Raise your hand if you believe students should read their textbooks… ?? 

Now raise your hand if you’re confident they get through all of the assigned readings…

For one reason or another, too many reading assignments are never completed. So, what’s the solution? Do we stop asking them to read? 

Nope. Let’s teach them how to skim.

I got two new books the other day and carved out a few hours to get through them, but I knew that if I wanted to get through both, I’d have to skim. 

I grabbed my favorite cuppa and sat to get started but then thought, “Wait! I should record this!” It’s true that I’ve shared my best skimming tips in the past (you can watch them here), but I thought I’d do something new and invite you to skim these books with me in real time. 

If you’ve never taught your students how to skim, I encourage you to do so! It’s such a beneficial strategy for them to practice (especially as their lives get busier and busier). I also want to challenge you to model skimming live for them—it’s great to tell them how to do it, but something magical happens when you model and practice new skills with them.

Ready? Click the image below to watch the video. Because of the highly visual nature of this video–watching Gretchen skim 2 books–watching the video is highly recommended. However, if you prefer, you can continue below to read the summary.

In this video, I demonstrate skimming two books–one I hadn’t even opened, and one I’d opened and looked at the table of contents. My purpose in skimming these books is that I want to get my brain working around some ideas about what do I want to share with teachers at a school I’m consulting at around the science of learning. What’s the most important thing to share from my model, but also from other people’s models, too? I have all day to read these books, but this is my only available day, so I need to use the time well.

Skimming Book One

We’ll start with skimming the book I had already opened. It’s called Small Teaching: Everyday Lessons from the Science of Learning by James M. Lang.

Right away, I realized I had made a mistake when I opened this book. Yes, I had read the Table of Contents, but then I had just turned to the Introduction and started reading. The opening of the book is about baseball, which doesn’t interest me. I realized just two pages in that my energy around the book was already falling. That’s when I realized my mistake–and I think it’s a common one that most readers make. I had started reading the chapter without looking ahead to determine the structure of the chapter first.

So, as I skim the Introduction by moving my finger down the center of each page I notice:

  • Bold Type: after a few pages of background information, there are three topics in bold–and I know that I want to read deeply enough to get an understanding of those three topics
  • The author’s teaching strategy: the author tells me how he’s going to teach me what he wants me to know. This is wonderful because it’s exactly what I want teachers to do in classrooms.

    He tells me that each chapter will contain: 1) an Introduction 2) Theory 3) a Model 4) Principles 5) some Quick Tips and 6) a Conclusion. That already helps me get excited for the different chapters.

Then, I move to the first chapter to verify that the author did in fact include each of those 6 things in the chapter. As I skim, I am happy to see bold headings for each of those six things. This reassures me that I’m going to have a lot of fun skimming this book because there is so much repetition in the structure of knowledge, and also I can see how quickly it is going to answer some of the big questions that I have about how educators can incorporate brain science into their teaching. That means, it will help me fulfill my goal for my reading session today.

Skimming Book Two

This book is Neuro Teach: Brain Science and the Future of Education by Glenn Whitman & Ian Kelleher. I have not even cracked this book open previously, so you get to watch me, with a very fresh brain, uncover which sections of this book I do and don’t want to read, as well as watch me skim in actual practice.

My noticings:

  • The first thing I always do is go to is the Table of Contents, though on the way there, I notice that this book was published in 2016.
  • When I get to the Table of Contents, right away I see that it doesn’t have sections. This means I’m going to take a closer look to see if I can determine and create my own sections. 
  • The chapters look like they’re a series of essays on the topic without a structure to them. That’s a little disappointing to me, though I will say that some of the chapter titles, like “How Much Do We Need to Know About the Brain” are very appealing to me. I have some opinions about the least teachers need to know and I’m curious what he’s going to say.
  • There’s a conclusion and a couple appendices, so already I know that I don’t need to read the whole book, and that I can just dive into the chapters that I might be interested in.
  • So I move to the Introduction hoping it will tell me something about the structure of the book. While I notice a few passages that catch my eye–including one that includes the number 4 which I was hoping would give me a clue to the book’s structure (it didn’t)–the introduction does not tell me about how the book is structured.
  • Then I actually skim a few chapters looking for structure. I find pictures–I love pictures–but no Headings or Sub-Headings, so I realize I’m probably going to need to create my own.
  • I notice the authors do provide some retrieval practice questions at the end of each chapter! I always love to ask myself retrieval practice questions when they are offered before I’ve been exposed to the information, so I might even grab my pencil and write them here. I notice one of the questions has the goal of helping the reader put the learning into action.
  • Then I get excited by a heading! “The Unconscionable List aka the Despicable Baker’s Dozen Things a Teacher Should Never Do Again” Oh my God I love it! I know I’m gonna be super excited about reading that list, and I notice we even have some retrieval practice.
  • As I’m flipping pages, I notice a chart–I love a good chart!
  • I confirm for myself that this book really is a collection of essays, so I make a plan to read the essays that I most want to read for this particular professional development that I’m creating.

At this point, I have a good understanding of how I’m going to use this book and it took eight minutes to do the skimming. (I probably would have taken less if I hadn’t been talking it through.) I actually can see that the first book is probably going to be worth more of a deep dive, but the second one is potentially a good introduction if I zero in on the chapters that interest me most and meet my goals for today’s reading. os now I have my day of skimming set up for me.

Practicing What I Preach

But, this wouldn’t be an Anti-Boring video if I didn’t practice a little of what I preach.

You may know from a previous video I made that I have this infinity loop that I try and move through in all my work with both students and educators. It’s the “Do/Notice Loop.” We do a little something, and then we notice about it. We do a little something, and we notice about it. So I took a moment after I skimmed those books to do a little noticing about what did that made my reading or my skimming Anti-Boring. Here’s what I cam up with:

  • first I looked for the structure of ideas in the book, both for the book as a whole and for each chapter individually 
  • then I identified which sections of the book I wanted to read in more detail and why—–I was very clear on what I’m reading for and I made sure I didn’t have to read everything but I had had targeted which parts that I want to take a look at
  • I identified how I’m going to interact as I read. I got out my pencil when I realized, “oh, I’m gonna’ practice retrieval in these places where this one author gives me an opportunity to practice retrieval” or “oh, there’s not a lot of headings so I’m going to have to write my own headings in the margins.” 

There you have it–skimming made easy! Those are just a few ways that I set myself up for less boredom while I’m reading–that’s one thing it means to be Anti-Boring–and I’m curious about what you noticed? Did you see me do other helpful things? Or maybe you saw me do unhelpful things? In either case, I’d love it if you’d leave me comments below to let me know! I’m going to pay extra special attention to these comments for future videos.

And, if you don’t want to have to read (or skim) whole, big, long books to learn about the science of learning, I’ve created a little shortcut you’ll love! I think it’s the secret to teaching your students how to learn and study more effectively than ever before. Head over here and start my free “Unlock Student Learning” mini-course filled with knowledge, tips, and best practices you can start sharing today.

See you next week with a bit more on skimming!