March 2002 Issue
What is the Omphalos of Your College Reading and Study Skills Course?
By Gary K. Probst
there can be found many different approaches to teaching college developmental
reading and study skills. The
following approaches can be found not only in various colleges but also within
the same college’s developmental reading department or program.
The reading instructor’s background, training, and preconceived ideas
of what constitutes college reading and study skills usually determine the
omphalos of a college reading course’s approach will be defined as the
activity in which the student spends most of his or her time while in the
program. While there is overlapping
between the approaches listed, the approaches listed below are the omphalos of
that specific college’s developmental reading course.
The textbook used in the college reading class often reveals the
approach. A major publisher of developmental reading textbooks is well aware of
these different approaches. This
publisher currently advertises fifteen different college developmental reading
textbooks. Each of these textbooks uses a different approach to
developing college reading and study skills.
However, each of the fifteen different textbooks claims to teach the
skills required to become a successful college student!
TO TEACHING COLLEGE READING AND STUDY SKILLS
Literature Approach – The English literature approach uses a wide
variety of readings on general topics. This
type of reading textbook appears as a watered down English anthology.
After each reading selection, there are several questions to answer.
There may or may not be a list of vocabulary terms given after each
article. Sometimes a
vocabulary textbook with a list of X thousand words a college freshperson should
know is used or a textbook that introduces words with Latin and Greek prefixes
and roots. The terms found in these
vocabulary textbooks appear to be of two types.
One type is words the student already knows.
The other type of words is the student does not need to know in order to
learn the information found in content area textbooks.
Writing Approach – The English writing approach combines a
developmental reading and a developmental writing class into a combination class
with the purpose of developing writing and reading skills.
Students read to write. The
emphasis of this approach is on developing writing skills.
This is because this approach’s practitioners believe that reading
improves writing and writing will improve reading skills.
Different literature selections are used for the reading part of the
Report Approach –
The book report approach has the students read any book and make an oral or
written report of what they have read. Sometimes
the whole class reads the same book and discusses it.
Approach – The
preacher approach is similar to the English and book report approach except
emphasis is on reading selections that reflect the political, social, religious,
etc. viewpoint of the instructor. Students
quickly learn that passing the course requires giving “instructor correct”
Approach – The
counseling approach is centered upon ways to develop the student emotionally,
socially, and educationally. The
textbooks used contain short selections telling ten ways to improve test-taking
skills, time management, concentration, etc.
The Myers – Briggs or similar tests are administered.
The student is told of all of the college’s student support services
that he or she should use to become a master student.
-- The lab kit approaches can be divided into two periods: traditional and
The traditional lab kit approach emphasizes using cards in a lab kit.
First, the student reads the
information on the card and then answer the questions about the information.
After answering the questions, the student checks his or her answers and
records his or her score on a
student record sheet. The student
has no way to determine why an incorrect response to a question is wrong.
The emphasis is progressing through reading selections in the kit to new
selections that claim to be of increasing levels of difficulty.
These levels of difficulty sometimes are referred to by grade level or by
different colors. (The objective of the course is to become a purple
modern lab kit approach uses computer-assisted instructional programs.
The student reads a very brief selection on the monitor and then answers
a question about the passage just read. The
response the student receives to an incorrect answer varies from “wrong answer
– try again” to a brief explanation of why one of the other responses is the
correct answer. The student is
usually not told why his or her answer is incorrect.
In other words, what is his or her learning problem?
The emphasis in this approach is having the computer track how much time
each day the student spends in the learning lab, what lessons are covered, and
the student’s score on each brief exercise.
Some colleges require the student to spend a predetermined number of
hours in the learning lab in order to pass the reading course.
When the students have completed the required number of hours, they
usually do not continue working in the learning lab.
This is because the students feel they have “served their time.”
and Drills Approach – The skills and drills approach uses instructor
developed handouts, photocopies of lessons from a variety of old reading skills
textbooks, and uses a textbook that contains a wide variety of reading skills.
The reading skills are taught in isolation.
There is never any attempt to determine if the student already possesses
the reading skill being practiced or if the reading skill has any connection to
learning the information in a college textbook.
– The elementary approach emphasizes learning all of the phonetic rules and
exceptions. It assumes that if you
can pronounce a word, you will know the word’s meaning and be able to
understand and remember the information in a college textbook that uses the
word. Try using the phonetic
rules to determine the pronunciation and meaning to the term “omphalos.” Some instructors who use this method refer to their students
as children or immature young adults.
The dictionary approach requires the student to study and learn the information
in the front part of a dictionary. The
students have to pass a test on this information in order to pass the reading
course. The students are required
to purchase a dictionary or sometimes the college provides a class set of
dictionaries for use in class. Most
of the class time is spent answering questions on handouts about information
found in a dictionary.
– The eye training approach uses devices to flash words or numbers that must
be recalled. Sometimes “Christmas
tree” reading exercises are used. A
Christmas tree reading exercise is where the first line of a reading selection
has one word; the second line two words, etc.
Sometimes the student reads on-screen words in sentences that move from
left to right across the screen at increasing speeds. In the past students used controlled readers and
tachistoscopes. Today, computer
software is available that simulates controlled readers and tachistoscopes. The
practitioners of this approach believe that you will improve your reading
comprehension by effectively moving your eyes, increasing your rate of
perception, and using your peripheral vision to read more words at one time.
Some optometrists use these techniques with students who have medical
insurance that will pay for this training.
