Reading to learn is called active reading, a process that involves much more than the mechanics of converting a set of letters into meaningful words.
It is a process that you will use for gathering much of the new information you get in school-and in life. Active reading is a planned, deliberate set of strategies to engage with text-based materials with the purpose of increasing your understanding.
If you have been away from school for some time, it’s likely that your reading has been fairly casual. When studying, reading is much different. You will be expected to read much more. For studying you will be expected to spend two or more hours reading. Textbook authors write using many technical terms and include complex ideas and research.
You will also have to read from a variety of sources: textbooks, ancillary materials, primary sources, academic journals, periodicals, and online postings.
Most course instructors do not spend much time reviewing the reading assignment in class. Rather, they expect that you have done the assignment before attending class and understand the material. The class lecture or discussion is often based on that expectation.
Tests, too, are based on that expectation. This is why active reading is so important-it’s up to you to do the reading and comprehend what you read.
Sure you can read. After all, that’s what you are doing now, at this moment.
But reading to learn is active reading, a process that involves much more than the mechanics of converting a set of letters into meaningful words.
It is a process that you will use for gathering much
of the new information you get in school-and in life.
The four steps of active reading are almost identical to the four phases of the learning cycle-and that is no coincidence! Active reading is learning through reading the written word, so the learning cycle naturally applies.
Anatomy of a Textbook
Good textbooks are designed to help you learn, not just to present information.
Textbooks have many features worth exploring because they can help you understand your reading better and learn more effectively.
They differ from other types of academic publications intended to present research findings, advance new ideas, or deeply examine a specific subject.
Before actually starting to read, try to give your reading more direction. Students sometimes feel bored when reading their textbooks.
Create a purpose or quest for your reading, and this will help you become more actively engaged and less bored.Start by checking your attitude, you need to get psyched for the assignment, also set yourself a reasonable time to complete the assignment and schedule some short breaks. Approach the reading with a sense of curiosity and a thirst for new understanding.
Think about why your instructor has chosen this text.
Has the instructor said anything about the book or the author? Look at the table of contents; how does it compare with the course syllabus?
What can you learn about the author from the front matter of the book ?
Understanding this background will give you the context of the book and help define what is most important in the text.
Develop a plan of attack for your assignment. Your first step in any reading assignment is to understand the context of what you are about to read.
Think of your reading assignment in relation to the large themes or goals the instructor has spelled out for the class.
Remember that you are not merely reading-you are reading for a purpose. What parts of a reading assignment should you pay special attention to, and what parts can you browse through?
Learn to define where to invest your efforts and think about the text materials. What is the chapter title? Is the chapter divided into sections? What are the section titles? Which sections are longer? Are there any illustrations? What are they about?
Think about your observations. Why did the author choose to cover certain ideas and to highlight specific ideas with graphics or boldface fonts? What do they tell you about what will be most important for you in your course?
Take out your notebook for the class for which you are doing the reading.
Remember the Cornell method of note taking, you will use the same format here with a narrow column on the left and a wide column on the right. In the Cornell method used for class notes, you took notes in the right column and wrote in questions and comments in the left column. When reading write your questions about the reading material first in the left column (spacing them well apart so that you have plenty of room for your notes in the right column).
Use your critical thinking skill of questioning what the author is saying. Turn the title of each major section of the reading into a question and write it down in your left column of your notes.
For example, if the section title is “The End of the Industrial Revolution,” you might write, “What caused the Industrial Revolution to end?” If the section title is “The Chemistry of Photosynthesis,” you might write, “What chemical reactions take place to cause photosynthesis, and what are the outcomes?”
Ideally, you should not already know the answer to the questions you are writing! (What fun is a quest if you already know each turn and strategy? Expect to learn something new in your reading even if you are familiar with the topic already).
Finally, also in the left column, jot down any keywords that appear in boldface. You will want to discover their definitions and the significance of each as you read.
You may have determined that you are more comfortable with the outline or concept map methods of note taking. You can use either of these methods also to prepare for reading.
With the outline method, start with the chapter title as your primary heading, then create subheadings for each section.
For the concept map method, start with the chapter title as your center and create branches for each section within the chapter.
Now you are ready to start reading actively. Start by taking a look at your notes; they are your road map.
What is the question you would like to answer in the first section? Before you start reading, reflect about what you already know about the subject. Even if you don’t know anything, this step helps put you in the right mind-set to accept new material. Now read through the entire section with the objective of understanding it. Follow these tips while reading, but do not start taking notes or highlighting text at this point:
When reading focus on the following:
Look for answers to the questions you wrote.
Pay particular attention to the first and last lines of each paragraph.
Think about the relationships among section titles, boldface words, and graphics.
Skim quickly over parts of the section that are not related to the key questions.
Answering the Questions
After reading the section, can you answer the section question you earlier wrote in your notes?
Did you discover additional questions that you should have asked or that were not evident from the title of the section?
