Approaching difficult texts in the humanities: a case study of honors students' attitudes and approaches toward the great works

Jonathan Cisco

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaperpeer-review


Students read challenging texts across the disciplines in higher education. Whether these difficult texts are discipline-specific journal articles or great works of literature, students require certain abilities to comprehend these readings (Alexander & Jetton, 2000; Baram-Tsabari & Yardin, 2005; Kintsch, 1994). Anything from academic jargon in disciplinary texts (Achugar & Carpenter, 2012) to a lack of background knowledge (Goldman & Rakestraw, 2000; Shanahan, Fisher, & Frey, 2012) can create difficulty for students, possibly leading to anger, confusion, and fear (Hallam & Francis, 1998). Contemporary research has focused on how expert readers (e.g., academic faculty) approach difficult texts (Shanahan & Shanahan, 2012; 2011), but few researchers have approached the same topic in the context of the student. Though research has shown that students do have difficulty relating to complex texts (Achugar & Carpenter, 2012; Alexander & Jetton, 2000), few studies identify how students approach the difficulties of a number of different disciplinary texts. This research takes place in a major university's humanities program, a sequence with a rich history over of 50 years of teaching great texts sponsored by the University's honors college. Approached both chronologically and thematically, the humanities program is an intensive look at foundational works in literature, poetry, philosophy, art, architecture, and music. This research asks: How do honors students in a higher education humanities sequence approach challenging texts, and what difficulties, if any, do they have while reading those texts?
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 2013
Externally publishedYes
Event63rd Annual Literacy Research Assocation Conference: Transformative Literacy: Theory, Research, and Reform - Omni Dallas Hotel, Dallas, United States
Duration: 4 Dec 20137 Dec 2013 (Link to conference program)


Conference63rd Annual Literacy Research Assocation Conference
Country/TerritoryUnited States
Internet address


  • disciplinary literacy
  • college reading


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