Gas station without pumps

2011 May 13

Technical Reading

Filed under: Uncategorized — gasstationwithoutpumps @ 05:09
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On her Shifting Phases blog, Mylène just wrote an excellent article about teaching engineering tech students how to read technical material: Experimenting with Reading Comprehension Constructors.  The particular course is very narrow and specialized (IPC Requirements for Soldered Electrical and Electronic Assemblies), but the same ideas can be applied to any course where the students have a lot of rather dry material with unfamiliar vocabulary that they need to master.

The program she teaches in is a 2-year college that attracts older students looking for job training.  Her students tend to be older and more motivated,  but more resistant to “book learning” than most university students.  Still the advice she gives on teaching what she calls “technical reading” seem appropriate for beginning engineering students at the university also.  The main strategy seems to be “reading comprehension constructors,” which are vocabulary worksheets that the students fill out to familiarize themselves with technical terms that they are unlikely to know before the course.  She provides a pointer to her review of Do I Really Have to Teach Reading?: Content Comprehension, Grades 6-12 by Cris Tovani, a book on teaching reading that shows how to construct the worksheets.

I can’t see giving the vocabulary support worksheets in my senior or graduate courses, even when it is clear that some of the students lack some of the essential vocabulary—my students would find that sort of worksheet condescending.  I suspect it would work better in non-majors courses or intro courses in a field, where students are more likely to accept support for learning strategies for unfamiliar material.  By the time they get to grad school, most students are convinced that they know how to study, and are reluctant to try new methods (or old methods that they have already tried and rejected). I know that my son already started resenting such (for him) busywork in middle school.  He would not have minded the vocabulary bingo, though, and I could see using a silly game like that as a way to provide vocab lists in a higher level course.


  1. Yes — the silliness of the game can help reach students who don’t think they need something like this. Also, once a bingo card is filled in with section numbers or notes-to-self, it becomes a quick-reference guide to tricky ideas. As for comprehension constructors, they can be designed to model any strategy that helps students hold their train of thought or apply the meaning of their reading. More to come.

    Comment by Mylene — 2011 May 13 @ 12:30 | Reply

  2. […] recently posted about Mylène’s attempts to teach “technical reading.” Now she has another post on a different exercise she used: Reading Comprehension: […]

    Pingback by Reading Comprehension: Identifying Confusion « Gas station without pumps — 2011 May 23 @ 20:05 | Reply

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