By Kristen Plylar-Moore, Writing Specialist

Reading has been a part of civilizations for thousands of years. In our increasingly digitized modern world, has reading become less relevant? If we can share ideas without letters, why need words in the first place?

I have never read a good case for ending literacy. But the topic receives serious chatter. For instance, a decade ago, The Washington Post published an article titled “The End of Literacy? Don’t Stop Reading.” The implication was that in order to persuade people to read, you had to convince them that reading could become obsolete.

I don’t think that will happen. I actually think the opposite will happen. I think that, in the future, reading and thinking will continue to be crucial skills, especially for students.

Reading in an online world

Online courses have become a huge part of higher education. Sometimes we associate everything digital with the abandonment of reading. But strong reading skills are tremendous assets for students in online courses.

The courses generally require students to read a lot, from assignment instructions to conversation forums to articles and textbooks. To digest all this information, to analyze and synthesize it, and to effectively convey ideas about it, students need advanced reading skills.

As a writing specialist in the LEC, I’ve discovered that some students benefit from reading support. It can be challenging to understand complex academic texts and then integrate them into your writing assignments. I’ve made discussions on how to address reading a central part of our focus in the LEC.

How to become an active reader

The more I inquire about students’ reading processes, the more I learn that some students read passively. Passive reading is what we often do when we’re reading for pleasure: we read through the book or magazine once and don’t typically take notes. When we’re reading in an academic setting, however, we should employ active reading.

Active reading is comprised of three basic components: pre-reading, reading a text multiple times, and taking notes. Pre-reading involves thinking about why you’re reading a text before you read it, so that you can determine what to focus on.

Once you know why you’re reading a text, read it for a broad familiarity. Highlight interesting parts; take longer notes if you get a good idea. Then read through a section you think is particularly interesting and summarize it in writing. This is a good way to assess your understanding.

If the text is really difficult to understand, think about why. If there are unfamiliar words or phrases, look them up in the dictionary. Imagine you’re having a conversation with the author. Try to form an opinion about part of the text, even if it’s just a sentence. Write down whether you agree or disagree. Make connections with your own ideas and experiences.

Slowing down to save time

Active reading is a process. Students that are already juggling work, family, and school may feel that active reading isn’t worth the time. However, active reading will ultimately save time, especially when writing a paper.

I sometimes spend an entire writing session with a student on a single sentence or paragraph. The idea is that, if you can write one good sentence, you can write many good sentences. Start small, build a strong foundation, and move on.

Actively reading follows a similar logic. If you can understand one sentence, you can understand the entire text. The key is to slow down and be honest with yourself: do you really understand it? Have you jotted down notes, looked up words, formed an opinion, related the ideas to your own ideas?

Critical skills for the future

Active reading can help you feel grounded in a text, even if it’s a scholarly article, and it can give you confidence. Critical reading skills, therefore, should not simply survive but thrive. So long as writing continues to be the most efficient way to sketch, record, codify, and share ideas, active reading will continue to be the best way to deeply engage them.

A version of this article appears on pages 6-9 of the Fall 2018 issue of Luminaria, under the title “Read To Succeed.”