When I talk to students about reading and studying I always talk about one of the main myths or misconceptions students have about reading. Students think their professors and other experts in a field only read material once. Students also believe professors and other experts in a field understand everything they read all the time. In other words, our students see those who have knowledge as almost super-heroes…..readers who understand at a single read.
I try to explain to students that one of the reasons people are good at something is because they practice. Good readers are good readers because they read. They read widely and they read a lot. Even more importantly, good readers know when they have to read something more than once because good readers can monitor their comprehension. Good readers read actively. I had a biology professor tell me once that he always read with a pencil in his hand, not only to take notes, but to sketch out details his reading. His sketches and notes were made whenever he read anything science related, whether it was in a popular science journal or a refereed journal. His eyes were not just moving along the text, but his brain was engaged while he was determining what he wanted to make a quick note about and it was engaged when he was deciding how he wanted to sketch to help him understand. His advice has traveled with me to help me obtain three degrees. I pass his advice along to all the students I work with to encourage them to be active readers.
I also emphasize that sometimes one has to read more than once. The less knowledge students have on a topic, the more students might need to read to understand. I use the “clueless” technique to help students know if they need to read something again. I stress to students if they come to the end of a passage, and they are totally “clueless,” they might want to reread again or at least skim the material again. Of course, it can be demoralizing when students feel they are “clueless” about the entire chapter, but the rereading will help to a certain extent or at least help lay a foundation for lectures and discussions when class rolls around.
I also let students know about struggles I had in my academic career that involved reading and not understanding something I read. While I was a good reader, I was not necessarily a good reader in an upper level statistics class. I had to re-learn how to read and study for that specific content. I want students to know one can succeed and not necessarily be perfect in their comprehension or know all the vocabulary the first time. I think knowing others may struggle with understanding the first time a text is read is helpful to students. I encourage instructors to share their stories about reading, learning, and how they came to love their discipline.