Readers have many tasks to accomplish as they work through texts. Decoding, determining meaning of unfamiliar words, seeking meaning, staying focused, and remembering what they read are just a few of the tasks readers undertake as they progress through their chosen reading materials. Consequently, sometimes readers lose their way and they have to problem solve to get back on track.
The Metacognitive Awareness of Reading Strategies Inventory (MARSI) (Mokhtari & Reichard, 2002) categorizes readers’ strategies into three categories: Support Reading Strategies, Global Reading Strategies, and Problem Solving Reading Strategies. All three types of reading strategies are important, but today the focus in on Problem Solving. While there are a variety of ways students can problem solve as they read, I always think the simple strategies are the best.
My first advice for problem solving is to adjust reading rate. In other words, if one read a section rather quickly, it sometimes helps to go back over the section at a slower rate. Going back over the section at a different rate also involves reading the material a second time. So the easiest way to problem solve when one does not understand what one reads is to read the material a second time. Re-reading is an easy strategy, but so many college students, and let’s face it, other readers just do not want to re-read.
Another problem solving strategy is to do a little thinking about what is read. Now thinking about what one is reading is a lot more difficult than it seems if the reading material is complex, or if a reader has little background knowledge. Thus, reading the material the second time allows the reader to become a little familiar with the text, so the reader can spend some time thinking about the content. As additional type of problem-solving readers can undertake is to try to visualize the information. Drawing a quick picture or taking a quick note can help the readers as they visualize what the passage is trying to explain or describe. Sometimes problem solving involves guessing. When a reader comes across an unfamiliar word, the readers uses clues in the word and from the context of the word to try to guess a meaning for the word, thus allowing the reader to continue reading and hopefully make sense of the passage.
The good news is anyone can use problem-solving reading strategies because these strategies can be taught and learned. Good readers tend to be good problem solvers with text. However, readers who sometimes struggle with reading can learn these problem solving strategies and apply them to their texts. Readers need a variety of strategies to help them work through text, and sometimes the simplest strategies are the best.
Mokhtari, K., & Reichard, C. (2002). Assessing students’ metacognitive awareness of reading strategies. Journal of Educational Psychology, 94 (2), 249-259.