Write them down now on your notes page.
Can you define the keywords used in the text? If you can’t do either of these things, go back and reread the section.
Once you can answer your questions effectively and can define the new and keywords, it is time to commit these concepts to your notes and to your memory.
Start by writing the answers to your questions in your notes in the right column.
Also define the keywords you found in the reading.
Now is also the time to go back and reread the section with your highlighter or pencil.
Use it to highlight key ideas and words and make notes in your margins. The purpose of marking your textbook is to make it your personal studying assistant with the key ideas called out in the text. When it comes to highlighting, less is more. Think critically before you highlight. Your choices will have a big impact on what you study and learn for the course. Make it your objective to highlight no more than 10 percent of the text.
Use your pencil also to make annotations in the margin. Use a symbol like an exclamation mark (!) or an asterisk (*) to mark an idea that is particularly important. Use a question mark (?) to indicate something you don’t understand or are unclear about.
Box new words, then write a short definition in the margin. Use “TQ” (for “test question”) or some other shorthand or symbol to signal key things that may appear in test or quiz questions. Don’t feel you have to use the symbols listed here; create your own if you want, but be consistent.
If you are reading an essay from a magazine or an academic journal, remember that such articles are typically written in response to other articles.
You’ll need to be especially alert to signals like “according to” or “Jones argues,” which make it clear that the ideas don’t belong to the author of the piece you are reading.
Be sure to note when an author is quoting someone else or summarizing another person’s position.
Sometimes, students in a hurry to get through a complicated article don’t clearly distinguish the author’s ideas from the ideas the author argues against.
Words like “yet” or “however” indicate a turn from one idea to another.
Words like “critical,” “significant,” and “important” signal ideas you should look at closely.
It’s not easy to sit still for hours of studying. When you successfully complete the task, you should feel good and deserve a small reward.
A healthy snack, a quick video game session, or social activity can help you feel even better about your successful use of time and help you concentrate without becoming fatigued and burned out.
When you have completed each of the sections for your assignment, you should review what you have read. Start by answering these questions: “What did I learn?” and “What does it mean?”
Next, write a summary of your assigned reading, in your own words, in the box at the base of your notepaper. Working from your notes, cover up the answers to your questions and answer each of your questions aloud.
Think about how each idea relates to material the instructor is covering in class.
Think about how this new knowledge may be applied in your next class.
If the text has review questions at the end of the chapter, answer those, too.
Talk to other students about the reading assignment.
Merge your reading notes with your class notes and review both together.
How does your reading increase your understanding of what you have covered in class and vice versa?
Pace yourself. Figure out how much time you have to complete the assignment. Divide the assignment into smaller blocks rather than trying to read the entire assignment in one sitting. For example, divide the work into five daily blocks, not seven; that way you won’t be behind if something comes up to prevent you from doing your work on a given day. If everything works out on schedule, you’ll end up with an extra day for review.
The following are some more strategies you can use to enhance your reading even further:
Schedule Your Reading
Set aside blocks of time, preferably at the time of the day when you are most alert, to do your reading assignments.
Don’t just leave them for the end of the day after completing written and other assignments.
Get Yourself in the Right Space
Choose to read in a quiet, well-lit space. Your chair should be comfortable but provide good support. Libraries were designed for reading-they should be your first option!
Don’t use your bed for reading textbooks; since the time you were read bedtime stories, you have probably associated reading in bed with preparation for sleeping. The combination of the cozy bed, comforting memories, and dry text is sure to invite some shut-eye!
Active reading takes place in your short-term memory. Every time you move from task to task, you have to “reboot” your short-term memory and you lose the continuity of active reading.
Multitasking-listening to music or texting on your cell while you read-will cause you to lose your place and force you to start over again.
Every time you lose focus, you cut your effectiveness and increase the amount of time you need to complete the assignment.
Make Your Reading Interesting
Read your most difficult assignments early in your reading time, when you are freshest. Try connecting the material you are reading with your class lectures or with other chapters.
Ask yourself where you disagree with the author.
Approach finding answers to your questions like an investigative reporter.
Carry on a mental conversation with the author.
You must take personal responsibility for understanding what you read.
Reading is a primary means for absorbing ideas in the learning cycle, but it is also very important for the other three aspects of the learning cycle.
Consider why the instructor has selected the particular text. Map the table of contents to the course syllabus.
Understand how your textbook is put together and what features might help you with your reading.
Plan your reading by scanning the reading assignment first, then create questions based on the section titles. These will help you focus and prioritize your reading.
Use the Cornell method for planning your reading and recording key ideas.
Don’t try to highlight your text as you read the first time through. At that point, it is hard to tell what is really important. Use the Cornell method for planning your reading and recording key ideas.
Don’t try to highlight your text as you read the first time through. At that point, it is hard to tell what is really important.
End your reading time by reviewing your notes.
Pace yourself and read in a quiet space with minimal distractions.