Part 3: Do you chew when you read?

The previous post was really a brief interlude. Let’s get back to the main thread.

One of the things I learned in researching for my book is that all reading is not equal. I suppose I knew that, but I never really thought about it. Think of a continuum from “light” to “heavy” reading. Light reading can be interesting, fun, even compelling, but it doesn’t require a heavy commitment of one’s attention or intellect; examples might include╦ťbeach books” or USA Today. Most scholarly reading is heavy, dense, complex ideas that you need to reflect on, think about before they make sense. Here’s a secret that we need to reveal to our students: When you read something scholarly, no one expects you to fully understand it the first time you read it.

When I give a reading assignment, I think many students imagine that reading the text (once) is good enough, is what is expected. I try to tell my students they need to differentiate between reading and studying a text. The objective should never be merely to complete the reading, but rather to assimilate the argument. To do this you need to chew over and digest the text, little chunks at a time. One of the dozen or so books I’m currently reading is Soul Feast. In it Marjorie Thompson, the author, says:

[Critical reading] is concerned not with speed or volume but with depth and receptivity. That is because the purpose … is to open ourselves to how [the author] may be speaking to us in and through any particular text.

Of course, it’s also possible to read over a complex text again after an absence and get a different message, but that’s another story.

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6 Responses to Part 3: Do you chew when you read?

  1. Catherine says:

    I was in B&N the other day and saw a book that seemed like something you would love! It’s called Wikionomics: How Mass Collaboration Changes Everything by Don Tapscott, Anthony D. Williams. It’s more about the business side of Wikis, but it would probably still be a good read!

  2. Shannon says:

    Just starting to come to terms with this idea myself. You are right that students think they are supposed to understand the reading in one sitting. Not only that, text is sometimes seen as a time waster if it requires a close study, “why didn’t the author just make it simpler to understand?”. Students want key concepts pulled out for them so they can pass the test, why should they bother pulling it when a prof can do it much more easily? Why bother wrestling when a prof is only going to test to see if the key concepts are known. This doesn’t hold true for every course but, it happens enough that purely facts and content-driven courses are all students really expect.

  3. Angela says:

    Really nice post! You’re absolutely right. Reading is a process. In most of my upper-level language courses, we read one text all semester long. We study that one text from a variety of angles: we scrutinize language at the word-level and study verbal play; where relevant, we study the text for clues to performative aspects (oral tradition; spectacle (“opsis”), music, dance, etc.); we study the narrative or dramatic structure of the text–and even micro-structures within larger structures; and we try to acquire meaning from the process as a whole. We reflect on what it means to read; to enter into the complex life of the text and grapple with its problems (which are our human problems).

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