We Should Pay More Attention to Reading in Our Writing Courses

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As writing instructors, we talk a lot about writing and how to teach writing.  The fact is that WAC programs emphasize the value of teaching writing for both the learning and professionalization of our students.  But this emphasis can often overshadow the value of reading, much to our and our students’ detriments.

Literacy scholars often advocate that we should pay more attention to reading.  A number of these scholars argue that some of the difficulties students experience with writing stem from difficulties with reading.  For example, Ellen Carillo suggests that “Without explicit attention to reading and the relationship between reading and writing, students will not have strategies for making sense of new or difficult texts, arguments, images, and ideas they encounter.”  Carillo’s statement is supported by recent research on student citation practices.  In their study of student writing at 16 different institutions, Sandra Jamieson and Rebecca Moore Howard learn that students largely cite information found in short segments of text located in the first two pages of a referenced source.  This finding, they claim, indicates that students typically use sources to satisfy checklist requirements more than to engage the content.

But, Jamieson and Howard also suggest that students might be uncertain about how to approach reading complex texts.  For this reason, Carillo and others advocate for pedagogies that prompt students to think about the choices that published writers made when they developed their texts.  Julie Myatt Barger claims that this kind of pedagogical attention to reading “helps students understand how to use sources in meaningful, responsible ways because students spend time building a relationship between the secondary sources they are reading and the research-based writing they produce.”

This semester, The Writing Campus will share a few resources to help instructors think about how we might better support the reading (and writing) of our students at Mason.  If you would like additional resources or to talk about how to support reading in your writing course, please email us at wac@gmu.edu.  We always love to hear from our colleagues.

To read Ellen Carillo’s and Julie Myatt Barger’s essays on reading, please visit the open-source edited collection Bad Ideas about Writing.  To read more about Jamieson and Howard’s research on student citation practices, please visit The Citation Project website.

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