At the beginning of the semester, I always ask my students how they do their reading. Do they find themselves reading and rereading the same sentence or paragraph over and over again, realizing at the end of it that they haven’t retained anything? Then, I ask them where and when they do their reading: before bed at night, in front of the TV or computer, in the common area of the residence hall or student center? These things matter when it comes to good reading habits.
If the way you’re reading isn’t working, then you need to change it up so that the readings “stick.” Getting up earlier and heading to the library or another quiet place rather than waiting until you’re tired and run-down from the day can help. Minimize the distractions by hiding your phone and reading in a place with no screens around to distract you.
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The second thing I ask my students is why they think their professors assign them readings in the first place. It isn’t surprising that students find the readings professors assign difficult — they go in with the expectation to be entertained, rather than intellectually challenged.
So, I tell my students, change your expectations and find a way to engage your brain. Take notes, write questions in the margins, create outlines of your readings, keep a glossary of terms, whatever it takes to get your brain engaged in the process.
—Dr. Lee Skallerup Bessette is an English and writing instructor who has been teaching at colleges for almost 15 years, in three different states, two countries and two languages. She has seen it all and heard it all. You can follow her on Twitter,@readywriting,and check out her blog,College Ready Writing,where she talks about the broader issues and challenges facing higher education today.
Finally, read, re-read and then read it again. Each time you read, you’ll find something new, learn something different, and retain more and more of what you need to know. You’ll make new connections and gain new insight.
And if you’re worried it takes too much time? Most of your classes end in a final of some sort, and that final is based on the readings you have done. Whether you spend the time reading throughout the semester or cramming in a sleepless energy-drink-fueled session is up to you. But I know from experience which one is better for your education (not to mention health) in the long run.
Active reading tips:
• Power down. When you sit down to read, put your phone and laptop away so the screens don’t suck you in.
• Take notes. Research has shown that the act of writing things down on paper helps the brain remember and retain facts. (Think of it as retro cool.)
• Deep breaths. Simple meditation techniques like focused breathing can bring you back to the moment — and to the page in the gigantic book you’re reading about too.