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Many students who can read fiction adequately have trouble reading factual material. Reading a textbook, taking notes, and studying for a test from the book can be daunting for them. The problem is partly due to the very different kinds of reading skills required for reading a novel and for textbook reading. Also, most students do not receive specific instruction in school on HOW to read a textbook. Add to this the fact that many kids THINK they are reading and remembering textbook material well even when they aren't. The result is an essential skill that is sadly neglected. Fortunately though, most students who are otherwise decent readers can learn to read, understand, and remember factual material with a few weeks of instruction and practice. The process can even be fun. (Well, maybe that's an exaggeration: "painless and mildly interesting" is probably more like it.)
These are some of the key steps I use in teaching factual reading:
1. Tellbacks: Recall, one paragraph at a time
If a student does all right at word recognition (just being able to read the words), the next step is to read factual material for detail, answering the questions who, what, where, when? (Why comes later.) Using a variety of materials, from a kid's encyclopedia to a novel, the student does one-paragraph "tellbacks." That is, he reads a paragraph and tells what he read, without looking back at the book. The goal here is 80-100% recall.
Most students are able to read a paragraph and tell what they have read after a few tries, IF the material is interesting and at a suitable level. Tips and pointers from the teacher on "how to remember" are helpful. These include forming a visual image, stopping often to review mentally, "counting" facts on fingers, and saying unfamiliar words (especially names) out loud. Students may like to keep score of the facts they were able to recall. Keeping track of "points" this way can be a good motivator.
2. "Why," "What next," "Put it in your own words"
Or, cause and effect, predicting, and paraphrasing. These skills are taught mostly by question, discussion, and example. Students should be encouraged to "tell themselves" what they are reading and to constantly ask themselves 'why?' as they read. "What's this sentence doing here?" is a useful question. Students need to spend a lot of time explaining out loud what they've read—not just the facts, but the concepts. It helps if they pretend to explain to a younger child rather than to the teacher, who, after all, already knows it. When a student can do a fairly good job orally, writing a sentence to sum up each paragraph is helpful. Again, we use a variety of reading material, including textbooks, novels, and (depending on the student's age) newspaper editorials.
3. Main idea
I might begin by having students identify main idea and detail using pictures, then in short oral passages. Next we look for main idea and theme in written material, working with progressively longer and more abstract selections. There is also a trick, or formula, kids can learn to help with identifying main idea. If a child is having trouble with main idea, working on classification from the book Reading and Reasoning can help.
4. Putting it all together
Next, the student combines all the above strategies and skills— recall of detail, rephrasing concepts, and identifying main idea—in a thorough and thoughtful reading.
5. Note taking
Most students have trouble prioritizing--either copying everything into their notes or writing nothing--so I do a lot of modeling (teaching by example), explaining why I included or left out what I did in the notes. I also have a list of guidelines, or note taking tips, that seems to help. We go through a whole process here, including how to organize the notes in the notebook and how to review for a test using notes. continued
Reading for Information (cont.)
The letters stand for "Survey, Question, Read, Recite, and Review." This is a method for studying a whole chapter in a social studies or science textbook. Many students learn this technique in school but never use it. I find they'll use it, however, if I can show them how it can help them. In SQ3R we do a lot of work with titles and subtitles, helping kids ask good questions and make use of what they already know to understand new material.
The student then studies a whole chapter using the SQ3R technique, including taking notes and oral review (recitation). Recitation is easy by now because it's simply a one-paragraph tellback (Step 1).
7. Paragraph structure
Understanding how paragraphs are organized can save effort and increase reading comprehension. This is a more formal study on the structure of written material than was previously done. It includes prediction, cause and effect, comparison and contrast, etc. The student identifies structures and tries to predict content based on signal words and transitions. We also take a look at author's point of view or bias.
Knowing how to outline can help students organize their notes-- and their Own thinking. This task is easy after all the work we've done on main idea and detail. Students like to learn outlining using note cards that can be moved around.
At this point, older students write essays based on reading newspaper or magazine articles. We're working primarily on structure and organization here.
10. Taking lecture notes
For older students with good auditory skills and some interest in current events, I have them listen to NPR (National Public Radio) and take notes. This is difficult, but there are several pointers that help. I show them how to abbreviate, and leave room to go back and fill in later. Being able to listen and write at the same time is a learned skill. To introduce taking lecture notes, I first have the student give me a "lecture" on some subject of his or her choosing, while I take notes.
Get through your reading faster, more easily,
In about six weeks you will be reading at least 50% faster than you read now, with comprehension that is the same or better. Many students double or even triple their reading speed. In this course you will learn to pick out the most important points of a paragraph quickly, improve your reading memory, optimize your visual tracking, and discover the best methods for skimming and scanning.
Many people who would like to read faster are stymied because they lose comprehension when they try to speed up. A good speed reading course like the one at Active Learning can help readers break the “sound barrier” and read faster without sacrificing comprehension and recall.
People read slowly for a number of reasons, including sub-vocalization (moving the mouth or throat while reading), word-for-word reading rather than seeing text in phrases, problems with visual tracking including losing one’s place on the page, and constant re-reading due to poor concentration. These difficulties not only add to the time it takes to read a passage; they also make for frustration and rob people of reading enjoyment.
Even though these problems are complicated, overcoming them doesn't have to be. An encouraging thing to know is that slow reading has almost everything to do with visual habits and very little to do with I.Q. That’s good news because it means that in the right circumstances almost anyone can greatly improve his or her reading speed. It’s hard to do on your own, though—sort of like being your own sports coach.
When it comes to reading faster, two things are clear: first, slow reading is a habit, and learning to read more efficiently means replacing old habits with new and better ones. And second, you need a good instructor to help you cut through the guesswork and frustration—to tell you when to change tactics and when to persist.
At Active Learning, students master new skills through a series of exercises and activities designed to smooth out eye movements, zero in on important words and concepts, and direct and maintain concentration.