At the end of an ERWC-style course, students should have internalized a set of reading strategies and habits of mind that will help them be more successful college students. In an environment that often will not provide much scaffolding or assistance, students in effect will need to create their own modules. Of course, there are also students entering college who have not had the advantage of an ERWC course in high school. This handout is a distillation of some very basic ERWC reading strategies. It is designed as a review for ERWC students and a quick strategy guide for students new to these concepts. I will present it in three parts. At the end is a link to the whole document.
Note: In this handout, the word “text” is used to mean any kind of writing—an article, a chapter, a book, a poem, an email, an advertisement—anything that can be read.
Probably the most important question in the list above is “Why are you reading this text?” When I used to do faculty workshops at my university, one of the most common complaints was that students don’t do the reading until after the discussion. I knew from working on ERWC that students were telling us something with that behavior: they don’t like to read difficult texts cold. They need some hint about why they are reading it and what they are looking for. Faculty can improve matters greatly by discussing how the reading fits into the course and what students should be looking for and thinking about as they read, but many professors don’t know to do that. They just assume that students will figure it out. If one student asks in class, “While we are reading this, what do you want us to look for?” the whole class will do better.
Reading with a pencil in hand is a first step to productive and efficient academic reading. However, what you do with that pencil depends on your purpose for reading the text. These stages and strategies are all interconnected.
The purpose of any system of annotation is to make returning to the text to find ideas, information, key phrases, and personal responses easier and more productive. Students are often accustomed to using brightly colored highlighters to indicate key words and phrases. However, highlighting without a clear purpose can make rereading confusing. Also, a highlighter is not useful for dialoguing with the text, asking questions, making observations and connections.
Dealing with difficulty is the other important consideration while reading. Plowing ahead, re-reading, looking something up, or returning at a later time are all viable strategies. The most negative strategy is to give up. Students need to realize that everyone, even a professor, encounters difficult texts.
The fact is, texts don’t stay read. Every time we read a text, it makes different connections to our experience. Taking a moment to mentally reflect on a text after reading it helps solidify the first reading in our minds. We come to the class discussion with something to say. The annotations are a way of indicating how we read it the first time. We can return to it with greater insight and efficiency. We have a relationship with it. We have a reading that is our own.
Download the complete handout, “Making a Reading Plan,” from this link.