Just Read the Book?

What does it mean when a teacher says to a student “just read the book”?

For many students, being set loose with those four words doesn’t give enough guidance.

When I taught, I explained what *I* meant by “reading the book”.  Since I taught, I brought in my copy of the textbook and showed students how I approached reading a book.  Now with a nod to many ways of learning, where’s how I read a textbook.

First, I make sure I’m in an environment that will help me.  For me, that means quiet, no distractions (not even a window nearby!), a new yellow highligher and one of my favorite pens.  I read with a highlighter in one hand and as I read each paragraph I try to highlight the one most important thing from that paragraph.

Second, I make sure to look at pictures/illustrations/screenshots included in the book and I read their captions. Often the pictures help to reinforce an idea from the text. If I can mentally make a connection between something in a picture and the text, I’ll use my pen to draw a line between the two.

Third, as I read I often come up with questions or things I’m confused about. I use my pen to write in the margins of my text – or I circle things I don’t understand and I add the word “Huh?” nearby. Sometimes I’ll have a question in one place, but find the answer later in the reading. When this happens I find my original question and write the page number where the answer is. If, by the end of reading I’m still confused over things I’ve read, then it’s time to contact my teacher. 

Fourth, I circle words or phrases I don’t understand. Sometimes I have to look up definitions and I’ll write them in my book. Other times I’ll find an explanation later in the same book.

When I’m done reading, I often sit at a computer and type up notes from the things I’ve just read. I usually type the things I’ve highlighted.  In this way I kind of end up reading the text three times (once as I read it, twice as I highlight it, and the third time is as I type up my notes). And best of all? I’m left with a set of study notes!

(Now please don’t tell me that you don’t want to write in your books! I’m sorry, but I’ve been down that road myself – books in pristine, un-read condition so I could sell them back.  Bad! Bad! Bad!  Here’s the deal. Let’s assume you bought a book for $100. You sell it back for $40 if you’re lucky.  But, if you use that book, mark it, bend it, dog-ear pages, cut out diagrams to paste them into notebooks – if you USE that book you’ll get more than the total price of the book in what you’ve learned. And after all, why are you in college? You’re hear to learn, right? Please don’t tell me you’re really here just to make money by selling back your textbooks! You’re not, are you?)

For me, the way I mark up books also works well when I’m reading a homework question.  I grab my trusty highlighter (orange in this case) and a pen and dive in.  Below is a real-life example of a homework question from a textbook I used:

How I Read

But the bigger question is: if you’re a teacher, what do YOU mean when you tell your students to just read the book? How should students approach the readings in your class so they can be successful?

And if you’re a student: what works best for you? Are you a highlighter like me? Perhaps you do better if you read the content out loud? What about recording yourself reading your book so you can play it back in your car? Do you prefer to type up notes? What about using little index cards? Would a set of color pencils help? Learn what works best for you – and do it! 

And yes, I have to admit, its more work. It’s hard word. Learning takes effort and an interest in the subject – but oh-la-la: the payback!


One thought on “Just Read the Book?

  1. Great topic!

    As a librarian, I find myself telling stressed out students, “You don’t have to read this entire book for information on X. Use the index.” Yes, knowing how to use a book is becoming a lost skill.

    Index aside, one thing I always do before I read a book is review the Table of Contents so that I have a big picture of how the topic will be covered. And if the author provides a preface I’ll read that. This is where the author will discuss things like purpose of the book, context for how they came to write it, or other interesting things that help set you up well to dig in.

    Other things students read are scholarly articles. Often these are research studies. As a PhD student, I’m reading these A LOT. There’s an art to it, and here’s my typical approach — Read the abstract, skip ahead to the results/discussion, go back and read the introduction or background section, quick pass at the methodology and results, skim references, and review again results/discussion. Anyway, it’s something like that. The point is that for maximum learning don’t read them from beginning to end.

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