Making course unit readings meaningful and purposeful for students

Over the years in academic advising sessions, small group tutorials and study skills sessions, students have said that they struggle with the assigned course unit readings each week. They give various reasons for this: they are unsure of which bits (or even which reading of several) they should focus on; concepts and ideas in the readings are not always explained in lectures and therefore they are not sure whether they have understood the concepts correctly; they struggle to make purposeful links between what they are reading and the lecture aims and content; they forget what they have read once they have finished. 

As I was designing a new course, I implemented various strategies to try and make the weekly course unit readings more meaningful and relevant for the students. These strategies were built on what I considered to be useful practices I had observed or heard about in other courses, and my belief that we should encourage students to respond to what they have read in a way that is meaningful and useful for them:

  • I chose one shared reading for us to focus on each week and set a pre-reading task based on this reading. This task focused on both the concepts and ideas in the article that were relevant to the learning outcomes that week and also reflective prompts to help students relate the content to their own contexts and experiences.
  • I divided them into small study groups and set up a class wiki for them to post their responses, discussions, questions and reflections. Contributions to the wiki were not assessed and were not compulsory, but it provided a space for those students who wished to share their ideas and ask questions. I also gave them post-session reflective tasks to do, which they could also share in the wiki.

Feedback from students has been positive (see some quotes below). Not everyone uses it, but as one of the quotes below suggests, it has provided an additional space to discuss and share ideas when many of the students are on the other side of the world and separated physically and geographically.

As a teacher, it has been very beneficial. I look at their wiki posts before the class and it gives me a clearer idea of what they might be struggling with, or where I can make connections between their experiences and the content we are covering. It also increases the opportunity for dialogue with the students as I can comment on their posts, and ask further questions to help deepen their thinking. Ideally, students would comment on each other’s posts too, but this has only happened once or twice.

Student Feedback

“Pre-reading can help me better understand the content in advance, then i can think about it ; and i find the pre task is so important for me, because somtimes when i read literature, i may forget what i have read,lol , but after doing the pre task about the literature, i find i can deepen my memory and understanding, so i really appreciate the question you set for us about the literature or reading materials. It can help me do some deep reading, when i read, i find i always neglect some important points, but the question remind me find the important parts.”

“No matter compulsory or voluntary, Wiki provides a space for sharing ideas. I think it is really helpful, because I cannot find any classmates who want to share their understanding with me during this long-distance learning.”

” It is common that the understanding will change after class. Post-session tasks make me more reflective, and reading others’ reflection is interesting and useful, too.”

  • encourages more purposeful reading
  • encourages sharing of ideas and co-construction of meaning
  • provides a space to ask questions and ask for clarification
  • gives the teacher greater insight into student understanding of concepts and theories
  • enables teacher to make connections between students’ ideas, questions, experiences, and the course content.
Top Tips

Be clear about the purpose for assigning each week’s reading; make that purpose clear to students through the pre-session reading task; encourage students by feeding back to them on their emerging understandings; encourage peer learning by using a platform that is easy to access and flexible enough for students to take ownership of. 


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School: Environment, Education & Development

Discipline: Education

Academic: Susan Dawson

Course: EDUC70892 Professional Development for Teachers

Cohort Size: 28

Themes: Teaching ideas, Enhancing learning with technology

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