Helping students engage with challenging texts

Based on the constructivist theory of learning suggesting that students make sense of new information by joining it with information they already have, his guidelines suggest that students begin with a quick pre-read, in which they underline words they don’t know but don’t stop reading until they reach the end. They then would follow up with a more careful read in which they look up definitions, write notes summarizing an author’s argument into their own words on a separate piece of paper, and make notations in the margins such that if they were to return to the reading one week later they could figure out in 15 seconds what the text says (a process Concepción calls “flagging).

Concepción also designed a series of assignments in which his introductory students are trained in the method of reading philosophy texts. They are asked to summarize and evaluate a paragraph-long argument before and after learning the guidelines (and then write a report about their different approaches to the exercise before and after getting the “how-to” document on reading philosophy), turn in a photocopy of an article with their notations, and summarize that same article in writing. They participate in a class discussion in which they present the top five most important things about reading philosophy and face short-answer questions on the midterm about reading strategies (after that, Concepción says, students are expected to apply the knowledge they’ve learned on their own, without further direct evaluation). —Inside Higher Ed.