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This is another in a series of interviews with campus QEP leaders – those staff, faculty and administrators across campus promoting the goals of EKU’s Quality Enhancement Plan. The current QEP, Read with Purpose, calls for Eastern to develop critical readers through the use of metacognitive strategies. Building on the past QEP, which focused on developing critical and creative thinkers, this effort represents the University’s commitment to institutional improvement, and provides a long-term focus for faculty and staff professional development and student learning.

This installment in the series features Dr. Gill Hunter, executive director of retention and graduation at EKU:

Q: In what ways have you been involved with the EKU QEP, Read with Purpose?

A: I was first involved as co-chair of the University’s successful SACSCOC compliance certification, of which establishing and implementing a QEP is a part. In that role I was added to the QEP Executive Leadership Team, which meant I was also part of the planning, pesign, implementation, and professional development teams. So I tried to contribute to the determination of our need, the development of our plans and the outreach to the campus community. I’ve attended some professional development sessions and have promoted the QEP among students and the university’s faculty and staff. And I advocate for campus-wide participation in professional development – full immersion so that every student not only knows what it means to Read with Purpose but they also all know how they do it.

Q: In what ways is the QEP relevant to your work as executive director of retention and graduation at EKU?

A: Without a doubt, I value the QEP we are implementing from an institutional perspective. Many programs and departments, from English to psychology to occupational science to math, have identified the need for students to read carefully and critically as essential to success even in introductory courses within the discipline. So when we teach students to Read with Purpose by showing them what that looks like in our discipline then we equip them to do more of the rigorous work our discipline demands. That means students are prepared to engage in class and understand some of the ways practitioners in our fields make meaning. That can give students the knowledge and the mindset that points to graduation and careers they choose. From a retention perspective, we are intentionally equipping students from their first days on campus with the skills they need to struggle with complex texts and ideas. We’ve identified a barrier to success – too many students don’t read what we ask them to, whether it’s because they can’t or won’t. When we show them how, and then diversify and reinforce that showing in every course they take as freshmen and sophomores, then we’re helping them overcome one barrier.

Q:  As a teacher, in what ways is the QEP relevant to your discipline?

A: As an English faculty member, the QEP Read with Purpose is right in my wheelhouse. It is what we do all the time. The problem, though, is that English instructors often take our reading process for granted, because it comes easily, even naturally, to us. The key: how to make it work for those who don’t consider themselves good readers and don’t like to do it. I’ve worked mostly with English teaching majors over the past decade or so and the deliberate transparency required to help students gain awareness of their own process for reading and thinking is what I teach in every class. It’s important for the students I work with to own their process, because they are a year or two away from working with high school students who might not want to be English majors but still benefit from previewing texts, annotating, summarizing, questioning, etc. Maybe my students’ students will not like reading, but they can be better at it, just as our students can. And they feel empowered when they know they are better at it than they used to be.

Q: In what ways has QEP professional development impacted your teaching?

A: I have attended a few of Dr. Bosley and Dr. Parrott’s sessions and have appreciated the metacognitive connections they make. I remember the campus responding positively to Dr. Saundra McGuire’s sessions on metacognition, and Dr. Bosley and Dr. Parrott have helped me and others see how critical reading relies on the same approaches. This has deepened my study of metacognition, helping me candidly teach students about far transfer so that they understand how practices developed in my English class can be applied in other classes they take. I look forward to additional professional development sessions, especially ones that bring multiple disciplines together because it benefits my teaching practice to think about what critical reading looks and sounds like in other courses.

Q: What impact is the QEP having on student learning in your discipline?

A: The QEP is already changing freshman English courses. ENG 101 makes the process of reading overt for students, and then they’re given multiple opportunities to apply foundational skills to complex reading situations in ENG 102. In these courses and upper-level courses as well, students can understand that it’s not what you read so much as how you read. For example, students may not remember any individual poem in my class, but I can ensure that each student understands her or his own process for reading a poem as an unfamiliar text. So going forward, students will know what to do, how to start and where to turn any time they encounter an unclear structure or difficult language. And, of course, once they understand how they best read poetry they might choose to do so again, which would be great too.

Q:  How does the QEP benefit the campus community?

A: The campus conversation is changing. New vocabulary is being introduced and changed pedagogy is following. During one of the early QEP Implementation Team meetings I asked my colleagues what might happen if every instructor began class with a one- or two-minute description of how they gained mastery of the difficult material students were expected to read for that day’s class – I suggested we call the initiative “Start Each Day with I Read this Way.” While I’m not sure that everyone all across campus has embraced this practice just yet, I’m seeing the seeds of frontloading process, helping students think and talk about their reading. Instructors build trust with students when they acknowledge that reading can be hard; they become valued allies when they show their own struggles and explain what they did to confront them. The challenge spirals: the reading students do as seniors in their discipline is more technical and complex than the relatively general and hopefully engaging reading throughout the Gen Ed curriculum. So strategies can spiral too: building upon practices, students are introduced to as freshmen helps them control and refine their process. We will influence that growth best when we take advantage of opportunities to talk to each other about what we’re doing and how we’re doing it.

Q: How will you continue to promote critical reading in your courses, discipline, or across the university?

A: I remain involved in our SACSCOC work, in the annual QEP work, and in teaching students to Read with Purpose in my classes. If I’m teaching an English course, I’m teaching students to read critically. Students are understanding that there is no distinction between reading critically and reading. As this practice makes students better readers they are hopefully more likely to become adults who choose to read. For too many reasons to name we need that in our culture. So I’ll keep encouraging students to read. I’ll keep showing them how I read. And I’ll keep working alongside colleagues who want to empower students by showing them how reading works in their worlds. Because when students learn how they read the world, they begin to control how they move through it.