Dear First Generation College Student,
Decades ago, I was you. Specifically, I was first-generation low-income (#FLI). Now, I have a doctorate and teach and train others. As an undergraduate, this was not my goal, as I simply pursued a single college degree and a good job. Math, science, and writing were difficult topics for me due to poor reading skills and lack of academic vocabulary. Why? Several variables lead to poor reading and vocabulary, some of which may apply to you. These insights are based on my past experience as an FLI college student and work experience as a developmental reading instruction specialist:
- Lack of prior practice reading (e.g., no library visits or books around the house due to lack of funds, free time, or low priority/value);
- Lack of K-12 homework help (e.g., no available time with a parent, parent unable to tackle homework or no funds for tutors);
- No direct instruction of reading skills and strategies in secondary school (i.e., generally secondary schools focus solely on writing skills in English class); and
- Peer or family pressure for the practical status quo.
Lacking academic vocabulary is a snowball effect because, with each scholastic year, more vocabulary is taught or otherwise required of you. Don’t fret, with a lot of effort and a growth mindset, you can decrease the gap between you and your high-achieving peers. Tackle your reading assignments early by previewing (skimming and scanning) and looking up unknown words. Keep a log of useful words to reuse in your writing assignments. Use software applications such as electronic flashcards and Grammarly.
Here are some reading comprehension strategies & study aids:
- Use this online form to review, summarize, study, and think about your reading assignment: Student Guides & Strategies
- SQ4R: Interact with the text by following the SQ4R strategies: survey, question, read, respond, record, and review. This originated from Robinson’s (1970) SQ3R study method of survey, question, read, recite, and review.
- Cornell Note-Taking was developed by Walter Paulk at Cornell University in the 1940s and is still used today. Download Cornell’s PDF to use.
- Learn how to read a scientific article with these Study Guides & Strategies.
This presentation provides some metacognitive strategies to improve your reading skills for college: (Cook, 1989)
For more information on metacognitive strategies, and to access a student learning organizer, visit my college’s LibGuide on Learning Strategies.
Cook, D. M. (1989). Meta-cognitive behaviours of good and poor readers: Strategic learning in the content areas. Madison, WI: Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction.
Robinson, F. P. (1970). Effective Study (4th Edition). New York, NY: Harper & Row.