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“Reading silently in our heads is one of the most passive techniques we can use for learning,” says Vicki Miller, an academic coach and learning strategist with SAIT’s Lamb Learner Success Centre. “Research shows we only retain about 10% of what we read silently. But active reading helps create meaning from words that are otherwise just a combination of letters and symbols.”
A former teacher and one of five Lamb Learner Success Centre academic coaches who help students learn more effectively, Miller talked with LINK about an ongoing student success seminar called Get What You Need from What You Read.
“If you are reading for detail or to remember, begin by finding a quiet space and turning off distractions like your cellphone or music.”
She explains there are different reasons for reading, such as gathering information, entertainment, or to gain a better understanding.
“If you are reading for detail or to remember, begin by finding a quiet space and turning off distractions like your cellphone or music. Read in small chunks of 20 minutes because that’s how we absorb information best — and take a break for two or three minutes between chunks to let your brain process what you have just read.”
Then, Miller says, there are several methods for becoming active in the reading process, including one called SQ4R. “It’s an effective way to identify and remember what’s important in your reading, then store it in your long-term memory.”
Skim what you are about to read so you can see where important content is. Look for headings, words in bold or italics, tables, pictures and charts.
Focus by creating questions based on what you found skimming the text and what you already know. Ask questions starting with who, what, where, when, how and why.
Engage your mind by looking for answers to your questions, reading one section or paragraph at a time. Then read it again to get a deeper understanding and to highlight, circle or underline details.
Write point-form notes to connect answers to your questions. “When you put information in your own words, you create meaning,” Miller says.
Say out loud what you have read. “If I can explain it to myself or someone else, I will know what I know and what I don’t know,” Miller says.
Take a break and then repeat Step 5. Your memory won’t absorb it all the first time, Miller says, so consolidate what you’ve learned by reviewing it several times.