After Memorial Day many of us had an ambitious list of summer reads. But between the picnics, kids’ ball games and lawn upkeep, our bookmarks are still stuck in the middle of that first book. So much for keeping up with Oprah this summer.
Is there a way to fit a good book into these last few weeks of summer? Is it possible to improve our focus and speed when reading?
Heidi Hallman, assistant professor of curriculum and teaching in the Kansas University School of Education, specializes in literacy. Hallman says the easiest way to read more efficiently is to really comprehend what you read.
“You should be able to interact with the text,” Hallman says. “Not thinking of it as a passive process but an active one.”
Hallman first suggests understanding the structure of the text. She says it’s important to adjust the rate you read books, magazines and online material because each is interpreted differently.
Hallman also stresses the importance of background knowledge — using what you already know about the topic, author’s style or vocabulary. For example, favorite magazines can be read faster than a new book because a person may be familiar with the magazine’s style and content.
Maria Butler, community relations coordinator at Lawrence Public Library, says she uses background knowledge tricks from her high school speed reading class — such as being familiar with Latin and Greek roots.
Hallman says the idea of comprehending the text is especially important in helping younger children get through books.
“Parents need to know that comprehending the words and decoding the words in a book don’t always go together for children,” Hallman says. “They need to make meaning out of the words they’re reading.”
Betty Kline, Free State High School librarian, says reading efficiently is critical for overscheduled high school students. She says Free State has a “Before, During, After” reading strategy similar to Hallman’s. The “before” stage asks students to compare what they already know to the material they’re reading. The “during” stage encourages students to ask questions about the text as they read, and “after” is when students should reflect and respond to what they read.
“It’s like Bloom’s taxonomy for reading,” Kline says.
Hallman says reading a book quickly and still being able to comprehend and enjoy the material is skill that has to be developed by asking yourself questions, being engaged in the text, using background knowledge and thinking about the vocabulary in the context.
“Reading truly has to be a problem-solving process,” Hallman says
If you still can’t get through your book, it may not be how you’re reading, but what you’re reading. Sometimes the pressure of finishing a book — even one that’s not very enjoyable — can be a major deterrent.
Kline says the worst thing a parent can say to their child is that they have to finish the book before they can get another.
“If you can’t get into it after 25 to 50 pages, walk away,” Kline says. “There are billions of other books out there. Finishing a book shouldn’t be a punishment.”