By Glen Foss, Adjunct Oceanography Instructor, Palomar College: March 2001

At a recent seminar, I gained some insight into the reasons why many students fail either to do assigned reading of the textbook or to gain a reasonable amount of knowledge from their reading. I also have realized that I was better at reading textbooks as an undergraduate than todayís average student is. Thatís not because Iím smarter; itís because many students today lack some basic reading skills that my peers and I acquired in high school. There are various reasons for that; one of which is that reading was just about the only way we could acquire information. There were no computers, and access to TV was very limited.

It should be evident that there are various rewards for preparing for class by doing the assigned reading. It could produce points on those extra-credit quizzes, or it could give you a better knowledge base for understanding the lecture and producing more complete notes, or it could help you to impress your classmates by asking pertinent questions. Most of all, it is just about guaranteed to produce a higher grade for the course.

Below are some hints for reading an informational text such as the one we use in Oceanography 100. Note that you probably would NOT use these techniques for reading a math text or a book of literature.

First impressions are the most lasting (with printed material as well as with people). It is a common mistake to approach reading an informational textbook as we would an adventure or romantic novel. That approach does not work well for most people because an informational text is not organized that way. Instead, try pre-reading the assigned chapter(s) using these seven steps as outlined by Mr. Stan Levy of Palomarís Reading Center:

bulletReview the Table of Contents.
bulletRead the introduction to the chapter or the first three to five paragraphs on the first page of the chapter.
bulletRead the topic sentence for every remaining paragraph in the chapter or the subtitles.
bulletOn the last page of the chapter, read the chapter summary.
bulletAsk and answer to yourself, "What is my purpose in going back and reading the chapter thoroughly?"
bulletAsk and write down, "What were some of the chapter main ideas?"
bulletAsk and write down, "What were some of the chapter conclusions?"

If you canít write down five or six main ideas and conclusions, it might be a good idea to pre-read a second time before your "thorough" reading of the chapter. After the pre-reading, the material should fit together better and not be an "information overload."

Some other tips that may seem like just common sense but are sometimes overlooked:

bulletDonít do your reading when you are tired or distracted.
bulletBreak up your reading into manageable sections. Donít save it all until the last minute.
bulletTake a break if your concentration begins to fade. Listen to music, call a friend, or have a snack. Then return to your reading.
bulletSome of the above may require a re-examination of priorities. If you school work is what you do after everything else is taken care of, that will be reflected in your grades.

We all have known people who apparently could scan a reading assignment or sleep with it under their pillows and then excel on the tests. Those people are now somewhere in four-year institutions on full-ride scholarships, not here at Palomar. Our courses are designed for normal human beings who can have an excellent learning outcome if they have the motivation and study skills. Remember that being a successful student is hard work; it is not something one does in his/her spare time.

It bothers me that so many students fail to complete my classes (and others) satisfactorily. I see very few students who do not seem to have the ability to do this workóbut I see far too many who lack either the motivation or the skills.

Again, if your reading skills need beefing up, I heartily recommend the Palomar Reading Center. They have short- and long-term programs to help with comprehension, speed, vocabulary, spelling, or whatever your need may be.

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