Jolliffe's "Learning to Read as Continuing Education"

Jolliffe, David A. “Learning to Read as Continuing Education.” College Composition and Communication, vol. 58, no. 3, 2007, pp. 470–494.

In this essay, Jolliffe reviews four texts and argues that instructors at the college level should teach students strategies for reading critically. Jolliffe reviews:

  • Daniels and Zemelman's Subjects Matter: Every Teacher's Guide to Content-Area Reading
  • Helmers' Intertexts: Reading Pedagogy in College Writing Classrooms
  • Tovani's Do I Really Have to Teach Reading? Content Comprehension, Grades 6-12
  • Yancey's Teaching Literature as Reflective Practice

Jolliffe writes that "everybody complains" about student reading, in part because some students skip the reading entirely, or their reading level is below what instructors hope for (470-471). Jolliffe's goal is to identify challenges, and help instructors by suggesting methods for teaching students to read more effectively (471-472). The first problem, Jolliffe writes, is one of attitude: instructors who believe students should be masterful readers may have an unrealistic expectation; recognizing this can allow instructors to reevaluate their roles in the students' development (472-473).

Jolliffe notes that when instructors do teach reading, the pedagogy varies along "a continuum of complexity" (474), with "read-to-get-the-gist" and "read-to-complicate" as the two poles (477). On one end is teaching reading as a simple "search-and-capture" game where meaning is something to "get" (474). On the other, complex end, Jolliffe puts Bartholomae and Petrosky's concept of "strong reading," which involves continual questioning and envisions reading as "dialogue" (474-475).  Jolliffe sees the benefit of Bartholomae and Petrosky's approach, but thinks its assumptions may be too idealistic, and at odds with students' goals and outlooks (475-476). Additionally, Jolliffe notes that students predominantly read textbooks, which don't lend themselves to a  "strong reading" (476).  

In the middle of the continuum, Jolliffe writes, "three functions of reading" occur "but none seem actually to dominate" (477). These three purposes of reading, in the context of a college composition course, are to "bounce off," "imitate," and "digest-to-incorporate" (477). Jolliffe writes that these activities seem closer to the search-and-capture approach to reading, and that the purpose of these approaches is often unclear or unarticulated (e.g., he asks "What does it mean to 'discuss' a text?" (477-478).  

Jolliffe states that his own goals in teaching reading are multidimensional: he wants students to "understand how readers and texts work together to create meaning, accomplish purpose, and achieve effect in many different intellectual communities" (478). He wants students to see how form and function are "completely consonant" (478). He wants "students to read so that they will understand how their own texts must constitute an invitation for this meaning/purpose/effect creation to take place within the intellectual community with which they want their text to 'do business'" (478).

Jolliffe provides four solutions for the question of "What to do?" (479). First, "acknowledge the materiality of reading"--that individuals interact with many genres of texts, and that it should all be met with a critical eye; second, he proposes instructors "develop a model of what reading ideally is and does"; third, he calls for a diagnostic of readers' abilities at the beginning of instruction; and fourth, he says, is the need to figure out the steps needed to lead students toward the ideal (479-480).

Jolliffe quotes Marguerite Helmer's Intertexts: Reading Pedagogy in College Writing Classrooms, which argues that reading is a "'complex, ever-changing process of situational interaction and self-reflection with words, images, and readers'" and provides strategies and questions for teaching reading (480). Helmers argues for reading in a way that examines ideology and makes students aware of "various purposes for reading" (481). Kathleen McCormick, a contributing author in Helmers' collection, notes that she teaches students historical analysis, cultural analysis, and "symptomatic reading" to see how texts work within or against ideologies--all tactics that illuminate antecedent genres and reinforce reading as dialogue (482-483).

Jolliffe next discusses Kathleen Yancey's text, Teaching Literature as Reflective Practice, which investigates three curriculums of introductory literature courses: "lived curriculum," "delivered curriculum," and "experienced curriculum" (484-486).  To explain "lived curriculum," Yancey notes that she asks students to create "visual maps of their reading" at the beginning and end of courses so students can see how they develop in their reading strategies, in terms of overcoming obstacles (485). To explain "delivered curriculum," Yancey writes about a "misunderstanding" assignment, where students explain where they struggle with a poem to another student, who then provides insights and interpretations (486). "Experienced curriculum" involves making visible the "pop-up" thoughts during the experience of reading--the connections readers make and questions they ask in real-time (486). 

Jolliffe then moves toward his review of Daniels and Zemelman's Subjects Matter: Every Teacher's Guide to Content-Area Reading, noting that most of students' reading experiences were for public high school classes, many of which focused on testing (488). Jolliffe notes that college instructors could "learn about what excellent high schools are teaching students about reading" (488). Daniels and Zemelman argue that "reading is a constructive, interactive enterprise in which the reader makes meaning, rather than 'getting' it (488). They also provide numerous strategies teachers can have students employ, and suggest modeling them with "think-alouds," in which someone reads aloud, shares his or her thoughts while reading, and names the tactic (489).  Jolliffe describes several more of Daniels and Zemelman's proposed techniques to show that it is possible for instructors to challenge and lead students toward stronger critical reading practice (490).

Jolliffe also describes approaches from Cris Tovani's Do I Really Have to Teach Reading? Content Comprehension, Grades 6-12, which advocates for students' self-leadership in owning their own learning, empowered by just a few tactics an instructor can provide (491). She cites P. David Pearson et al., who notes that "readers need seven strategies to construct meaning and monitor when a text is making sense and when it isn't" (491).  After listing the seven strategies, Tovani proposes four steps instructors can take when teaching reading comprehension: "assess the text . . . provide an explicit modeling of their thinking processes . . . define a purpose and help students have a clear reason" and help students see how to evaluate and use their own thinking (491).

After reviewing these texts and the strategies they provide for teaching reading, Jolliffe argues that instructors need to do more to help students develop their reading skills for secondary education and beyond,  and resources and strategies are available (493).

Katie Ancheta