In the last few weeks, the folks at Literatzi (the Quality Enhancement Plan at Hopkinsville Community College) talked to several classes about reading habits for successful academic progress. During our talks, we discussed how to use a variety of strategies before reading, during reading, and after reading in the hope students will find a couple of helpful tips to use as they work through their reading assignments. When it comes to reading rate, the answer is never straight forward. Reading rate (for younger readers, we often talk about fluency) is one aspect of reading continuously in need of adjustment. For example, how quickly or how slowly someone reads a passage depends on the reader’s existing knowledge of the topic, the difficulty of the vocabulary, the depth of concepts, plus the hopeful outcome from reading the information. To make the process even more complex, the reader’s motivation is also always lurking in the background.
I sometimes feel we give conflicting information. We want students to take the time to preview before reading, to take some notes as they read, and then to reflect after they read; but, at the same time we are trying to help them be more efficient in their reading. I imagine students think all this previewing, note taking, and reflecting is going to take more time than they want to spend. To students, I have a feeling efficient means the quicker I can finish the better. However, reading for information and for retention just does not always happen quickly. So, while we can help students be more strategic readers, we cannot always help them find the “just right” speed for each reading task.
We try to give some general guidelines such as if the reader is working through a really difficult text, he or she might want to slow down. However, we also encourage at least a quick skim if one is pressed for time. We are really not trying to give conflicting information because in academic reading, each passage must be examined and a rate for reading must be determined. In other words, each reader must determine what is “just right” for the task and the text and the reader. In many cases, finding the zone is trial and error. Our goal is to help students work through their own processes to determine what works for them in various reading occasions. As a reader I still adjust my reading to go with my task, and the adjustment is still flavored by how much I know about the subject already, the sophistication of the vocabulary, the depth of content, and my goal. I continue to seek the “just right” for myself and encourage other readers to find their “just right.”