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Reading Outcomes and Expectations Promote Transparency

Mon Jan 28, 2019 at 07:30 AM

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In its most basic sense, “reading” happens word by word, line by line, sentence by sentence. When students who are new to the university see they need to “read chapters 5-6,” they likely assume they need to apply the same basic act of reading. But “reading” is a very different action based on your discipline, course learning outcomes, and class activities. Students can have a difficult time navigating unspoken learning expectations around a reading assignment, which can result in students giving up on rich learning opportunities.

Students will likely encounter a wide range of reading expectations such as:

  • Annotate for writing patterns
  • Analyze the argument
  • Discuss the three theories in class
  • Recall historical figures and timeline
  • Define key concepts
  • Complete practice activities
  • Consult the reading as needed for the next paper
  • Supplement knowledge of last week’s reading
  • Reinforce material the professor will lecture about in class

Savvy students who have taken advanced placement (AP) classes in multiple subjects might eventually figure out how each professor expects students to “read,” but if we want all students to get the intended benefits of reading (and, let’s face it, actually read!), consider providing a reading outcome and expectation statement. 

Writing a Reading Outcome or Expectation

Write a reading outcome as you would a learning outcome for a course, project, or assignment. 

Examples: As a result of the reading, you should be able to:

  • compare and contrast communism and socialism.
  • apply theories to case studies offered in class.
  • identify key scenes, and describe significant elements in class discussion.
  • locate formulas needed to run an experiment, if relevant to your study.

These outcomes give guidance on whether they need to merely locate information as needed, define specific terms, or be ready to share their interpretations of arguments presented. 

Additionally, including a brief reading expectation will help students prioritize reading and focus on the most relevant areas. It is most effective when these expectations are linked to an activity or assessment (e.g. exam, paper).


  • "In the Bart et al. article, focus on the Methods section in order to discuss the validity of the research design."
  • "Read the whole of In the Spotlight carefully, annotating the text with connections to other short stories we have read in this class. These annotations can be the prewriting for your rhetorical analysis paper."
  • "In this chapter, you will need to recall vocabulary for next week’s exam. I recommend using flashcards and completing the practice assessments at the end of the chapter." 
  • "These two articles will supplement my lecture on Wednesday. Read if you want a preview of the lecture material, and consult after the lecture as needed (especially if you plan on researching this topic for your next paper)."
  • "This article provides a great overview of quantitative research methods, but don’t get too bogged down by the details of formulas and tests. You won’t be expected to use those until next year’s Quantitative Research course."

This brief statements for weekly readings will help students come to class prepared and perform well on assessments, but if this seems unmanageable for your course, start with a single “reading expectation” paragraph in the syllabus to describe general reading expectations, or discuss expectations in class.


Transparency in Learning and Teaching in Higher Education (TILT) is a resource for making visible the unwritten rules of learning success in the college classroom. For another teaching tip related to transparency, see Transparency in Email Communication.

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Written by Christina Moore, Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning. Banner image by Tall Chris (Flickr). Others may share and adapt under Creative Commons License CC BY-NCView all CETL Weekly Teaching Tips. Follow these and more on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.