Despite television, cell phones, and Web “twitter,” traditional reading is still an important skill. Whether it is school textbooks, tech manuals at work, or regular books, people still read, though not as much as they used to. One reason that many people don’t read much is that they don’t read well. For them, it is slow, hard work and they don’t remember as much as they should. Students, for example,may have to read something several times before they understand and remember what they read.
Why? You would think that schools teach kids how to read well. Schools do try. I work with middle-school teachers (see http://peer.tamu.edu) and they tell me that many students are 2-3 years behind grade level in reading proficiency. No doubt, television, cell phones, and the Web are major contributors to this problem, which will apparently get worse if we don’t emphasize and improve reading instruction.
Some of the blame can be placed on the fads in reading teaching, such as phonics and “whole language,” which sometimes are promoted by zealots who don’t respect the need for both approaches. Much of the blame for poor reading skills can be laid at the feet of parents who set poor examples and, of course, on the youngsters who are too lazy to learn how to read well.
For all those who missed out on good reading skills, it is not too late. I summarize below what I think it takes to read with good speed and comprehension.
1. Read with a purpose.
2. Skim first.
3. Get the reading mechanics right.
4. Be judicious in highlighting and note taking.
5. Think in pictures.
6. Rehearse as you go along.
7. Stay within your attention span and work to increase that span.
8. Rehearse again soon.
1) Know Your Purpose
Everyone should have a purpose for their reading and think about how that purpose is being fulfilled during the actual reading. The advantage for remembering is that checking continuously for how the purpose is being fulfilled helps the reader to stay on task, to focus on the more relevant parts of the text, and to rehearse continuously as one reads. This also saves time and effort because relevant items are most attended.
Identifying the purpose should be easy if you freely choose what to read. Just ask yourself, “Why am I reading this?” If it is to be entertained or pass the time, then there is not much problem. But myriad other reasons could apply, such as:
o to understand a certain group of people, such as Muslims, Jews, Hindus, etc.
o to crystallize your political position, such as why a given government policy should be opposed.
o to develop an informed plan or proposal.
o to satisfy a requirement of an academic course or other assigned reading.
Many of us have readings assigned to us, as in a school environment. Or the boss may hand us a manual and say