Whether teaching graduate students, undergraduate students, or eighth graders, I have always felt it necessary to “stack the deck” just a little. One of the ways I do so is by helping my students understand that the textbook they are required to read usually has some type of guide to help them through the maze of information. All too often, I see students just start at the beginning of the chapter and plod through until they get to some questions at the end of the chapter.
So, I take time at the beginning of each new chapter or section we are reading to point out the obvious sign posts in the text. I point out headings, subheadings, bold words, pulled out text comments on the side of the page, graphics, and any other text feature available. I explain the author or the publisher choose these signals to help us obtain the information within the chapter. I go a step further and I go through the objectives that are listed at the beginning of the chapter. We turn the objectives into questions, and then we go on a hunt for that specific information. I insist everyone write down the page number and a description of the location on the page. I then ask my students to turn to the summary at the back of the chapter (I don’t usually ask my students to buy texts that do not have good summaries), and I show them how the objective, the passages, the summary, and the questions or exercises at the end of the chapter all tie together.
I use the analogy of a thread that is woven in a blanket that goes all the way through to illustrate how a thread of information goes through the text. To go one step further, I make sure when I assess my students in a formal manner I use the objective questions we formed. I give my students the major essay or identification questions right up front in the few minutes I use at the beginning of our time together as we preview the chapter.
I encourage my students to put highlighters and pencils down until after they have read a section. I have found some very colorful books in my classes when students highlight the first time through the text because all that new information seems important. If I see places where one can skim or scan, then I clue my students into that small break they can take. I show the places where I think “close” reading is necessary. I give them hints about how the writer has used topic sentences and summary statements to make key points.
I can do all this showing and telling in about five to eight minutes. I am consistent in the task of previewing, and my hope is my consistency encourages students to preview on their own once they leave my class. I think previewing gets the brain working and encourages students to at least make an attempt at reading. I admit previewing is not real fancy, but neither is a pencil. However, a pencil is a mighty fine tool, and that is how I see previewing…..a tool to help students go on with the task of reading and learning.