The Reading Lab: ‘failure’, dynamic teaching and reflective practice in growing the skill of reading

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University educators have observed the concurrent problems of student attrition, higher than normal or desired failure rates and students struggling to complete assessable and non-assessable work, for instance, set readings. Recent public commentary has pointed to the widening participation agenda with its lowering of university entrance scores and consequent increase in university places as factors contributing to the problem: many students are entering university without the preparation or dispositions that helped their predecessors succeed. University teachers are at the coalface of this problem. These teachers do not set entrance scores or course caps but are tasked with supporting an increasingly diverse student population. This article offers a case study: a university teacher’s encounter with a university’s Key Accountability Measures around failure and attrition, and offers a teaching response to this policy. In response to these changing conditions, The Reading Lab was designed as a large-group learning and teaching activity in the form of a series of interactive lectures devoted to the practices of reading. The Lab sessions sought to address a problem that many scholarship-of-reading researchers have communicated: our university students are often not resilient readers and as a result often do not complete set readings. This article evaluates what the Reading Lab achieved (and failed to achieve). For instance, if it is possible (in the current climate) that the failure and attrition rates might never radically improve, how can teaching and learning activities be more positively directed towards the student experience, for even minor gains in the inclusion and the retention of students?.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)124-141
Number of pages18
JournalHigher Education Research and Development (HERDSA)
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2 Jan 2019


  • close reading
  • English
  • first-year
  • Reading
  • teaching fail
  • The Reading Lab


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