<span class='p-name'>Developing a Culture of Inquiry</span>

Developing a Culture of Inquiry

This week I’m presenting a workshop focused on reading and supporting students as they interact in classes.

Do you ever wonder how or if students read the 200-300 pages of materials assigned a week across all their classes? Why do students have difficulty answering questions about course reading, even if they’ve read the materials?

This post will serve as a supplement to that session. The slide deck for the session is embedded below. The video of the session is available of the bottom of this post.

Sharing what you love

To begin, I think about this discussion as more of a focus on community and introducing students to your areas of interest and expertise. As soon as we label this a discussion about “students not reading” all sorts of barriers go up from students and educators.

Teaching is all about sharing what you love.

So, to begin….why do you love your field or discipline? How can we help you convey that love to students in your classes?

Why students are not reading?

You might be saying…but hey there! I’m here to learn about reading. Why are my students not reading the content I share each week?

There are many reasons why students may not be reading all of the content in your courses or remembering this information when they need it.

Recent research suggests a number of reasons why students may not be reading and remembering in your courses. 1 2

  • The instructor lectures about readings in class, so students do not see benefit in reading outside of class.
  • Students are bored with the reading and/or do not concentrate on longer texts.
  • Students are struggling with managing multiple deadlines for multiple classes. Students are forced to prioritize work with hard deadlines over soft deadlines.
  • Students skim and scan for information and replicate the processes used to read online.
  • Students do not understand how they read best (print, digital, audiobook) and negotiate these texts to support learning outcomes.
  • Students may not know how to organize reading based on structure of text or scholarly pieces and connections to the class or field.
  • Students multitask while reading (zombie-scroll social media, listen to music, text friends, binge content).
  • Students might have difficulty understanding the content, language, and vocabulary in college textbooks and research articles.

There is no easy way to understand challenges as students are learning to read, or flipping the switch to read to learn in our classes. I believe it is inappropriate to suggest “kids these days” and blame it on the use of the Internet and social media in our lives.

Literacy and learning have changed drastically in the last couple of decades. Pedagogy needs to change as well.

Build a culture of inquiry

A culture of inquiry instills a climate of trust and validation where students understand the need for questions and the excitement of chasing answers. Inquiry can be a powerful component in the classroom as we build student motivation while validating the passions and interests of our students. When connected with an educator that is explaining what they love about their field, this is a fertile ground where students will engage with content and blaze their own trails.

McTighe & Wiggins identify this space as opening the doors for student understanding. 3

Instead of focusing on one specific learning pathway, instruction should be provocative, exciting, open-ended, aligned to the discipline, but also welcoming. Once again…the focus is on “I love my content area…let me show you why.”

How to make this happen

There are a variety of strategies to help students digest content efficiently and read course materials strategically for better course outcomes. Any of these opportunities listed below are research-tested ways to have students collaborate, stay motivated, and keep organized. 4

Be intentional about the value of the readings. Take time in class to highlight the important connections between in-class activities, learning process, work product, and grades. This is especially important if students do not read the syllabus. 😉

Use informal, quick formative assessments to identify difficult content or gaps in prior knowledge. Students may be unaware of gaps in their background knowledge or comprehension skills.

Use reading logs to monitor comprehension and a space for students to document learning. A reading log is a space for students to document what they learned, and where they learned it. One of my favorite tools to use is Hypothesis to have discussions about the text, baked into the text.

Have an expanded view of text in your course materials. Use more multimodal content to support learners. This includes sharing websites, videos, podcasts, animations, memes, and other materials that may say the same thing, or augment what they’re already learning.

Have students do something as they read. Our brains are not sponges. We do not learn simply by soaking up content. We need to actively construct knowledge to understand & connect. There are multiple opportunities to make this happen.

  • Have students rephrase, synthesize, evaluate, prioritize ideas and themes in readings.
  • Use word cloud tools or mindmapping software (e.g., Coggle) to have students summarize readings & notes of the week.
  • Invite students to serve as discussion directors and lead their peers in discussion and begin class with their presentations of the themes of the week.
  • Create a class wiki. Write a short summary, edit/comment on summary across one class, or multiple semesters.
  • Identify an illustration, GIF, meme, or create an illustration that indicates what students learn and have them provide some explanation/justification.
  • Map out content over time from the readings/text. Use online tools, whiteboard, or chart paper in the classroom to sketch out what we’ve learned and where we learned

Utilize before, during, and after reading strategies. Just having students read a chapter doesn’t mean that they’ll complete the activity and grok everything. There are a number of reading strategies (e.g., Think-Pair-Share, Jigsaw, and Tea Party/Chillin’ With Scholars) that would help students as they verbalize what they’ve learned.

Use questions to determine what students learned or missed. Post questions about the readings a couple of hours before class begins. This allows students to anticipate instruction, assist with motivation, and instructors to identify learning needs. Alternatively, have students present questions about the readings to the instructor to be used for class discussion, lectures, or one-on-one discussions. This lets students know that you’re listening…and feel valued.

The first step is the hardest

The first step in this process is the hardest, being honest with yourself that the current process is not working. This now opens up space for some healthy reflection about teaching practices and how to better support students as we open up spaces for them in our classrooms.

For more guidance on this topic, check out Getting Your Students to Read by the Northern Illinois University Center for Innovative Teaching and Learning. 5

Photo by Gary Butterfield on Unsplash


  1. Hoeft, Mary E. (2012) “Why University Students Don’t Read: What Professors Can Do To Increase Compliance,” International Journal for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning: Vol. 6: No. 2, Article 12
  2. Kerr, M. M., & Frese, K. M. (2017). Reading to learn or learning to read? Engaging college students in course readings. College teaching, 65(1), 28-31.
  3. McTighe, J., & Wiggins, G. (2013). Essential questions: Opening doors to student understanding. Ascd.
  4. Weimer, M. (Ed.). (2010). Faculty focus special report: 11 strategies for getting students to read what’s assigned. Madison, WI: Magna Publications. Available from https://www.facultyfocus.com/free-reports/11-strategies-for-getting-students-to-read-whats-assigned/ Essential questions: Opening doors to student understanding. Ascd.
  5. Northern Illinois University Center for Innovative Teaching and Learning. (2020). Getting your students to read. In Instructional guide for university faculty and teaching assistants. Retrieved from https://www.niu.edu/citl/resources/guides/instructional-guide

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