Reading Comprehension (SQ4R) – Part 2: Active Reading

A well-respected and often recommended approach to reading text information is SQ4R.   In a recent post we looked at the first two stages of this strategy: Survey and Question.  In this blog, we’ll take a look at the first R – Reading.

The third stage of the SQ4R reading comprehension strategy is the ‘Reading’ stage.  Make no mistake about it, reading text material is tough stuff.   It commands intense concentration and focus and it demands a level of commitment that students need to develop.  For the most part, students read very passively.  They fail to see just how much mental effort is required and how much they have to ‘want’ to learn the material.  Are you reading your textbook while sitting on your bed?  That’s passive.  Are you reading your research articles while thinking about the NHL playoffs?  That’s passive.  Are you reading your texts while listening to music (or Tweeting, or checking Facebook)?  That’s REALLY passive.  In fact, are you reading while using a highlighter?  That’s probably passive too.

So how can students learn to read actively?  Shifting from passive to active reading is difficult, but possible for students who give themselves a fighting chance.  First, students need to read while sitting at a well-lit desk.  They need to turn off the music and television and shut off the distractions.  Then, they need to grab a pencil and get ready to think.  To help with reading comprehension, students should use a pencil to track their thoughts.  They can summarize main points in the margin and identify places where the author shifts the argument.  Further, they can use the pencil like a highlighter and underline parts of the textbook that are important, or interesting, or unexpected.   Students should also write question marks beside sections that are not clear and which require later follow-up.  It’s also a good idea to pay close attention to material that ‘answers’ the questions raised in the Q-stage of SQ4R.  Using a pencil in this fashion will likely feel strange at the beginning. Students usually don’t know what to write and they probably won’t see immediate payoff.  However, using a pencil as an active-reading tool will become second nature and will help students remain focused throughout the reading assignment.


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