How Can I Develop a Reading System for Each of My Classes?
One challenging transition that many students face when they adjust to college is completing reading assignments for their classes. In many cases, students are required to have mastered reading materials prior to arriving in class, and assignments are often longer and more challenging compared to what they've faced in the past. We strongly encourage students to develop a reading system for each of their classes based on expectations laid out by the professor, the nature of the subject material, and how the texts are used in achieving course objectives. Below we have laid out the reading system that we use for our summertime Reading Political Philosophy course. At the bottom of page make sure to check out some of the questions and strategies you might use to develop a reading system for other disciplines and classes.
Tackling Texts for Reading Political Philosophy Course
Step #1: Review your notes from the last few classes and readings.
Step #2: Preview today’s text.
• Skim through the introduction, conclusion, subtitles, italicized sections, block quotations, topic sentences, and any lists or charts.
• Predict where you believe this reading will take you and jot down some questions that you hope to answer from this text.
• Determine whether this reading would be best tackled in one sitting or if you should split it into pieces.
• Do the historical or biographical research that you believe will help you to better understand this text. Your instructor may guide you to such materials, they may be available at the beginning of each chapter in the textbook, or you may seek some out on your own.
• Engage in what Anthony Manzo et al. call "schemata activation" in their book Content Area Literacy. Here are some of their suggested tools (pages 34-35):
-"Looking for organizing concepts"
-"Recalling related information, experiences, attitudes, and feelings"
-"Deciding how easy or difficult the reading is likely to be"
-"Setting a purpose for reading"
-"Trying to develop a personal interest in the reading"
Step #3: Read. Go slowly and carefully.
• Circle unfamiliar terms to look up when you reach a good stopping point. Add these definitions
to your notes.
• Underline or use brackets to identify particularly important passages.
• Use the margins to jot down questions, briefly summarize the author’s ideas, relate the
materials to your own thoughts, experiences, and previous education, and make any other
markings that you feel will help you to master this material.
• You may wish to use some of the notations laid out by Mark Busser in his “Symbols in the
Margins” piece. (e.g., symbols for counterarguments, questions posed by the author) If you wish,
see his attachment under the "How Should I Get Ready to Read?" section.
• Take frequent breaks.
• Engage in metacognitive monitoring as suggested in the book Content Area Literacy,
which they suggest as a set of methods students can use to ensure that their silent reading
remains an active process. In other words, these tools can help students avoid the
phenomenon where they realize that they've gone through five pages but aren't able to
recall, comprehend, or apply any of the content. Here are some of their tips: (pages 34-
-As you're reading, ask yourself questions like "Is the author really saying that...? Is this like
when...? Does this really mean that...? Or simply. What does this mean?"
-If you feel yourself losing focus, try "pausing to reflect and refocus, rereading, reading aloud, ...
paraphrasing difficult sections, forming mental images...". One might also try "translating ideas
into one's own words", "consolidating ideas into meaningful groups", or "evaluating the author's
purpose, motive, or authority...".
Step #4: Revisit any passages that you found particularly challenging or important. Read
them out loud if necessary.
Step #5: In your notebook answer the following questions, as they apply to the particular
text. Go back through the reading and your notes in the margins as needed.
a) Is there a unifying argument tying this piece together? What is it?
b)What claims is the author making to back up his or her main argument? What evidence is
offered to back up these claims? What persuasive techniques does the author use?
c) Are there ways that the text reflects the historical context in which it was written? In what
ways does the author argue for the universality of his or her arguments?
d) How is this text a link in a long philosophical conversation between generations? How does the author build upon the foundation of previous texts? Where does this text offer agreement with or counterpoints to other pieces you’ve read? What new ground is covered?
e) What important terms does the author define for the reader? How are these definitions integral to the author’s thesis?
-Note: Frequently, the author may spend a great deal of time defining a term that we first learned back in the 4th grade, like ‘citizenship’ or ‘justice’. Don’t skim these. These in-depth definitions, which may take us in some pretty surprising directions since we’re relatively new students in this field, usually lie at the heart of the author’s constructed argument.
f) Does the author implicitly or explicitly offer the reader his or her view of “the good” or what ‘should be’ in a society?
g) Does the author seem to be advocating for any short or long-term public policy changes?
h) Address any text-specific questions given by the instructor.
Step #6: Jot down a few discussion points or questions you’d like to raise in class. Be prepared for the instructor to conduct a reading check, examining your notes in the margins and your notebook.
You should also engage in some of the post-reading activities laid out in Content-Area Literacy that are meant to help students with "schema enhancement, schema building, or schema restructuring" or what psychologist Jean Piaget referred to as "assimilation" or "accommodation". These activities could include answering such questions as "What did I learn?", "How can I remember it", "Did I really understand this", "Does this make sense?", "What should I do to remember this?", "How does this answer some question, issue or goal that I and/or others have been grappling with?" (35)
Step #7: Take five minutes before class or during our reading check to flip back through the text and your notes to refresh yourself for that day’s discussion.
Notes for Other Classes:
As we mentioned above, we encourage students to develop a reading system for each particular class. Therefore, some of the ideas laid out for the political philosophy class may apply to your academic work, and in some cases, you'll want to make adjustments. In particular, you'll want to develop a series of questions that fits each specific discipline or course study. For example....
In a natural and social science class, you might ask yourself, "What research methodology is being used here?"
In a comparative literature class, you might ask, "What critical assumptions are present here?"
While reading a short story, you may need to identify a 'transformational moment' that takes place for a character.
In a history reading, you might ask, "What primary sources does the author use to prove her point?"
In almost any reading, you'll need to think about the author's intended audience and purpose for writing the piece. You may also want to think about how the text's message compares to your previous readings, understandings, and experiences in this field. If you are new to the topic, is there supplemental reading in the field that can provide you with a greater depth of understanding? For example, in my first-year seminar, where students are usually new to the field of urban and regional planning, I frequently refer my students to insightful articles at the Atlantic Cities and Planetizen websites or useful pieces from the New York Times and Wall Street Journal. Such popular pieces give students an 'on-the-ground' supplement to the scholarly pieces that we read for class.
In some lecture-based classes, it may be important to give texts a thorough second reading after class, especially while reviewing and expanding upon class notes. Make sure to tune in during the first few weeks of classes; professors commonly will lay out their expectations for course readings and their thoughts on how to approach these texts. Above all, always be thinking about the reading system which you will develop for each specific class.
Works Cited: Manzo, Anthony V. et al. Content-Area Literacy. Danvers, MA: John Wiley and Sons, Inc., 2005.
Written by Matt McCluskey, Coordinator of Academic Support