Students, do you sometimes just want to tear your hair out because there’s too much work assigned and too little time to do it, especially long readings before lectures?

Teachers, do you want to tear your hair out because students just don’t seem to be doing the readings that you’ve assigned?

Well, students, today, I’m going to teach you a very specific thing you can do…even if you feel like you only have five minutes to read a huge long chapter, and, teachers, stay to the very end where I’ll share with you some teaching practices you can do right now to help students more effectively follow through with their reading assignments, so you can have a better experience in lecture.

First, a bit of back story…. I’ve mentioned recently that I’m consulting at a school. The other day, I was hanging out in the lunchroom and chatting with some students who were really frustrated with the amount of reading they have to do. One student said, ”We get quizzes almost every class, and I’m constantly debating between do I study for my quiz, or do I do the reading for the next lecture that I know my teacher is going to lecture about?” Totally legit question, right?

I don’t want students to have to choose, so this is what I shared with them about what to do when they don’t have time to do the reading the night before a lecture.

First, students, I want you to know the lie you’re probably telling yourself is, “It’s all or nothing–I either read the whole 50 page assignment or 10 page assignment, or I do nothing.” But what if there were more options?

What I try and do as the Anti-Boring Approach Study Coach is to help you see all of the options that are available so you can choose the least boring and/or more interesting one to keep yourself engaged and actually following through.

Maybe you decide to spend all your time studying for that quiz, but then you know a lecture is coming, so you save a few minutes, (10 minutes? 5 minutes? 3 minutes) and open to the reading your teacher asked you to do in preparation for the lecture and you try the following, skimming the chapter and starting with #1 and going as far as you can down the list in the time you have. I recommend you skim the chapter from the back of the chapter to the front. You don’t have to do this, but I think it makes it a little bit more interesting when you do that. Skim for the following:

  1. Summary: Often at the end of a chapter there will be a summary, so it can be really helpful to quickly skim the summary so you have a general understanding of what’s going on. 
  2. Headings: If you have a little bit more time, page backwards and notice: a). What are the big headings in this chapter? and b) How many of them are there? This lets you know the big chunks of information the textbook finds important and that your teacher is probably also going to be lecturing about the next day. 
  3. Subheadings
  4. Pictures, graphs I had a rule for a class I once took in which I was spending too much time doing the reading. So, I said to myself, “Honey, (that’s how I talk to myself) you can only look at the pictures and read the headings or the read the descriptions under the headings, and then if there’s a vocab word you don’t understand, you could look up the definition of that vocab word–but that is all you’re allowed to read in this one course.” 
  5. Learning Objectives: if your teacher has given you learning objectives in the syllabus, or if the textbook has given you learning objectives for the chapter, just try to pick out a word or two from each objective that helps guide you to what you’re about to learn. (I know those are the most boring things to read in the world, but try to look at them anyway!) 

So at the very least, do one or more of the above, depending on the time you have. Now, why am I recommending this? Why is it a useful thing to skim the chapter and not read it word for word? 

Here’s why…

Let’s just pretend we’re attending a lecture and we haven’t previewed the information. We have no idea what the teacher is about to talk to us about today. When the teacher starts lecturing, maybe with PowerPoints or with stories, we are in step one of what I call The Study Cycle which describes the steps needed to learn new information. (You can get a fuller explanation of the Study Cycle with my free download here). In step one, you are getting your first exposure to the information you need to learn and are encoding it in your brain for the first time.

However–this is the important part–if you take time to preview a little something about the chapter the night before, then when you get to class the next day, you actually have some choice. Since you’ve already been exposed to the information, as you listen and take notes, you can choose to test yourself and see if you can guess what the teacher is going to say before they say it. That’s step two of the Study Cycle: retrieval practice.

And, since you’ve already had your first exposure to the information, as you take notes you’ll actually be moving onto step three of the Study Cycle, where you are encoding the information in a new way. It’s always more powerful for the brain to hear something again, and it’s easier to hear it again than it is to hear it for the first time. So that is why skimming is so much more important than the “All or Nothing Approach!” 

Now, for teachers… 

  1. My first suggestion is to, at the beginning of the semester or beginning of teaching a course, lead the skimming practice in class with students. Tell everyone to get out their textbook, open to the last page of a chapter, and then lead them through the list above. It can be a fun and quirky scavenger hunt! It doesn’t have to take a lot of time. When I did this with the student group in the lunchroom, I was able to talk them through it in 20 minutes. Practice it in class first, then suggest students try skimming as homework. You could give them a choice to skim and then read if they have the time or to at the very least just skim. 
  2. Then at the beginning of class, get in the habit of asking students, “Who skimmed? What did you notice about it?” I would just start every class, no matter what age–even college–by having them practice retrieval or test themselves about something they read the night before. You can ask them to get out a whiteboard or a sheet of paper and write down whatever they remember from how this chapter was structured, what’s important to the author of the textbook based on what you noticed in your skimming practice? Then have students raise their whiteboards and show or have them turn to a partner and talk it out. That is just a wonderful way to help them practice retrieval, and also make those topics more present. They will be better listeners in your lecture if they know what topics they’re probably going to get to hear more about. 
  3. Then if you have a little extra time, (and I know you may not, but I swear to you if you did, this would make such a difference in students’ ability to follow through with their readings), assign their reading for the coming evening and then give them a few minutes to get out their textbook, open to those pages, and do the skimming practice in class. Then, invite them to turn to a partner and share what they noticed. A variation would be to have them discover the chapter together with a partner. Even if you only have three minutes to do this,  I promise you are going to notice students being able to take more action by actually following through on the readings, and once you see that happening, I’ll do another video to talk about how to improve students participation during class and during lecture because they’ve read better, read more, or read at all.

 Whether you are a student or a teacher, I hope you found something of value here! 

Please leave me a comment below or send me an email.

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Wishing you Anti-Boring Studying and Anti-Boring Teaching!