Active reading is a planned, deliberate set of strategies to engage with text-based materials with the purpose of increasing your understanding. This is a key skill you need to master for college. Along with listening, it is the primary method for absorbing new ideas and information in college. But active reading also applies to and facilitates the other steps of the learning cycle; it is critical for preparing, capturing, and reviewing, too.
In college, most professors do not spend much time reviewing the reading assignment in class. Rather, they expect that you have done the assignment before coming to 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.
Note: It may not always be clear on an professor’s syllabus, but the corresponding textbook chapter for the topics listed for that week should be read before coming to class.
How Do You Read to Learn?
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.
Active reading involves these steps:
Capturing the key ideas
Let’s take a look at how to use each step when reading.
Preparing to Read
Your textbook as a whole – Start by thinking about why your professor has chosen this text. Look at the table of contents; how does it compare with the course syllabus?
Your chapter as a whole – Explore the chapter by scanning the pages of the chapter to get a sense of what the chapter is about. Look at the headings, illustrations and tables. Read the introduction and summary. Understanding the big picture of the chapter will help you add the details when doing close reading.
Give yourself direction by creating a purpose or quest for your reading. This will help you become more actively engaged in your reading. Create questions to find the answers to in your reading using the headings of each section. You may also have learning objectives listed at the front of each chapter which could be turned into questions or you may have chapter review questions prepared for you at the end of the chapter.
Take the first question you have prepared and think about what you already know about this question. Jot the question down on paper. Begin to read the chapter and stop when you have found the answer.
Write down the answer in short form. Leave some space for additional notes you may want to add later and add the next questions. Continue reading this way until you are done the chapter or are done studying for this session.
Capture the key ideas
Before you put away your textbook and notes at the end of a reading session, go back through the questions you answered and pull out key ideas and words. You can highlight these, jot them in the space you left below your first answer or note them in the margins.
Reviewing what you read
For each question, cover up the answer and key ideas you have written. Can you still answer the question? Check your mental review against what you have written.
Additional Reading Tips:
The four steps to active reading provide a proven approach to effective learning from texts. Following are some tips you can use to enhance your reading even further:
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.
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.
Read your most difficult assignments early in your reading time, when you are freshest.
Get yourself in the right space. Choose to read in a quiet, well-lit space. Your chair should be comfortable but provide good support.
Avoid distractions. 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.
Avoid reading fatigue. Work for about fifty minutes, and then give yourself a break for five to ten minutes. Put down the book, walk around, get a snack, stretch, or do some deep knee bends. Short physical activity will do wonders to help you feel refreshed.
Make your reading interesting. 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.
Adapted from College Success, University of Minnesota Libraries Publishing edition, 2015. Original licensed as Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike.
It’s August 9, 1982, and you, my younger self, are feeling pretty good! You are registered at C.K.S.S. for your grade 12 year. No more Christian High School! You have hated the majority of the last three years. That whole “you can’t take Economics, you have to take Home Economics” fiasco was the last straw. You have your schedule and you are truly excited about going to school. A fresh start with people who don’t suck.
Brace yourself. Seriously, sit down.
Mom and Dad have been praying. God doesn’t want you to go to a public school.
You, my younger self, have to be the first one in your family to graduate from the Christian Highschool. Yup, when your brothers and sisters when to the school, it didn’t go all the way to Grade 12. Now, it does.
Put that down, you like that thing. Breaking it will not make you feel better. Pfft, you call that swearing? Honey, you are in for a treat! By 53, you will have an amazing repertoire of swear words at your disposal!
Now, I am going to tell you something you already know. Mom and Dad believe they are doing the right thing because they love you and want the best for you. They are wrong, of course, but their hearts are in the right place. Later, you will learn to smile and nod. Smiling and nodding and then still doing your own thing will be important in the future.
I am not going to tell you too much more. You are going to be angry for a long time. You are going to do a lot of stupid things. You are going to do a lot of smart things. You will regret none of them. They will make you who you are at 53 and you are amazing. I promise, you will laugh more than you will cry.
Just keep doing what you are doing now: learn everything. Read anything. You want to know something, go learn about it. Don’t let someone else decide what you are allowed to know.
Now, stop scowling. You are not going to change their minds. Just get out some paper and a pencil and use that “dangerous” mind of yours to get a jump-start on figuring out how you are going to skip out of 49% of your classes for the next school year. You won’t get a detention.
This is not the best time of your life. It’s coming, trust me!
