by P. Tim Rocafort, Pharm.D., Assistant Professor, University of Maryland School of Pharmacy
I still remember the days when I impatiently waited for the end of the school year. I could hear the summer sun knocking on the windowpane of my 7th period British Literature class, while I struggled to keep up with my teacher’s ramblings about Rudyard Kipling’s “The Jungle Book.” All I could think about was escaping from that concrete forest called high school and onto the sandy shores where homework was left far away. But before I bolted out to freedom, I was shackled by the required reading list distributed by the teacher. All I could think was “so long sweet summer.” Yet, to my surprise, by the first quarter of the next school year, I was passionately participating in group discussions of the assigned books. What happened to swayed me from being a literary antagonist into a Shakespearean fan? How has this revelation influenced my perspective on required readings?
From summer readings to manuscript about investigational studies, required readings to most students is often a dreadful task that a learner “must” complete. The fact that reading is labeled as “mandatory” or “assigned” may deter the learner from pursuing it and often induces sleep when attempted. Even worse, if students are dissuaded by the obligatory nature of the reading, they may eventually develop apathy to reading as a whole. Some may argue that there are three reasons why this happens: 1) learners can’t do it, 2) learners don’t want to do it, and 3) learners just want to get through it.
Learners can’t do it. Poor reading comprehension may explain why some students dread required readings. If the selected readings are too difficult and beyond the reader’s level, they will intimidate and deter rather than stimulate and encourage.1 The learner’s educational background, which included reading exercises that varied in quality and resulted in differences in analytical and critical thinking skills when compared to peers, has a critical role in this problem.1 Information regarding past educational experiences is vital in analyzing the learner’s baseline reading comprehension; however, this assessment is often never done because educators are much too eager to overload learners with materials that promote “independent learning”.2 Primary source text (like clinical trials) and other forms of academic research, may be too difficult or confusing for learners to grasp if introduced too early in their training. So they may simply just give up or not try at all, despite their initial yearning to learn.2,3,4
Learners don’t want to do it. In today’s world, where technology makes obtaining information easier and quicker, it is challenging to find a “place” for required readings intended to provoke thought and expand perspectives.5 In an era when students expecte dynamic discussions, interactive videoconferencing, and activities that promote “doing” or application rather than “passive” undertakings, required readings are often poorly received by students.5, 6 Moreover, educators now rely heavily on these new “exciting” tools to replace traditional instructional methods. Changing social-cultural influences and generational perceptions are key contributors to the listless view of required readings by students.5
Learners just want to get through it. Many learners have a “just get through it” attitude when it comes to required readings.6 This sentiment may be exacerbated by educators who feel obligated to hand-hold or spoon-feed the students to ensure delivery of the information. Learners suffer from a lack of effort and fail to achieve deep and long-lasting understanding. Instead, they settle for rote memorization.
So, how was I converted from being a reluctant follower to an enthusiastic supporter of required readings? I owe much of my personal development to teachers who identified the issues and addressed them with instruction.
From my teachers I learned that required readings are a tool to establish one’s own thoughts regarding the subject. They are not a be-all and end-all fountain of wisdom. Using therapeutic guidelines in a patient-centered care approach is a good example of ensuring knowledge is taken beyond the fine print and into day-to-day clinical practice. The educator must take the initiative to point out key facts and pose significant questions that motivate learners to complete the assigned task in an active, evaluative manner. Simply providing a student a package insert to interpret drug information may not be the best way to educate a student about patient-specific dosing and drug interactions. Including case-based scenarios along with a series of Socratic questions may effectively supplement this approach and allow for students to create more patient-focused judgments about the meaning of the written materials. The educator should also engage students in vibrant learning sessions by encouraging students to share their thoughts and allowing the class to systematically analyze the material. Involving students in journal club discussions, pharmacotherapy rounds sessions, and patient case presentations will help elevate their reading comprehension and understanding of the subject. The educator must also demonstrate proficiency of the subject by being prepared to discuss key issues from the readings. With the educator’s facilitation and expertise, required readings become a more effective exercise that involves active reading that improves the analytical and critical thinking skills of learners.7
Instead of leading to a dead end, required readings should direct learners to a more enlightened and enriched path. At the end of the day, it is up to the learner to take responsibility for completing required readings, but it is up to the educator to set a positive tone and to use them wisely to develop deeper insights.
1. Ryan T.E. Motivating novice students to read their textbooks.
Journal of Instructional Psychology. 2006; 33(2), 135-140.
2. Linderholm T., Wilde A. College students' beliefs about comprehension when reading for different purposes. Journal of College Reading and Learning. 2010; 40(2), 7-19.
3. National Endowment for the Art. To read or not to read: A question of national consequence. Washington, D.C.: National Endowment for the Arts. 2007
4. Concepción D.W. Reading Philosophy with Background Knowledge and Metacognition. Teaching Philosophy. 2004; 27(4): 351-368.
5. Oblinger D.S., Oblinger J.L. Educating the Net Generation. Educase. 2005.
6. Paulson E.J. Self-selected reading for enjoyment as a college developmental reading approach. Journal of College Reading and Learning. 2006; 36 (2), Spring, 51-58.
7. Wade S.E., Moje E.B. The role of text in classroom learning: Beginning an online dialogue. Reading Online, 2011; 5(4).