Higher Learning
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Higher Learning

Reading Between the Lines

Why critical literacy in college is everything.

Photo by Seven Shooter on Unsplash

Reading is one of the most essential — and under-appreciated — skills for college students. It’s also one of the easiest to do poorly.

When we skim, when we read with tired eyes, when we don’t take notes or highlight key points or make meaning maps, when we don’t jot down our questions, when we neglect to mentally engage the reading as we go through it, we miss the opportunity to actually be enriched. It’s like watching a movie while holding a conversation, or running errands, or playing a video game, or sleeping, or… reading for class… at the same time. You’ll only catch parts of the film plot and won’t have a solid understanding of what’s going on.

Time management is definitely a guilty accomplice here. Lack of motivation can be coupled in as well, particularly now as many college students deal with a remote college experience that no one asked for. When you let your assignments pile up to the last minute, it’s much more difficult to practice the most effective reading techniques. These quick tips below will address time, purpose, and skills to help you get more done.

  1. Read fresh. Definitely don’t wait until the end of the day to crack open your books or scroll through PDFs. Also don’t plan on getting started the day before you need to have a few chapters read. Give yourself the time to do a good job.
  2. Write now. Jot down key points or questions right on the page of the book (if it’s yours) or add them to a sheet of notebook paper or Google doc. You can also make digital highlights or sticky notes on virtual docs. Make these notes brief so you can archive the question or thought quickly and not overly disrupt your reading flow. Consider this a core part of your critical reading, not extra work or a distraction.
  3. Take breaks. Don’t plan on sitting down and reading for several hours straight through. Break your assignments into chunks and spread them out over a few days (this is why taking notes as you go is key, allowing you to quickly review and pick up where you left off). Your eyes and your brain can only take in so much information at a time. Late, rushed, and/or crammed reading also won’t boost your confidence, and will instead have you slipping into worse habits, potentially skipping readings altogether.
  4. Reflect / recap. What did you just read in today’s chunk? What were the main ideas? What questions did you have, or what didn’t you fully understand? How could this information show up on your next exam or be used in your research paper or reflection? Taking 5–10 minutes after reading to write down a short summary will help cement the information in your brain and allow you to strategize next steps.
  5. Choose wisely. Not every reading assignment will need a close read. You’ll get a sense of which classes and which articles / chapters can be done with a quick look, and which will need a deeper dive. That said, there are also moments when you should be reading well beyond the syllabus. Research papers, for example, require you to pull insights from a range of sources. Invest the time and appreciate the learning opportunity.

Again, we didn’t plan on you ever doing college from home, but this is what we’re doing, and the most we can do is find the silver linings. As best as you can, use this opportunity to reinvent your love of learning. There’s a good chance that you have the time, so be intentional about going deeper, correcting poor habits, and taking your reading further. Here’s a bonus tip: weave some personal reading and/or writing into your routine. This may deepen your purpose and give you more to look forward to.

Better reading changes everything. So keep at it, and go higher!




Go. Grow. Graduate. Change the world. Now is the time to go higher. www.learnhigher.com

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Brian Peterson

Brian Peterson

I am a husband, father, writer, educator, and generator of ideas. Working on my follow through. Latest book, Higher Learning, out now at learnhigher.com.

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