High School vs. College Reading

Preparing ELLs to be College-level Readers

This work was done by Dr. Shawna Shapiro PH. D. Middlebury College

High School


  • Teachers have training in pedagogy--- often including literacy
  • Mix fiction and non-fiction
    • Larger quanity of fiction
    • Non-fiction usually texbooks, newspaper articles, and other informational texts
  • Most texts written for a student audience, or general public
  • Most texts used in class somehow (discussion, writing assignments, etc.)
  • Some explicit instruction in reading strategies (but perhaps not enough)

College-level Reading


  • Many professors have little or no training in pedagogy, including literacy. Expert blind spots
  • Largely non-fiction
    • Non-fiction usually scolarly articles, essays, primary sources
  • Many texts written for an expert audience ( above students heads)
  • Texts not always used in class. (Wider variety of purposes for reading assignments)
  • Little or no explicit instruction in reading strategies



Skills often assumed of first-year college students:


A. Awareness of genre, disciplinarity, etc.
  • What are the features of texbooks, journal articles, theoretical books, charts/graphs, etc.?
  • How do readers approach these texts differently?
B. Ability to process (skim) large quantities of material and get the "gist," as well as implications
  • What are the most important terms, concepts, and ideas in this text?
  • "So what"?
C. Self-monitoring techniques
  • Am I really comprehending what I'm reading? If not, why not?
  • What do I do if I'm struggling with this reading
  • When should I look up a word/concept that I don't know?
D. Use of readings in writing (i.e. texual borrowing)
  • Which sorts of texts are "credible" for different purposes?
  • When and how do I need to cite other authors?
  • How do I quote/paraphrase/summarize within the context of my own writing?
  • How can I find credible sources for my paper?

What can we do in the high schools?

  1. Expose students to a variety of texts, both fiction and non-fiction
  2. Talk explicitly about texts: genre, purpose, strategy, ect.
  3. Teach the "reading process"
  4. Help students evaluate what they don't know or understand, and decide what to do in response
  5. Help correct myths like: Look up every word you don't know, highlight everything that's important in the text, don't skip anything.