September 27, 2020

From Gerald R. Lucas

Reading in College

“Raise your hand if you know how to read.” A hand or two went up and a couple more followed more reluctantly, as if I asked a trick question. “Readers? Who knows how to read?” I surveyed the room as a couple of people chuckled like you might at a silly question from a child. A few more hands went up. “Readers? Where are my readers?”

This is a game I often play in my World Literature orientations. My attempt is to emphasize care and deliberation in reading for the class. When most of the students have their hands raised—“Shouldn’t you all have your hands up?” I chide—I ask my follow-up question: “OK, how do you read? Ma’am?” I point to one of the earlier raisers, usually a woman. “Eliminate distractions,” she suggests. “Yes! What else do we need to do?” I go on like this until they begin to see my point.

I understand this questions is akin to one like “how do you ride a bike?” It’s not one we’re used to contemplating, since we’ve been doing it for years. It’s second-nature, now, so we just read. I know this is true, but I want to call attention to the process in order to emphasize retention, comprehension, and interpretation. I know we all read, but how do we read? I want to suggest strategies for reading in college—or reading when it matters.

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