The question of whether not reading classes should be offered to college level students has been a contentious one and most faculty members at college institutions of all sizes agree that basic critical reading skills should be part of a high school, not college curriculum. Consequently, many professors and college instructors of composition or writing courses are finding themselves frustrated by the lack of preparation in terms of the critical reading skills found in incoming college freshmen yet on the other hand, they are unwilling to go back and teach these basic skills as they do not see this as part of their curriculum.
Some studies indicate that nearly half of all beginning college freshmen are ill-equipped to deal with the independent reading demands of college life, which is a significant problem since, according to some estimates, “independent reading accounts for as much as 85% of learning in college (Bosley 2008). What this means then is that high school teachers must produce a more concentrated effort on engaging students in critical reading tasks and activities to develop these important skills and college instructors need to remind students of basic principles of critical reading—even if they feel this is not part of their job.
When we think of reading class, most of us probably remember reading out loud with our class in fifth grade, but probably not much later than that. These reading classes were more concerned with making sure all students were gaining the basic concepts of the material being read and given the low level of schooling that these reading classes were geared toward (generally elementary classrooms) critical reading techniques were not emphasized to an incredibly hefty degree. While most reading questions at this level did involve some of the critical reading skills needed to answer them fully, much of this basic process of learning to read and to do so critically was not brought up again and the basics of learning to read; really critically read, were not emphasized—at least not enough.
Several studies and anecdotal commentary from those teaching freshman or introductory writing or composition classes have focused on the extreme inability of incoming college students to be able to read critically enough to effectively synthesize what they’ve read into clear writing. Many of these college instructors have found that what is most lacking are not necessarily basic critical writing skills, but critical reading skills and a recent call has emerged, perhaps not entirely seriously at most schools, to offer courses that teach college students at the freshman level how to read critically enough to make it through the requirements of college composition and writing classes, which are required of all students no matter what their intended major is.
One of the major issues that emerges in terms of the question of whether or not basic reading classes should be offered in college is that it is not the job of college instructors to guide students through the process of critical reading. In fact, many English professors and lecturers, while greatly distressed at the low level of reading comprehension of college students, decide to forgo the basics of teaching critical reading skills and instead force students to use what little knowledge they have about critical reading techniques to skate by in writing, literature, or composition classes.
While many college instructors are hesitant to teach basic concepts of critical reading to students in their classes, especially since these classes often have curriculums that are defined based on the unspoken assumption that freshman already have critical reading skills in place, this is going to have to be considered as a secondary duty in all classes. Furthermore, some colleges might want to consider offering a class for some credit in English or other departments that is specifically aimed at critical reading skills, thus allowing students to focus on this skill alone without the distractions and demands of other aspects of a composition course.
This class can be taught in a way that emphasizes critical reading for college with increased focus on the issue of independent reading in the context of a college, as opposed to more structured high school curriculum. Furthermore, English and other teachers who rely on students’ ability to compose thoughtful pieces or be tested based on independent critical reading skills need to emphasize the importance of this skill to their students early on in their course and offer outside alternatives (such as the hypothetical critical reading course) to help them along. Furthermore, writing centers, which are a resource at most college institutions, should be made aware of the issue of the lack of basic critical reading skills in incoming freshmen students and be able to conduct their own reading classes based on this need.