Thursday, October 17, 2013

Reading Across the Curriculum

Writing across the Curriculum, it seems, has been a part of our education system forever. In reality,  "WAC" didn't come about until the 1970s, when James Britton and others fostered "writing to learn," that is, the idea that writing about a topic helps students learn important content information.

Since then there's been a love/hate relationship between the education system and WAC. WAC has been retooled as WID (Writing in the Disciplines) and later WAD (Writing across the Disciplines). The three are not necessarily the same, but they are all founded on the same idea that writing doesn't belong just in English classes.

What about Reading across the Curriculum? RAC (or Reading across the Disciplines--RAD--which sounds a bit more hip), doesn't have nearly as prominent a place in higher education. A quick Google search brings up RAC initiatives mostly in elementary and high schools. When students enter college, if they come in at the college level, it's assumed that they "know" how to read.

There seems to me to be a bit of a paradox here. We acknowledge that students may need to learn to write differently for different disciplines. A report for a chemistry class will look different from an essay for a history class. The same thing is true for reading. Different texts change the way we read. We are looking for different things from a newspaper than from a novel. Even different novels are read differently. Engaging with the latest James Paterson novel will be a different experience from reading The Portrait of a Lady. We teach our students to write "like scientists," for example, and think "like scientists," but do we teach them how to read like scientists? I'm not so sure.

In "Reading Across the Curriculum as the Key to Student Success"(2007), Alice S. Horning makes an argument for more reading instruction at the college level. She states, "students are uneducated in ways [of reading] that derive from reading a wide variety of materials and seeing varied points of view, research, and information relating to ideas or issues." Some acknowledge that students "can't read," yet we repeatedly ask and expect them to read without further instruction on how to do so. As Horning points out, the unfortunate result is that students don't do the reading at all.

Reading instruction should not be consigned to "basic skills" departments. As with writing, students need continually to be taught new ways to read and to have them reinforced in their college-level classes.

 Horning, Alice S. (2007, May 14). Reading across the curriculum as the key to student success. Across the Disciplines, 4. Retrieved October 17, 2013, from