It was reported in the news that this approach was used on a prior United
States President’s daughter who had a reading/learning problem.
– The current events approach uses weekly news magazines that come with a
teacher’s guide which contains questions about the articles.
The student reads about and discusses current national and international
– The speed reading approach attempts to have the student read thousands of
words a minute. Various suggestions
are given and practiced for attaining this reading speed. On an infomercial seen frequently on television the person is
told to use his or her finger to make a “z” on the page.
By tracing a “z” on the page with one’s finger, the infomercial
demonstrates that a person’s mind automatically remembers all of the
information found in the whole book. A
variation of this method is to teach the same skills presently taught in a
regular reading class -- just call it “speed reading!”
or Critical Reading Approach – The thinking approach tries to develop the thinking skills
required for college success. A
textbook(s) is used that has the words “thinking” or “critical reading”
in the title. However, the skills
in these textbooks are similar to reading skills developed in textbooks that do
not have these terms in the title. This
approach, like the speed reading approach, appears to teach the same skills that
are taught in a regular college reading class – just call it “thinking.”
(This writer once attended a reading conference session entitled
“critical thinking.” The instructor making the presentation demonstrated how to
use the SQ3R method to read a textbook -- WOW.)
– This propaganda approach instructs the student in how to recognize the
different propaganda techniques and logical fallacies used by the Soviet Union.
Since the Soviet Union has collapsed, local speeches made by politicians
and magazine advertisements are analyzed for propaganda techniques and logical
The Textbook Approach – When there are many complaints from the
students, faculty, or administration that the reading program is not successful
or doing what is expected of it, the reading program sometimes is analyzed and
studied by a committee. After
studying the reading program, it is decided by the committee the textbook should
be changed. This is because the
committee finds the textbook is the cause of the complaints -- the blame is put
on the textbook or “the textbook is the culprit!”
Every semester or year the textbook is changed in the search to end the
complaints about the program. However,
the new textbook is usually very similar to the old textbook. The only thing that has been changed is the textbook’s
publisher or the edition.
Approach -- The
content approach uses watered down material taught in other classes as the
information to learn in the reading class.
In this approach you find subjects taught such as Chinese history, word
processing, introduction to computers, etc.
Approach – This
smorgasbord approach uses bits and pieces of all of the above approaches.
The instructor waits until a day or two before the reading class period
to determine what is going to be the “approach of the day.”
Instructors who use this approach many times feel a semester is too short
a time to learn all of the skills they need to introduce.
This is because over the past twenty years the instructor has collected a
very large assortment of handouts he or she wants the students to keep busy
approaches used in college reading classes are much like the story of “The
Blind Men and The Elephant” by John Godfrey Saxe. Like the blind men, reading
instructors have a different description of the skills required in a college
reading class. In some colleges
these several different approaches are used by different instructors teaching
the same college reading and study skills course.
In other words, the instructor who teaches that specific section
of reading determines the approach and skills a student does or does not
receive. Here are the last two
parts of the poem “The Blind Men and The Elephant” with three terms
substituted for terms used in the poem: reading instructors for men of Indostan,
men and women for men, and reading skills requirement for elephant.
Disputed loud and long,
Each in his or her own opinion
Exceeding stiff and strong,
Though each was partly in the right,
And all were in the wrong!
The disputants, I ween,
Rail on in utter ignorance
Of what each other mean,
And prate about college reading skills requirements
Not one of them has seen!
READING SKILLS REQUIREMENTS
order to determine what learning skills are required in a college reading and
study skills class, the five phases of instructional systems design should be
used. The five phases are as
follows: analysis, design, development, implementation and evaluation.
analysis phase first identifies all of the learning tasks that a student must
perform in order to be successful in college class. Then, each task must be analyzed to determine all of the
elements or steps required to perform the task.
As part of the task analysis, it is necessary to describe the conditions
under which a task will be performed and must by what standard it will be
analyzing a task, there are two types of standards: a course standard or
requirement and a reading class standard requirement.
A college course standard determines the criteria or skills that are
required to learn the information in a regular college class.
A college reading class standard is to develop the skills required to
learn the information or knowledge required to become successful in a college
course. In order to develop the
reading/learning skills required in college courses, the student must be taught
and practice using the following skills.
analysis of the learning tasks required for college success reveals the
following learning abilities a college student will have to possess in order to
be successful in ONE average fifteen week college course:
Read one or more textbooks with over 500 pages of information.
Read, on short notice, outside reading assignment.
Learn between 400 and 1500 new vocabulary terms.
Recognize, for each new term introduced, the
examples not given in the textbook
b. cause and effect
c. similarities and
differences from other terms that share the same classification
Know the study skills that enable one to learn
information in the most effective and efficient
Know how to predict the different types of test
questions that are used to measure knowledge
of the facts, concepts, and
principles given in a college course.
Know which facts must be memorized and which facts
can be looked up in reference
Know how to organize and condense the information
in a textbook chapter into an outline that can be used for review.
Know how to develop a study or review system that
will identify what information is learned and what information needs additional
review. It is a waste of time to
study or review information learned.
analyze your reading program you need to become a quidnunc.
A quidnunc would ask the following two questions:
What skills are not
developed by each approach that
are required to successfully learn the
information in a wide range of college courses from accounting to
What skills should be developed in my college
reading class that are required to successfully learn the information in college
courses from accounting to zoology?
I would be interested in your comments on this article.