Students are assigned heavy reading lists throughout their years at UC Berkeley, and frequently they skimp on their reading. On Berkeley’s 2012 University of California Undergraduate Experience Survey, close to half of the respondents reported reading 70% or less of their assigned readings during the academic year. Only 35% reported completing 81% or more of their readings.

Several factors can contribute to the shortfall, but a phenomenon many GSIs encounter — and one they are in a good position to address — is that students sometimes employ ineffective strategies for their readings and become disengaged or discouraged when they perceive that the gain from their reading is low. Many assume that reading any text means reading straight through, from beginning to end, as one would a novel. Advanced students and professionals, however, do not read academic and professional literature in this way; instead, they have developed a set of informed strategies.

Strategies for critical reading can vary by discipline, text-type, and the purpose of the particular reading assignment. Textbooks, research reports, epic poems, ethnographies, eyewitness journals, and scholarly articles all demand different processes that we call “reading,” and students may never have thought about employing differential strategies. “Reading critically” is a fairly abstract concept; students are helped greatly when their GSIs explain and demonstrate what it looks like, processes and behaviors, in their particular course context and discipline. When students know more about what you want them to get from a text and how to get it, they will spend their study time far more fruitfully. Their new-found competence can, in turn, motivate them to keep up.

This section of the Teaching Guide offers strategies developed by GSIs and faculty members at UC Berkeley for their teaching situations. Some are addressed to GSIs, others to students. It can be very useful to compare how someone in a different discipline from your own conceives of and teaches critical reading. As you look these pages over, think about ways you can encourage students to read critically for your course.

In This Section

View or download a pdf version of Teaching Critical Reading
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