Reading remains a crucial skill. In fact, being able to read well is perhaps even more important today than it was in the past.
Mark Twain reminded us that “the man who does not read good books has no advantage over the man who can’t read them.” Frederick Douglass—the escaped slave who eventually became a leading spokesperson for abolition in ante bellum America—risked his life in order to learn his letters. The skill of reading has long been considered a crucial building block for being able to function in society.
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In today’s society of instant Internet, on-demand videos, and music downloading, one may wonder whether reading has become a lost art. Some people wonder, “Why read a book when I can listen to a book or seea movie on my own personal hand-held portable digital device?”
The medium may have changed—becoming more digitized—but reading remains a crucial skill. In fact, being able to read well is perhaps even more important today than in the past. (Piscitelli, 188)
Whether a person has to tackle a chemistry book, read an on-line journal, or wade through the latest corporate quarterly report, certain tried-and-true reading strategies still have the power to deliver.
The best way to actively engage any reading assignment remains a strategy introduced by Franklin Pleasant Robinson more than sixty years ago. Known as SQ4R, this strategy helps organize, focus, and deliver results. A quick review of the process follows. Examples to both the classroom and workplace are presented.
- Survey. This is the warm-up phase for your reading. Rather than dive in at page one and trudge through the next 30 pages, start by quickly scanning the reading assignment. Look at the headings, graphics, boldface terms, introduction, and summary. Get an idea of what is to come; stimulate your curiosity.
- Application to the classroom. For that history assignment you have tonight, begin by reading the introduction to the chapter. Then flip through the pages and look at the photos, maps, tables, and section headings.
- Application to the workplace. The quarterly report looks mind-numbing with page after page of tables and data. So, start by reading the executive summary, and then look at the table titles and captions; if there is a summary, read it.
- Question. Ask yourself some questions about the reading in front of you. Turn section headings into questions. Make note of terms you are not familiar with or you do not understand in this particular context. How does the reading connect to what you already know? This step helps you warm up for the reading by engaging your curiosity.
- Application to the classroom. Ask questions like: What has the teacher been concentrating on in class? How does this information connect with a current event? Why was a certain graphic used? What experiences do you have that relate to this reading?
- Application to workplace. Back to the quarterly report…in what ways does the report reflect the progress of your team? What areas of strength or challenge do you see? Why are the results what they are? What might be missing from the report
Video recommendation for the week:
- Read. This is where so many people usually begin. As you can see, with this process, it is the 3rd step.
- Application to the classroom and the workplace. Assuming you have given yourself plenty of time to read and digest the material (refer to the blog post on priority management and procrastination), break the reading up into reasonable chunks. For instance, read five pages at a time over six sittings rather than attempting to devour thirty pages of facts, concepts, and jargon at one time.
- Recite. Stop every so often and quiz yourself. Nothing lengthy; just a quick check to see if you can put the reading into your own words.
- Application to the classroom. During the survey step above you noted key terms. When you come across one in the reading, stop and describe it in your own words. Can you relate the term to a graphic or fact in the reading?
- Application to the workplace. The executive summary of the report might have highlighted a couple of findings detailed in the body of the report. When you come across one of those highlights, explain its connection to the larger topic.
- Record. Use your note-taking style here. Take notes on a separate piece of paper or jot your thoughts in the margins of the page. If you highlight or underline, be sure to mark only the most important words. This step of the SQ4R process is active learning at its best. You are taking the reading and transcribing it into your words. This indicates you comprehend the material—a basic building block for critically thinking about the piece.
- Application to the classroom and the workplace. Use your highlighter strategically. Make sure you only highlight the key points. If you page appears to be “painted yellow” (with highlighter) you probably are getting lost in details and not recognizing the big picture. If so, ask a classmate or team member to help you.
- Review. Once you have finished the selection for this reading session—and before you walk away from the book, article, or report—make a quick review of what you have read. What stood out in the reading? Did anything confuse you? Did anything surprise you?
- Application to the classroom. Return to the key terms and any questions you formed (during step two of this process) and make sure you know what you do understand and what you do not understand. If you have questions, write them in your notebook and bring them to class. Or stop by the professor’s office for clarification.
- Application to the workplace. Based on the report’s findings you are ready to seek clarification on a current project, suggest future actions, or both.
Finally, consider these tips to help you efficiently and effectively improve your reading comprehension:
- Know the purpose of the reading. Why are you reading this? What do you need to get from it?
- Make as many connections between what you read and what you already know.
- Take notes in your own words.
- Look for the big picture. How does the reading relate to what you have been studying in class and reading in your textbook? In the workplace, consider the report you just read in the context of business mission or team objectives.
For more on using notes outside of the classroom, see my book Study Skills: Do I Really Need This Stuff? 3rd edition (Pearson Education). Please visit my website (www.stevepiscitelli.com), contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit Pearson Education, Amazon and Barnes and Noble.
Enjoy your week—and H.T.R.B. as needed!
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© 2012. Steve Piscitelli and Steve Piscitelli’s Blog.