Reading Strategies

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Cognitive and Rhetorical Strategies for Increasing Reading Comprehension

Cognitive models

The brain gathers no more than 8 or so bits of information before seeking storage [meaning].

The brain processes communication by guessing what comes next based on current info and checking guesses against evidence [abetted by conventions and expectations].

Meaning is the pattern your brain grasps; the pattern lets you say, "I see what it means."

  • Known + new or general + specific = comprehension
  • Comprehend means, "gather together"
  • "Text" shares a root with "textile" and "texture"

Mostly rhetorical

If you don't have a question, you won't find an answer.

If you don't feel you are part of the intended audience as you read, you won't expect to understand, and you won't. The following strategies and suggestions are intended to put you in the scene as you read:

When you talk about a text don't say, "they say in the book." To hear a human being wanting to communicate with you, learn the author's name while you read, "Didion says here," "Leakey and Leakey say..."

Write in your books—questions, ideas, whatever comes to mind. Draw lines connecting one point to another. Don't just highlight what you don't understand hoping it will make sense later. Seeing your words on the page creates a conversation and puts you in the picture as part of the audience.

The Book Store says the buy-back price for a pristine book is only $1.50 more than for one fully marked-up. What percent of your tuition is that?

READ does not mean "allow your eyes to flow once over the words." Experienced readers, engaged in the text, always re-read sentences, or whole sections as they read, just as, engaged in a conversation, you often ask "say that again?" or "What did you mean by______?"

All texts can be understood as half a conversation with an intended audience. Writers are always guessing what the reader needs to know, what questions the reader has now. To become that reader, expect to have your questions answered.

If the text prompts an emotional response, write it in the margin. Then turn it into a question and read the passage again.

For a dense or lengthy text, or any reading that becomes confusing, read the first sentence of each paragraph first rather than just slogging through. Make a list of questions based on that read-through, questions you expect the text to answer.

Talk to someone about what you are reading [class maybe?]. You react differently as you read imagining your own audience later [this is why teachers learn so much while teaching]. This is why students get together to talk about a class. The talking itself does the trick.

Close Reading

Not all "readings" are equal. A better reading accounts for more of the evidence in the text. This principle answers this frequent statement: "It's a free country isn't it? We're all entitled to our opinion, aren't we? That's just what I got from it."

From Gallop, Jane. "The Ethics of Reading." Journal of Curriculum Theorizing f2000: 14-17.

The problem is that just reading a text, the way most people read most of the time, will not disrupt the reader's stereotypes. The reader will use her stereotypes—her preconceived notions, the ideas she brings with her into the encounter with the text—to help her understand what she is reading. Reading like that, she is quite likely to find confirmation for her prejudices.

. . . We have been encouraged to read for or against . . . worse still, we don't just treat books this way; all too often this is how we greet people.

By "reading" here, I mean of course close reading, learning to hear what's really on the page, listening closely to the other, and being willing to catch what the other actually says, and able to hear what we didn't expect him to say. If we can learn to do that with books, we might learn to do that with people.

submitted by Jim Noland