15th Symposium on Education


Developing reading skills in a fully on-line weather class

Mary E. Dowse, Western New Mexico Univ., Silver City, NM

Weather and Climate (GEOL 305/307) will be offered at Western New Mexico University (WNMU) as a fully on-line class in the Fall of 2005. WNMU is a small, regional university and a Hispanic-serving institution. The University serves a widely-dispersed rural population and approximately half of the degrees awarded at WNMU are in education. As a result of the passage of the No Child Left Behind Act WNMU has been making an effort to deliver courses to help teachers become more highly-qualified. Fully online courses provide access for teachers in small rural districts that are far-removed from institutions of higher education.

Reading is a critical skill for students participating in a fully online course as students must be effective readers in order to learn course content. Experience in teaching General Geology I as a fully online class at WNMU has shown that many of our students are working mothers trying to pursue education degrees. Many of these students are Hispanic and English may be their second language. Students are often busy with little time to read and reading skills may be weak. It is imperative that students get the most out of what they read to be successful in the course.

My goal was to develop a short list of specific suggestions for students enrolled in the online weather class to improve reading skills and comprehension. Developing the suggestions involved three approaches. Reflective reading of the textbook, determination of the ‘reading level' of the textbook, and review of available resources, highlighting tips particularly suited for this course.

As an experienced reader who easily gathers information from my reading I am very different from most of my students, yet my ‘reading' style can be used as a model for students. While initially reading the textbook (Online Weather Studies by Joseph M. Moran) I reflected not only on the content but on how I read the text and tried to understand the content. Techniques included reading the conclusions or summary first, rereading passages as necessary, and taking occasional notes.

Numerous indices have been published to help teachers determine the reading level of textbooks (see http://school.discovery.com/shrockguide/fry/fry.htm). Three passages of 100 words were randomly selected from the textbook and the ‘reading level' was calculated using Fry's Readability Graph, the Gunning Fox Index, and the Flesch Formula. The consensus of the indices is that the ‘textbook' is written at an upper undergraduate level. According to the Fry Readability Graph the difficulty of the textbook is linked to the use of long words rather than long sentences. This information will be helpful in guiding development of reading suggestions.

The final list of suggestions is currently under development (August, 2005) but will emphasize strategies for understanding complex or difficult text. Students will also be queried frequently about what they had trouble understanding and where necessary they simpler explanations will be provided. For example, ‘kids' pages on many websites often provide a basic understanding that provide a foundation for understanding more complex reading.

Poster Session 1, Educational Initiatives
Sunday, 29 January 2006, 5:30 PM-7:00 PM, Exhibit Hall A2

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