We recently decided to set up a Reading Support program for our LLM students. This was in response to a recent conversation I had with a student I had taught in our summer course who is now full swing into our LLM coursework. Her comment echoed the challenges that a number of her classmates have voiced: It’s hard to keep up with and comprehend all the reading.
In particular, she cited the large volume of reading and also the complexity of reading treaty and statutory language. I asked her about her approach to her reading. For the treaties and statutes, she says she tries to deconstruct and analyze the sentences, though it’s a slow process. For reading assignments from textbooks, she described reading through the chapter, stumbling over vocabulary, and losing track of the main ideas.
In response, I talked to her about reading strategies. Skimming the chapter first, reading and understanding all of the headings first. Then trying to tie them together into a cohesive idea or story. Then read through the chapter with this “story” in mind so that you read with purpose and with a clearer sense of how all the information fits together.
The idea of discussing reading strategies, challenging vocabulary, and analyzing complex sentences got me thinking that it might be helpful to just set aside an hour each week where the students (none of whom I teach anymore) can come to me with any questions they may have about reading they are struggling with. This is their chance to ask questions they may not feel comfortable asking their professors. Or they may feel their professors are too busy to be asked such trivial language questions.
Yesterday was our first Reading Support session. We spent most of the time on one particularly challenging sentence from the Federal Arbitration Act. Along the way, two other professors ended up getting involved and helping out. It was a good challenge, the students got to witness how even native speakers can struggle with this language, I had an opportunity to think about grammar and syntax-related strategies to give the students to help them in future statutory encounters, and we gained insight into the kinds of challenges our LLM students face in their reading.
But most importantly, our LLM students felt supported. Hopefully this will continue to evolve in positive ways.