Saturday, August 2, 2014

How to Read Boring Things

I love to read, and I’ll read pretty much anything, but I will also admit there have been times when I’ve had to force myself to read something that I found too wordy, too dry, too old-fashioned, or simply not of interest to me. We've all been there--or will be there soon.

The worst things I can think of to read are usually the legal documents. Honestly, it amazes me that lawyers haven't, en masse, gouged out their own eyes with grapefruit spoons--just to save themselves from having to read that excruciating legalese. 

Sometimes, if we've had it bad when it comes to required reading, we need to train ourselves to like to read. That is why I always tell my students to read more things for pleasure so that the psychological association they make with reading can become positive if it used to be negative. Don’t worry if the material you prefer to read is considered low-brow; if you enjoy it, read it. All reading is good reading, and all reading will help your brain and spark your imagination. Once you realize that you can enjoy reading, you will become more open-minded and you’ll begin to read more widely.

So, read for pleasure, but understand there will also be more, um, painful reading to endure (such as the type of reading we may have to do for work—and, sometimes, reading for school…although I make a conscious effort not to assign terribly boring reads).

How can you get through the painful stuff?  Have a plan. Anything is doable when you have a system to attack it and get it done.

What should your plan look like?

How about this:

1.     Preview and predict to prepare yourself to read. Look at the jacket copy; read blurbs; flip around in the book. You can make yourself more interested in the subject and the material by doing this.

2.     Also try to get interested in the subject or topic by way of other things (TED talks, etc.) that may present the same ideas in a more digestible or more palatable format for you. Be careful, however, not to substitute a video for an article. Use the video to enhance the article, and never, ever watch the movie instead of reading the book!

3.     Know what your reason for reading is (the reason may simply be because you have to read the material; it’s part of your class). This can help you because if you consider the purpose for the reading, then, instead of feeling bitter and resentful about having drudge work to do, you can stay focused on your end goal. Maybe you need to know this material for a test; maybe your boss will be quizzing you in a meeting. Whatever it is, if you have a bigger reason to read something (e.g., graduation or job security), then it becomes easier to do the reading and you will able to zero in on the more important sections (the points that are most relevant to your overall goal).

4.     Bite the bullet and read quickly while keeping your hand very busy tracking the lines, and use a pencil or pen to annotate. This will keep your mind active,  prevent space-outs, and even can help to keep you awake.

5.     What should you take notes on? Good question. How about starting with topic sentences? Create margin note summaries of main topics; decorate pages with little stars by important supporting details. Remember: anything in bold or italics is there to remind you to pay special attention to it!

6.     Carpenters say, “Measure twice; cut once.” You should read twice—but before you start screaming at the thought of more reading, remember, your first read is cursory. The second read is where you’re checking your understanding. If you do this, you will never have to hunt for information again, and you won’t need to re-read again, either. Two reads will actually save you time.

7.     The most boring and difficult reads will require you to sum up paragraphs with margin notes. THIS WILL SAVE YOUR LIFE, SO DO IT. You will never have to re-read painful material if you take the time to do this. There are three huge benefits to this plan:  first, you will stay focused because you are actively reading; second, you will test your own comprehension; third, you will remember what you read, and you now have the margin notes to prove it—so class will be easier, tests will be easier, and paper writing will be a breeze.

8.     Summarize, question, reflect and connect by way of notes in a notebook!  All good students can summarize what they just learned, have questions to ask in class, and prepare comments that are insightful connections or ideas they had after reading.  A reading response journal was not created to torture you; the point is to help you prepare for class.  All the best students have two questions and two comments ready to go before every class!!

9.     Know your limits and plan accordingly. How long can you read without falling asleep or becoming hopelessly distracted? Schedule your reading in chunks, and never leave it all to the last minute. Take breaks as necessary (perhaps you might reward yourself for every half hour of focused reading by taking a ten minute break). Also, don't read in bed--especially if the material is boring.


           Talk about the reading with another person who has read the same material. This can really help you develop your thoughts and give you ideas for connections you hadn't thought of on your own.

1    Challenge yourself to read in a certain amount of time; this will help you to start reading faster. Also try speed reading techniques such as “chunking”—seeing chunks of text at the same time, rather than looking at one word at a time and subvocalizing as you read, because that is very slow and laborious.


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