College Remedial Reading: Is it Too late?
For every teacher, beginning the school year brings a mixture of trepidation and excitement. By August, each day brings me closer to the first day when I ask: Who are my students? What do they need? And can I deliver?
At New Jersey City University, an urban university in Jersey City, I’ll be teaching Reading for College, a non-credit, four semester hour course, required of students who fall below a benchmark determined by test scores, high school GPAs and such. Students are given two chances to pass and then must take Reading and Study Skills, before enrolling in college English. Meanwhile, they’re registered in courses in other disciplines.
Though I’m free to design the syllabus, I wonder—should I focus on strategies geared toward reading texts assigned by others or should I attempt to instill a passion for reading that will empower them to become independent learners? Would teaching strategies using their textbooks turn class into a glorified study hall?
Which leads me to question how students got here in the first place? Why were they so left behind throughout their schooling that to begin college they require remedial work? As an educator and a parent, I’ve seen how reading is a personal journey that varies for everyone. Support for reading from home and school is crucial to create lifelong readers.
Take my eldest son, for example. Now 23, as a child, he worried neighbors who saw him read while walking the dog, oblivious to traffic. My second son, now 21, brings everything he reads to life by creating movies in his head, complete with accents and soundtracks. My daughter, 17, opts for books on CD. Each is a reader; with different tastes and reading styles. What did we do to encourage this? Endless reading aloud and library visits, taking books to doctors’ offices and on vacation, and so on. It’s unlikely my remedial students have been so enriched.
Sharing reading provides a common language and cultural bond. A lunch with my running partner, her 12 -year -old daughter and her friend illustrated the community created by reading. Assigned S.E. Hinton’s The Outsiders (1967) for summer reading, the girls mentioned how they love the first sentence, prompting us all to recite: “When I stepped out into the bright sunlight from the darkness of the movie house, I had only two things on my mind: Paul Newman and a ride home.”
By contrast, an anecdote a colleague shared troubles me. A plumber, servicing his boiler, complained that his young son “asks too many questions and is a momma’s boy because he likes to be read to.” Can this child be expected to develop a love of reading? Is this child destined to remedial classes?
I’m eager to meet my students and become part of their reading journeys. Yet I worry too. Is college too late to bridge the gulf between those who aren’t readers and those who are? To begin, I’ve amassed a list of “good reads” to share that I hope will inspire them to read more, read critically, read for fun, and read to succeed in college.#