Read Like You Mean It

Reblogged from Angelo State University’s Navigating Higher Ed blog:

Back when I was young and still played sports, a baseball coach told us our goal each day was to “practice like we mean it.” The idea, and it’s a cliché we’ve all heard before, is that championships might be won on the playing field but winning foundations are built in the weight room and at practice every day.

I’ve often thought we would be well-served to apply some athletic principles to academic activities.

Of course, it’s possible I just want to blow a whistle really loud during class and wear shorts to work.

The reality, though, is that hard work and intentionality transcend the activity in which you are engaged. There aren’t many jobs or hobbies where being lazy and haphazard helps you gain mastery. You might be the best athlete on the field or the smartest student in the class but if you aren’t putting forth your best efforts, you probably won’t achieve the success you want.

Hustle beats talent, every coach you’ve ever met will tell you, if talent doesn’t hustle.

We can apply the same principle to the classroom. Learning requires that we actively engage with the materials. Good grades might be earned on your exams or your essays, but the foundation for those scores is built in the daily classroom activities and at the library each night.

Learning, of course, is a complex mix of skills that often differ by discipline, but every academic subject requires that we read well. Certainly, first-year students (and anyone who has read this far into the blog) can read, but reading and reading well are two very different things. In fact, reading like a college student involves more than simply flipping the pages and getting to the end of the chapter.

Be Intentional

Reading can be fun, adventurous, wild, exciting, passionate and enlightening. We’ve all had that moment when a book, a paragraph, a sentence or even a phrase captured our attention and our imagination. Reading can also be tedious, dull and (when you have eight chapters covering material you find about as exciting as clipping your toenails) disheartening.

Let’s face it. Sometimes reading can be about like shooting 100 free throws a day. The first 10 are exciting. Number 99? Not so much.

Practice, though, makes perfect and as readers we have to remember the reason we’re reading. Before you read, I tell my students, ask what you are trying to gain. Be intentional. Read your syllabus. Review your class notes. Why are you being asked to read this chapter? How is this information important and why do you need to know it? We might not be in control of what we have to read, but we can be in control of what we want to learn from the text.

Location, Location, Location

Where you read often matters just as much as how you read. Reading well requires that you focus your attention on the goals you set forth. If I had a dollar for every student who told me he concentrated better while listening to music, I would be sitting on a beach feeling sorry for everyone still sitting at their desks putting in a full day’s work.

If, I like to ask those students, I told you to learn the material by tomorrow or I will take your cell phone, smash it into tiny little bits, and send you back to junior high gym class, would you listen to music with the TV on while your roommates sit around playing poker and telling jokes?

One of the more important lessons incoming college students have to learn is that reading at this level is a high-stakes event. We have a compressed time frame and your professors expect you to read and retain information in a relatively short period of time. Since that’s the case, reading well necessitates that we find that location that allows us to focus all our energies on the words on the page.

No One Runs a Marathon on the First Day

I had a friend who, at 38, decided he wanted to run a marathon before he turned 40. When he started training, he didn’t focus on distance. Instead, he ran for certain periods of time each day. The goal was to slowly but surely increase the length of time he could run. Doing so allowed him to also increase the distance.

Reading works the same way (and sometimes feels like a marathon). See how long you can read before you start thinking about food, your boyfriend, your roommate’s nasty habit of clipping his nose hairs each night, or what happened on “The Walking Dead” last night. When you get distracted, stop reading but try, each day, to extend the amount of time you can read while focused on the material. You’ll be amazed when the 10 minutes turn into an hour.

Look It Up

Since we haven’t smashed your cell phone yet, let that tiny little electronic brain serve you instead of enslaving you. Words have meaning and the people writing books choose words carefully. There’s no shame in not having a Brobdingnagian vocabulary, but there’s no reason to be lazy about it. Your library probably has a subscription to the Oxford English Dictionary, but Merriam Webster and Dictionary.com usually work pretty well, too.

Listen to Your Eyes

Reading should be an activity. Involve other senses in the process. If you read a particularly thorny paragraph, read it out loud. Find a friend to read it to you. Hear the words as often as possible.

Don’t stop there, though. When we read, we can often find meaning by visualizing the text. In my literature classes, I tell students to cast the roles and film the story in their heads. My colleague has students draw their thoughts. There is no doubt that words can confuse us, and we can get lost in the language within the chapters. When that happens, switch gears. Doodle your ideas, map out your confusion, and draw or listen your way to understanding.

Learning Means Never Having to Say You’re Sorry

The other day in class, a student raised his hand and said, “I hate to be rude, but I don’t understand . . .” While I can’t speak for all professors everywhere, asking for clarification isn’t rude. Never be afraid to walk into class or stop by your professor’s office confused. If you are practicing hard and hustling, we want to help. Remember that your professors love this stuff. Being confused isn’t rude, but not working hard, then asking for help might be.

Read, Rest and Repeat

I’ve never met a good hitter who takes one swing during batting practice. Reading well, like hitting a fast-pitched softball, jumping hurdles, or setting a quick ball in the middle, takes practice, repetition and time. Make sure, I tell my students each semester, you have time to read, rest and repeat.

