There are two kinds of high school and college reading – pleasure and for the purpose of gaining knowledge and getting better grades.
What if you were to find a written text that, from its title, promised such a mystery unveiled? Would you continue reading? Wouldn’t you feel, at least, a little curious about what could make this story not just*very* interesting, but more likely, the last word on the subject?
What would happen if it actually were “THE ULTIMATE STORY EVER!”? Would you read on until your curiosity was satisfied? It seems to me that, if your answer was “Yes”, you could consider yourself to be a really lucky person to have found such a rarity!
But, let’s face it: such a situation might also be a bit… odd. I mean, who can honestly say they have ever found all the following characteristics in a text together?
- Texts with such an attractive and promising title that they automatically hook you into the reading and breeze all the way through its lovely, logical contents non-stop. Love at first sight.
- Words, sentences and vocabulary are so familiar to you that their reading makes you feel as if you were actually talking to yourself, or to your best friend. Or to both.
- Lots and lots of images (for the visual learners, of course). Pure delight.
- Texts with ideas so common, so easy to digest that, just as in number 2, they could even save you the trouble of challenging your preconceptions and your as-you-know-it previous understanding of the world.
- Imagine these texts are academic. Homework, essays, reports; you get the picture. If you got a positive answer on the first four in a row, you were most likely thinking of a reading you did for pleasure. I am almost certain that once you reached number five, numbers 1 to 4 stopped making sense altogether.
Academic reading can be more challenging than those we do for pleasure in many ways: they tend to be more complicated by nature, both in language and contents; they’re not the type of texts you would usually not be able to put down like fiction reading; if illustrations decorate their pages they might end up being just as complex as the text itself. And, more importantly: they are compulsory. This can be a creepy word for students. “I have to do it, but I just don’t get it!”
But please don’t get me wrong: The examples above are in no way patronizing. They are ironic, yet clear examples of what I’ve witnessed in my 15-year teaching career: students who honestly struggle with reading academic texts. If you are one of those, don’t stop reading here. Keep going until the end of this chapter and, with any luck, you will be able to get some useful advice from it. Ready?
1. Give the text a chance.
Have you ever been in a situation where you’ve found yourself talking to someone you’ve never met before? Or when your friends arrange a meeting between you and a stranger because they thought that person might do you good? This is a somewhat compulsory situation. It might be a little awkward at first, but once you start talking to each other, once you’ve given yourself the chance to get to know that person better, who knows what might come next? The same happens with texts: if you do not even give them a chance, who knows what you might be losing?