Love, 53-year-old Irene
This letter is in response to #oext259 Daily Extend.
Is teaching an art or a science? This is the question of today’s Daily Extend. The challenge is to find an artist and a scientist that represents some part of your own personal practice. In this reflection, I give you Sarah Bernhardt, sculptor, and Katherine Johnson, mathematician.
Sarah Bernhardt was a famous French actor. While pursuing a very public acting career, she also pursued sculpting. She studied both the craft and other disciplines such as anatomy (Moura, 2017).
She was attacked by the press and important sculptors of the time [such] as Rodin. It was said that she was pursuing an inappropriate activity. (Moura, 2017)
Connection to Teaching Practice
Certainly, in the college arena, professors come to the field of teaching by first studying and working in a particular career and then learning to teach. The challenge is to become equal skilled in your subject discipline and in teaching. The amount of time and effort that is expended in the pursuit of excellence in teaching is a personal decision.
On a personal note, I was intrigued by the fact that Bernhardt was criticized for sculpting as this was considered an “inappropriate activity.” I wonder why? Was it because she was female?
Katherine Johnson was a computer for NASA. In the early 1950s, women were hired for the computing pool in the Guidance and Navigation Department of NASA to complete calculations (Loff, 2016). Johnson was the only woman moved from the pool to work directly with engineers. She verified calculations made by electronic computers for space flights in the 1960s (Loff, 2016).
Women were not allowed to attend meetings with the male engineers and scientists. Johnson wanted to go to these meetings to learn more about the projects, so she went. (Wild, 2016)
Connection to Teaching Practice
In Johnson, we find another example of the pursuit of learning on the job, and of understanding new problems and finding the solutions. This is also true for professors who must meet the challenges of a new cohort and changes in both their discipline and the field of teaching.
On a personal note, I smiled at the simple phrasing in Wild’s NASA article, “so she went.” Another example of a female who was not supposed to be doing something but did it anyways.
I don’t think of myself as an activist for woman’s rights. I have lived experiences of being female and faculty. I have been questioned about my credentials. I have been challenged about my right to develop materials and to lead workshops. I once had a male faculty member, when confronting me about working on a particular project, announce that he “didn’t think I knew anything” in front of 30 plus students. Timing and awareness of his audience was not his forte that day. In the stunned silence of his departure, a student turned to me and asked, “what does he think you are, a potted plant?”
Teaching, for me is both an art and a science that requires ongoing study, part pursued as a passion in spirit of Bernhardt and part pursued as a personal necessity in the spirit of Johnson. And later, I hope someone says “they didn’t think she should, but she wanted to, so she did.”
100 days ago, I started an adventure with Ontario Extend and created my first Daily Extend. This was the beginning of building a Personal Learning Network (PLN) as an educator in the post secondary arena in Ontario.
Here’s what happened:
In case you are interested, here is my first tweet.
I submit that we create a problem for students with the language we use for General Education course requirements in the college arena. We call them Electives. The term Electives gives students the impression that these courses are optional, that they are not important and that these courses do not deserve the same attention as students’ vocational courses. Many faculty reinforce this idea with the way they think and speak about the place electives have in their program.
In the summer of 2016, I got curious about a specific group of students who didn’t graduate. I wondered how many students where in their final semester of a program, who had at least a grade point average of 3.0 out of 4 and were not eligible to graduate. There were more than I expected. And then I looked at why they were not eligible. Electives. The majority had failed, dropped or skipped an elective in their first three semesters and that was what prevented their graduation at the end of their final semester. Many had enrolled in an elective course in the Spring semester but it meant that these students would not be walking across the stage with their class in June. Our college had set targets for increasing retention for the year. Graduating this group of students would have exceeded our targets.
So how do we address this? I have three suggestions:
Let’s stop calling these courses electives. These are General Education REQUIREMENTS – you need these to graduate. An addendum would be to also change other faculty conversations about the importance of these course to students.
Let’s do a systematic check of students as Winter semester ends and suggest Spring semester options for catching up missing courses or a plan for picking up the additional course during the regular semesters.
Let’s talk to students about the benefits of General Education requirements.
Mr. Keating emphasizes the real-world applicability of words, language, and poetry. He encourages his students to contemplate their life’s purpose. The human race is full of passion- poetry, beauty, romance and life: the things people stay alive for. “The powerful play goes on, and you may contribute a verse. What will your verse be?”