Most of all, though, I tell my students, you have to commit yourself to read like you mean it. After all, that textbook probably cost you (or your parents) a pretty penny. Make sure you get your money’s worth out of it.

College vs. High School: “Differently Hard”

I’ve started contributing to Angelo State’s Navigating Higher Ed (a My Future Blog). Click on the link to the left to see the article on that page or read below. I told them when I agreed to write, I was going to repost on my blog site. I would encourage anyone here to slide on over to the Angelo State site and see the other blog posts. If you are looking for a college home, you could do quite a bit worse than ASU.

College vs. High School: “Differently Hard”

When I teach first year composition courses, I’ll often begin the semester by asking my students their perception about the biggest differences between high school and college. Since I like to teach early morning classes, I’m often the first class of their college career so I get responses tinged with excitement, nerves and, understandably, a kind of abject fear at this new endeavor they’ve undertaken.

At Angelo State, mind you, many of our students are first generation, first time college students who lack the wise counsel of an older sibling or parents with experience in higher . Their initial impressions of college life are influenced by popular culture, high school counselors, and their first two nights in the dorm.

Inevitably, students will tell me they expect the work to be more difficult and that they don’t have “mommy and daddy” around to make sure they get to class. There is, for many, a great deal of excitement as they become fully cognizant of their responsibilities as emerging adults, coupled with an underlying fear that they aren’t prepared for the academic rigor or the personal responsibility necessary to succeed at the university level.

I like to revisit this question as we wind down the semester to see if their experiences matched those initial perceptions.

As you can imagine, the responses vary, but when I first started teaching I had a student tell me his first semester taught him that college was “differently hard” than high school.

In essence, he wrote, the subject matter in his classes wasn’t as complex as he feared it might be in college, but the classes were still difficult because “how I had to work” changed dramatically once he got to college.

The rest of the student’s response to the question struggled to explain exactly what he meant, but I think he did a pretty good job of identifying a couple of key differences between high school and college.

New regimen

For my student, the “differently hard” issues revolved around the way time works on a college campus and the nature of the work required.

Professors expect students to work two to three hours a week outside of class for every hour in which they are in class.In high school, students’ days are fairly regimented. They arrive on campus around 7:45 and leave around 2:30 or 3. We ring a bell every 50-75 minutes to herd them to the next assigned task. During those classes, we collect homework and spend time, in the ideal high school, confirming that the students understand the material before we move on to the next subject.

In many ways, the nature of the work is very linear, culminating (for better or for worse, mind you) in a state-mandated exam that measures progress on stated and agreed upon goals. I have no intention of being critical of the high school model. By and large, American high schools do a pretty amazing job of educating our children, especially when you consider the difficulty of the task they often face.

They can’t, though, perfectly prepare students for colleges.

Time shift

My student, in his comments, pointed out how shocking it was that he had an 8 a.m. class, a 9 a.m. class, then nothing until Tuesday morning.

Full-time high school students attend classes seven to eight hours a day. Every day. In college, a full-time student attends classes 12-15 hours a week.

Good thing we have cable and high-speed Internet in the dorms, right?

What my student had to learn, of course, is that the burden of measuring his understanding of the course material shifts in college from the teacher to the student. The reason a full-load is 12 hours, I explain to my students, is that professors expect students to work two to three hours a week outside of class for every hour in which they are in class. Students have to learn how to read on their own, practice problem sets with friends, and seek out help from professors, tutoring centers or academic advisors.

Time on a college campus offers students an amazing amount of freedom, but that free time comes with important responsibilities.

Faster Pace

Likewise, that free time changes the nature of the work required at the college level. Because professors expect students will be spending that “free” time working on their classes and , students often struggle with the pace of college classes. Professors cover more material at a quicker pace with fewer quizzes and homework assignments. Classes often focus on larger issues and critical thinking rather than simply recitation of factual information. In essence, grades become more dependent on how a student might apply material rather than a student’s ability to repeat data.

Most importantly, professors expect that students will seize their responsibilities and take advantage of their time on campus to pursue knowledge or seek help when understanding might be eluding them.

Doing so will help students spend their “free” time wisely and master those “differently hard” assignments as they move toward graduation and successful careers after college.

Things I Read

And Things I Learned

Washington Monthly

Do I contradict myself? / Very well then I contradict myself, / (I am large, I contain multitudes.)

Joanne Jacobs

Thinking and Linking by Joanne Jacobs

Inside Higher Ed

Do I contradict myself? / Very well then I contradict myself, / (I am large, I contain multitudes.)

FiveThirtyEight

Do I contradict myself? / Very well then I contradict myself, / (I am large, I contain multitudes.)

Balloon Juice

Do I contradict myself? / Very well then I contradict myself, / (I am large, I contain multitudes.)

Scott Adams' Blog

Do I contradict myself? / Very well then I contradict myself, / (I am large, I contain multitudes.)

The Full Feed from HuffingtonPost.com

Do I contradict myself? / Very well then I contradict myself, / (I am large, I contain multitudes.)

The Dish

Do I contradict myself? / Very well then I contradict myself, / (I am large, I contain multitudes.)