Increasing Student Engagement and Learning through Active Reading Strategies

Concurrent Session 1

Session Materials

Brief Abstract

This brief training session will overview, outline, discuss, and model a best-practices strategy to increase student engagement and learning through the active reading of course materials. The session will feature a micro-lecture, video, PPT, graphic, interative pratice session, and close with Q&A. 


Dr. Shawn M. Bielicki is an associate professor of education and the director of teaching excellence at Liberty University. He is an active presenter on faculty mentoring, active learning strategies, classroom management, and teaching effectiveness. A four-time teacher of the year, he has been featured in more than 100 press releases and has been awarded more than 50 grants.

Extended Abstract

This brief training session will overview and outline a best-practices strategy to increase student engagement and learning through the active reading of course materials. The session will feature a micro-lecture, video, PPT, graphic, interative pratice session, and close with Q&A. 

Most faculty realize that student engagement is critical to student learning. Students should be expected to be prepared for class by completing their homework assignments, as well as participating in class by paying attention to lectures and reflecting upon the lesson, and by collaborating with classmates or responding to faculty-led inquiry. But it all starts before students even arrive in class. It starts with students actively reading and interacting with their textbooks. Students who do… will learn more, like the class more, and earn better grades. Faculty whose students do will enjoy a more prepared, focused class and will see less student frustration. This is especially true in online education.

Reading is essential; not optional.  Students who come to class (or log on) prepared with the readings done are more likely to succeed in the course, pay closer attention to and understand the lectures/recordings because they will be able to make connections. But reading is not without challenges. We can be certain that students will arrive with different home and educational experiences. Some students might not have had any training in technical reading, and a few might have had teachers who prohibited them from even bringing the textbooks home. Some students in a given class will lack reading comprehension skills, and others will prefer not to complete the readings and survived solely listening to lectures, and now mistakenly assume that they can continue that practice in college. However, these students fail to realize that they lack the ability to retain as much information that way. For half a century now, educators have long realized the importance of reading the texts. And it is not simply because the instructors lack the time in class to go into rich details, but rather, because research has consistently shown that when it comes to Print vs. Lectures… Print wins.

So, what can teachers do?  First, teachers need to emphasize the importance of reading the course material. This has never been more important as it is today, as this generation of students can quickly look up facts, but do not always understand the surrounding details. It is critically important for online learners who often fail to ask questions or interact with their professors. If teachers agree that reading the course material is vital to their class, then they may wish to give the students some guidance into how to do it.  Too often, students who do the readings, quick skim the text and fail to actually interact with it.  As a result, students struggle with the comprehension, and some… with even basic recollection.  Most teachers have had a student tell them that they did the reading, but cannot answer a single question about it. A better method is to consider investing a little bit of time into teaching students to actively read (McKeachie et al. 1985; Weinstein & Mayer, 1986).  A good method is to model, train, then engage: (a) Model for them how to do it; (b) train them to do it; and (c) then engage them to do it on their own. 

Here is a quick 5-step process that faculty can implement to model, train, and engage students in active reading.  This process will help students better comprehend the reading, as well as help ensure that most students do the reading. This method, of course, works even easier with e-texts or web-text, as they is more easily highlighted, noted, and uploaded for review.

1.First step is to have students Turn all Headings into Questions.  Then students should read the section, seeking to answer the question. Instruct students NOT to go to the next session until they can answer the question. 
2.Second, have students make top and side margin notes.  At the Top of the page, have them write the most important idea for the page; in the side margins, have them write most important idea for each paragraph or section.  Single words or short phrases are preferable. 
3.Third, ask students to use different colored highlighters to indicate their understanding: red, green, yellow work best--like a stoplight. If the student could answer the heading question quickly without having to re-read, I recommend they highlight the heading in green. If it took a second read-through, they should highlight in yellow, and if they struggled to answer the section question, highlight it red. Now… this will help the students quickly identify areas of strength and weakness, which will help them concentrate their study time where it is most needed. It also awards the faculty member the opportunity to do a quick walk around the room-if they are teaching in residence or blended; or to view an uploaded version-either a pic or video or screenshot- if online; in order to see which sections students have highlighted in what color.  It sort of serves as a heat map to identify and gauge areas of difficulty.  Note-some students like to highlight important details in the text, so ask them to use a different color, like blue to do that. 
4.Fourth, ask the students to write down one question that someone else in the class may have and bring it to class if in residence or blended- or post it in the Db if online.  Ask students to write down a question someone else may have, as opposed to their own, to avoid them telling me that they had no questions.  Of course students usually write the question that they actually have.  Collect them at the beginning and answer a few.
5.Last, students are asked to comment on the reading in discussion board, blog, or class site, responding to an open-ended, but stimulating prompt.