Monday, November 28, 2011

    What Do You Know About It?

    Book art by Cara Barer

    If you're in my reading class, you've heard me say it countless times: Skilled readers activate their prior knowledge before they read. Say it with me: Skilled readers activate their prior knowledge before they read. 

    Wondering why I repeat this little gem over, and over, and over again throughout the semester? Clearly, this is important stuff. In fact, activating your prior knowledge is one of The Most Important things you can do to support your comprehension before you even pick up the text to read. Remember all that discussion at the beginning of the term about frontloading, and how the things you do before you read are more important than the things you do during any other part of the reading process? Well, activating PK is one of those things.

    Think about activating your prior knowledge as setting the mood for reading. Imagine you invite someone you're really interested in over to your place for dinner. What do you before this person arrives? You dim the lights, you put on some music, make sure the place is clean or at least smells clean enough. Why do you do all this? Because you want to set the mood. I guess you could say prior knowledge is to reading what Barry White is to a dinner date.

    Remember, your prior knowledge consists of what you believe, what you have experienced, and what you know. Also remember that learning happens when we connect new knowledge to existing knowledge. This, my friends, is why PK is so massively important: You must create a base of existing knowledge before you can learn new knowledge.

    So what happens if you don't have any prior knowledge? Well, here's what you do: You go out and get some. That's right, I'm not joking around here. If you are required to read about something and you have absolutely no PK about that topic, it is your responsibility to go out and get some prior knowledge. As a student today, you have the distinct advantage of having access to an enormous amount of information via the Internet, so take advantage of it. Activate that prior knowledge.

    One of the most common mistakes students make is to skip prereading and dive right into the text. You might get away with this when you're reading, say, the back of a cereal box or some other piece of writing that doesn't require much thought. But I pity the fool who sits down to study for a college course and skips right over the prereading. Prior knowledge is your friend, people. Your friend.

    (For those of you in my class, the Activating Prior Knowledge section begins on page 12 of my Fall 2011 course packet.)

    Activating Prior Knowledge in the Grand Scheme of Reading:
    • Major Components of Reading
      • Comprehension
        • Before Reading Skills
          • Activate Prior Knowledge
        • During Reading Skills
        • After Reading Skills
      • Fluency
      • Vocabulary
      • Phonics
      • Phonemic Awareness

    Why I Love Reading, Reason #1

    Books are collections of the best ideas of people who had something interesting to say.

    Whenever I'm in a library or bookstore, I'm always overwhelmed by the fact that I'm surrounded by the best of what so many people had to offer. All those ideas wrapped up in binding and pretty covers, it's enough to make a girl weep.

    So what if I wasn't alive when Shakespeare wrote A Winter's Tale? This nifty little invention we call writing makes it possible for me to read his ideas today, regardless. And then I get to take those ideas and check them against my own experiences and beliefs, and come out a better person for it on the other end.

    Theoretical physicists talk about time travel and whether it will be possible in the future. Guess what? It already exists. I travel back in time whenever I open up a book and read words that were written before I took my first breath. And don't get me started on immortality. You want to live forever? Write something down that will be worth reading for years and years to come.

    And that, my friends, is just one reason why I love reading. Why do you love reading? Read anything worth sharing lately?

    Sunday, November 27, 2011

    Reading, an Introduction

    We need to get some things straight as far as reading is concerned. Are you ready?

    First, (and this is the most important point): The only way to become a better reader is to read. Regularly. Daily, even. And ideally, for at least 30 to 60 minutes a day. That's right, I said it. If you want to become a better reader, you have to get into the reading habit. There is no magic strategy I can share with you to make you a better reader. Reading is a skill, a craft, and to some, it is an art. As with any other skill, you have to practice it for quite a long time if you hope to become any good.

    Now that we have that out of the way, there are some things I can share with you to help you improve your reading skills. And I plan to do just that, so settle down. We'll get there.

    The next thing you need to know is this: For the purpose of improving your reading ability, I'm going to break the reading process down into its main components and skills so you can learn and practice them in small, manageable chunks. However, these skills are all part of the grand process that is reading, and none of them work or exist in a vacuum. So, even though I'm going to talk a lot about individual reading skills, it is not enough just to learn each skill. You must apply them, together, in the act of regular, repeated reading experiences. (Are you sensing the theme here, yet?)

    Third: Being a reader can and will change your life. I could go on, but none of it will really matter. Come back and tell me I'm wrong after you've become a reader. I dare you.

    Fourth: Reading is not brain surgery. Or rocket science. Or (insert challenging career of your choice here.) Reading is something that nearly everyone can do, and do well. You might be in my reading class because you took a test and the college told you that you do not yet possess the ability to read at the college level. And this may be true. You may have struggled with reading for your entire academic career. But here's the good news: A) You are not alone. Between a quarter to a third of today's college students enter their freshman year reading below grade level. B) You can become a skilled, college-level reader if you are willing to put in the effort. It can happen and it will happen if you stick with me and follow my advice. Trust me, I'm a professional.

    Finally: Good readers write, and good writers read. First, the two skills are interrelated and thus growth in one supports growth in the other. Second, the only natural product of reading exists in your head in the form of thoughts, and since I'm not a mind reader, I'm going to have to ask you to write your thoughts down while reading if I'm going to be any use to you at all. So, students, if you're enrolled in my reading class, get ready--there will be writing. Lots of it. Every day. (And vice versa for anyone in my writing classes.)


    DYK: 73 Books in a Year?!

    That's right! You can read 73 books in a year if you spend just one short hour reading per day.

    If one hour sounds like a lot of time, consider this:
    • Omit two short sitcoms from your daily television habit and replace them with reading, and voila! There's your hour. 
    • Read for the 15 minutes you have between classes, and you've already covered 25% of your daily reading time! Not too shabby.
    • Be honest: How much time do you spend on Facebook every day? Imagine if at the end of this year you spend just half of your regular Facebook time reading instead of browsing. You could probably get all of your reading time in just by cutting down on your FB time.
    Here's how it works:
    • The average reader reads between 250 to 350 words per minute. 
    • Let's say you're at the low end and read 250 words per minute. 
    • Let's also say that the average novel has 75,000 words in it. 
    • Do the math: 60 (minutes of reading per day) X 250 (words per minute) X 365 (days in one year) = 5,475,500 words read in one year! 5,475,500 ÷ 75,000 (words in your average novel) = 73 books read in just one year. 
    • Amazing how that works, isn't it?
    Maybe you haven't even read 73 books in your lifetime, let alone 73 books in a year. If that's the case, then my question is: What are you waiting for? Read a book! All the interesting people are doing it.
    And that, my friends, is the truth.

    So, what's your reading goal for this year? Do you have what it takes to be an interesting, well-read person? :) What time-wasters will you omit from your day to reach your goal?
    My goal? I'm an overachiever, so my goal is to read 84 books every year. Neener neener neener.
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