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William is an Assistant Professor at Mount Saint Vincent University in the Department of Business Administration and Tourism and Hospitality Management. He is fascinated by research around how individuals construct and create their social realities, intrigued with the powers of creativity and innovation, and an avid proponent of outstanding service experiences. When not teaching, writing, or researching, he tries to spend time with his family and occasionally paint. He is currently completing his PhD in Management at Saint Mary’s University.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

QOTD: How to read a textbook

A few weeks back, I wrote about walking the walk on the first week back to school. In it, I discussed getting students engaged in the reading process. But over the last week, a number of questions have popped up with 'how to' questions. Specifically, how do we get through all of this reading when we don't have a lot of time?

Ok, this is a two part problem. The first part deals with time and time management. The second focuses on materials management and how to efficiently move through your materials. 

Sure, students today have full schedules and some need to work jobs to afford school. The reality is that there are 24 hours a day and 7 days a week, for a total of 168 hours in a week. Sleep should account for 49 hours - let's everybody get at least 7 good hours of sleep a night; too little and we'll get run down while too many eats up useful time. Many students are in classes for 15-20 hours every week; let's toss in 30 hours for work, 21 hours for eating, 4 for exercise and another 5 for pure fun. Everyone will have their own items on this list. If you're like me with young kids, then you know that a few hours everyday belong to them - this is as non-negotiable as time for eating. Whatever is on your list, you need to make it, monitor it, and manage it.

Based on this list of commitments above, someone would have 39 hours a week left over, or approximately 5.5 hours each day - lots of time that can be used to deal with reading, writing, research, and most importantly THINKING (another post on this at some point). The point here is to track your time and keep a personal schedule. Every day. If you're not willing to track your time and plan out your goals, don't waste time complaining that you are too busy.

All right, to the second part of how to read a textbook.

Textbooks are not like other genres of writing that you have encountered. Many of us read novels for enjoyment, entertainment, even to escape. Each word is read as we get swept into the story; we work our way through each page following the narrative path crafted by the author. When you pick up a textbook, don't do this.

Textbooks contain valuable information, facts, and examples that should explain concepts and provide demonstrations. Most textbooks that I have read fail to have a compelling narrative; the 'story' is terrible. It is my hope that authors will come to realize that they need to write for their audience and make the writing more interesting and engaging. Not dumbed down but pumped up. Until this happens, we will continue to  use these resources. So here's a guide for you to read textbooks more efficiently.
  1. Read the table of contents - this will give you a sense of major topic flows.
  2. Read the chapter introduction and conclusion - these two sections should clearly tell you what the chapter is about and some of the topics, without getting into significant details.
  3. Read the chapter in chunks - one section at a time. You can only take in a limited amount of information at any one time. Why would you expect to understand the whole chapter in one read through?
  4. Take notes in text as your read - The goal here is to identify important terms, processes, examples and information. The flip side is actually to get rid of the extra material that will not help you - the filler. (When you go back to read the content, you'll have shortened up the amount to read significantly!) I highlight my textbooks when I read. Some people think this is sacrilegious; fine, use a pencil and erase it later. Sigh...it's your book. If you're already thinking about resale before you've used it, your focus is way off target.
  5. Write these notes out - I'm 'old school' and use a pen and paper. Feel free to type them out. Whatever the method you prefer, you need to engage with the material and start creating your own resource.
  6. Go to the next 'chunk' and repeat step 3-5.
  7. Answer your assigned questions from your notes.
I find that most students can get through a reasonably sized chapter in about 3 hours with these techniques. Plus, they can break them up over a couple sessions. These are the building blocks of your course preparation.

What are the techniques that YOU use to efficiently get through the material? Leave your comments below and we'll put them together in a future blog.

Now back to reading...

1 comment:

  1. When I look over the headings I think about what I know about the subject already and take time to think about how the ideas might be connected to each other. I try to think of questions that I am curious about. Then I find that I am more engaged when I am reading. I have questions I wanted to know, and theories that I can either proof right (hooray!) or wrong (hey, I that makes so much more sense!).

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