Peer leadertraining-EmbeddedPLTLworkshops inone section ofMKT 1100 (2peer leaders);and EMT1130 (3 peerleaders);standalone-Continuousdevelopmentof READOpen LabBiology site-Pre and postreadingstrategiesimplementationassessments inthe areas ofcomprehension,interpretation,context, andanalysisInSight: A Journal of Scholarly Teaching33

Table arning(PLTL)Open LabREAD siteREADAssessment-Completionof READOpen LabBiology site;developmentof Open LabEMT site-Setting upother contentarea sites tobe linked to acentral READsite-Workshop: 10participantsworkshops inone section ofBIO 1101 (6peer leaders)Spring2014Summer201434-READ springworkshop bycontent areafaculty and peerleaders-Reading andcontent facultymet to discussimplementation,challenges, andmodifications ofreadingstrategies andassessment-Presentation atthe ComputerEngineeringTechnologyDept.-Peer leadertraining-EmbeddedPLTLworkshops inone section ofMKT 1100 (3peer leaders)and EMT1130 (2 peerleaders);standaloneworkshops inone section ofBIO 1101 (3peer leaders)-Peer leaders’Conferenceand posterpresentations-Pre and postreadingstrategiesassessments inthe areas ofcomprehension,interpretation,context, andanalysis-Survey oftextbookreadability toinform designandimplementationof readingstrategies-Presentationsat the TeachingProfessorConference andtheInternationalJournal of Artsand SciencesConference bytwo READfacultyVolume 12 2017

The program objectives for Fall 2013 and Spring 2014 were:1. Equip faculty of Biology I (BIO 1101), Essentials of Marketing (MKT 1100),and Electromechanical Manufacturing Laboratory (EMT 1130) with readingstrategies and related teaching-practices2. Develop content specific assignments and teaching approaches for gatewaycourses to help students read and learn more effectively3. Implement READ Peer-Led Team learning (PLTL) student workshops toenhance learning in all three disciplines4. Evaluate the implementation of strategies—discipline specific readingassessments and teaching approaches in order to make future improvements5. Conduct a survey to get a better understanding of faculty and students’impression of the textParticipants and CoursesThe READ Team included faculty members from the departments of English(Reading specialists), Biological Sciences, Computer Engineering Technology andBusiness, an education specialist in peer-led team learning, and the Associate Provost.The initial general education reading assessment was conducted in Spring 2012 by thecollege’s Office of Assessment and Institutional Research, which also providedtechnical support for the program’s assessment activities. In Fall 2013, READparticipants included six Biology I sections - BIO 1101 (187 students), three Essentialsof Marketing sections - MKT 1100 (133 students), and seven ElectromechanicalManufacturing Lab sections - EMT 1130 (150 students) READ sections. In spring 2014,there were three BIO 1101 sections (139 students), one MKT 1100 section (34 students),and four EMT 1130 sections (76 students) READ sections. A total of 2 reading facultymembers, 13 disciplinary faculty members, and 15 peer leaders participated in theprogram. Altogether, there were 34 READ sections, and 718 students served by theprogram during the 2013-2014 academic year. Due to budgetary/staffing limitations,some of the READ sections had no assigned peer leaders.Faculty TrainingTo help launch the program, a literacy specialist trained several content areafaculty members in reading strategies in Spring 2013. In Summer 2013 and Spr