Let’s ask students about their passions, their life outside of work and the impact they wish to have. Let’s explore the options they have with General Education Courses and show them the possibilities for making their college experience unique. This discussion could come as part of a workshop, at faculty meetings during Orientation, or during one of their core courses in 1st semester.
If we can reframe electives, I believe we could both improve student experience and graduation rates.
The idea of having a space of my own on the internet is compelling but also daunting. There is so much to know and too much I don’t know. But in the last three weeks, I have had a chance to peek under the cover and learn about how I can have a digital identity that I control.
Early on in my professional development involvement with OntarioExtend, I was offered a Reclaim Hosting site and I said “maybe.” I had never blogged before and I didn’t know if I would like it or be any good at it. I didn’t know if I would want to keep doing it.
As you can see from my 60 some odd posts, I have something to say. Lots of different somethings to say. So I took the plunge and accepted a Domain of One’s Own. However, the deciding factor was not that I liked blogging but rather, that there going to be Domain Camp. Domain Camp, led by Alan Levine (@cogdog) is four weeks of activities and instructions for those of us that are new at webmastering.
Now, I have a landing page, a blog and a splot for cats. I have email… try it, email me at email@example.com! I have ideas. Ideas about subdomains based on my varied personal interests. Ideas about student success training I could release under creative commons license. Ideas of how I might involve my student tutors in curating content. So many ideas!
I am crazy proud of myself. It feels weird to say that but it is true! I am more capable than I thought possible and I credit OntarioExtend for helping me see that!
The strategy asks students to first scan their notes and materials and create a list of important topics. Then, to choose five and start with writing down everything that they know about the topic. After accessing that prior knowledge, the student then checks their understanding against their notes and update their study sheets. If there is time, the student can add two more for seven topics and if needed two more for nine but is advised to stop there.
I used PowerPoint to create some slides and recorded a voice over. I exported the slide deck and recordings to a video and then uploaded to YouTube. I added some music in the background and YouTube adds automatic closed captioning. I released it under a Creative Commons Attribution license.
If I was do this for a specific purpose for students, I would re-record the audio as it is a bit low but for today’s purpose, I am considering it good enough because it is Saturday and I have other home things to do! This is also my first official post on my new blog here on my own domain!
On Friday, July 13, 2018, I participated in my first slow twitter chat with Higher Education Digital Identity (a.k.a. #HEdigID) Chat. Once a month, on the second Friday, the assigned host, in this case @SuzanKoseoglu, posts 6 questions and the conversation usually continues over 24 hours. A transcript of the first 24 hours is collected and posted.
I experienced my first slow chat and my first twitter storm. A slow chat, unlike twitter chats that are scheduled over a one hour period, is a chat aimed at a larger population, across time zones or where internet connections are spotty. A slow chat can can last 8 to 24 hours. A twitter storm is a sudden surge in a topic or around a twitter thread where you receive notification of every addition and every like or retweet.
The conversation did not end after 24 hours, it continued through the weekend and into the next week in part because of lurking. This aspect, the idea that people listen in but don’t contribute – in twitter chats, online discussions, forums, online courses, MOOCs and more sparked both debate and analysis. I found it fascinating to hear perspectives from around the world and from different viewpoints as HE professionals discussed their thoughts as both leaders and users of discussions and courses.
I am a lurker. I lurked in the #HEdigid chat, for the most part. I contributed 9 tweets. It was my first slow chat. I wasn’t sure what to expect or what I might have to offer. Maybe next time, I will add more. Maybe not. In this round, it was connecting to the discussion that was valuable to me. Let’s just say, I was applying the Educational Theory of Apprenticeship to slow twitter chats. I posted something to be a part of the conversation and then sat back and learned from others on both the topic and the manner in which they participated in the discourse.
Here is what I learned:
Curiosity. Respectful questions for clarity and understanding are welcome.
That (noteworthy) article is about the practice of rhizomatic learning. Does the practice in all its complexity meet the promise of the theory? Not necessarily, not for all members of (which?) community. who is in, who is out, whose perspectives? #HEdigID
Make it personal. Your antidote regarding your approach, your thinking and your lived experience has value.
I had a gradual approach to using social media and open practices too – over several years! Also accompanied by lots of reading, resources, and slow mindset changes as I learned about different ideas, aspects, and pros/cons of why/why not to do certain things.#HEdigID
Love this.. How do we reach the digitally shy and resistant? What does mean to be shy and resistant in open online platforms? I’m noting these on the shared doc together with @IrenequStewart‘s comments #OEP#HEdigID