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Engaged Reading Strategies

Engaged Reading Strategies

Author: Gavin McCall

This lesson teaches strategies for effective reading.

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Source: Eliot, T. S. :Prufrock and Other Observations.” Gutenberg eBook #1459, Jan. 25, 2013.

Video Transcription

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Welcome back to English Composition. I'm Gavin McCall. Thanks for joining me. So what are we going to learn today? We'll learn about engaged reading strategies, specific steps you can take to improve your reading comprehension and engagement.

The first strategy we'll look at is SQ3R, which stands for scan, question, read, recite, review. Then we'll talk about active reading and its role in this process. Engaged reading strategies are specific methods that scholars and educators have developed to help them and you become more effective readers. There are, of course, many different strategies for improving reading engagement and ultimately you'll have to find the method that works best for you.

But whatever you do, keep in mind that these strategies have been time tested not only to improve the depth of a reader's connection to a text, but to improve his or her reading comprehension, how much information is retained after the reading's done. If you've ever read something, especially a dry or a complex text, and then immediately wondered what you just read, well, today we'll go over strategies for avoiding that.

And no matter what your interests or chosen field, these strategies can be applied to writing in and about it. The beauty of these strategies is that they're not about the text themselves, but about you. They are ways to focus your attention and to maximize what you get out of your time spent reading.

The first strategy we'll cover is called SQ4R. As I mentioned before, this stands for scan, question, read, recite, review. But what does that mean? Let's look a little more closely.

SQ2R is a reading comprehension strategy that involves surveying a text's headings, subheadings, and so forth, pre-questioning what the text will be about, reading actively, and using the information already gathered, reciting and recalling using keywords to answer the questions from the questioning step, and clarifying the text's key points, and reviewing your notes and textual marks, such as highlights, underlines, adaptations.

It's a lot, I know. But don't worry. First, we'll break it down into individual steps, then I'll demonstrate applying them to a text so you can get a sense of how the SQ3R can help you. The first thing you'll need to do when presented with a text is to scan or preview it. Much like the brainstorming and prewriting stages of the writing process, this is the part of the reading process where you take the first broad glances at the material.

You'll be looking at the text's length, as well as its headings and subheadings, if any. And all with an eye for the next step, which is questioning. In this step, you ask questions about the text before actually stopping to read it.

You've seen the title, so you can guess as to its topic. But what do you think the argument is? Based on the headings and subheadings, how do you think that argument will be developed, and what kind of appeal, what kind of evidence do you expect to find there? Do you think you'll agree with the text, and why or why not?

Looking at the length of the text, how broad or how specific do you think the author's claims are going to be, and how do you expect they'll sync up with your own interests in regards to this topic or this issue? The point isn't to be able to answer any of these questions, at least not yet. But by asking them, you'll be planting in your mind problems to be solved so that as you read, the text will either defy or conform to your expectations which can't help but bring you closer to it, engaging you with it.

The next step is the first of the three Rs, reading. Here you read the text with your questions in mind. And as you go through it, you're annotating and highlighting, taking whatever notes you need to make sure the most important, most interesting, most telling areas of the texts will be easier to find again during the next two steps.

After reading comes reciting. In this step, you pause immediately after reading and try to tell yourself in your own words what you read. Don't worry yet about making judgments or answering questions. For now, all you're doing is rephrasing the text's main points.

The last step is reviewing. Here, you respond to the text, fulfilling your end of the academic conversation. You reflect on its ideas, its premises, and conclusions, and all the evidence and appeals the came between them. And you go back to your questions and see what answers you have.

The thing about this kind of reading activity is that I could talk and talk about it all I want, but the only way to really get a sense of how it might help you as reader is to see it performed on a text. The text I've chosen is a poem, "Morning at the Window" by T.S. Eliot. Take a moment to read it, pausing the video if you want.

Otherwise, I'll start by narrating my own SQ3R process, starting with scan. The first thing I think when I see T.S. Eliot's title is that there's a long history of poems being the observations of poets sitting and looking out a window. This is usually used as a disparaging remark for newcomers to poetry, the assumption being that they have nothing to write about, so they sit and stare and then write about what they see.

I'm interested to see what Eliot makes of this. Maybe this poem or poems like it started that trend. I'm also curious to see what observations Eliot infuses into what I'm assuming to be a very visual poem. The other thing I notice without really reading it is that this piece is short. It's only got one stanza, or block of text, which is unusual of T.S. Eliot who was known for writing much longer pieces. "The Wasteland" is a famous example.

I'm interested to see whether this piece is short because it's not about as broad a topic as "The Wasteland" was, or if this is just a quick, easy little thing Eliot wrote for fun. I've already got a couple questions to work with, which for so small a text should be enough. If I had a particular goal in mind for my reading of this-- if, for example, I was writing a piece about poems about windows or something like that, I'd probably want to come up with more questions, questions that relate to my intended writing project.

But for now, let's move on. So now I'll read the text. "They are rattling breakfast plates in basement kitchens, and along the trampled edges of the street, I am aware of the damp souls of housemaids sprouting despondently at area gates. The brown waves of fog toss up to me twisted faces from the bottom of the street, and tear from a passer-by with muddy skirts an aimless smile that hovers in the air and vanishes along the level of the roofs."

It's a bit of a challenge to try to rephrase poetry. In a more traditionally academic text, here I'd be summarising a clear thesis. But basically in my own words, this is a poem about watching life happen from far above it. I'd call this poem a detached look at mundane life.

I can practically see Eliot sitting at a window, watching the muddy and gray people going about their muddy and gray lives, noticing everything but not really caring about much. Besides, maybe the aimless smile that the fog brings up to him at the end.

I've already started to review this in my head, I think. The tone of my rephrasing seems a bit more critical of Eliot than I'd expected it to be. This probably has to do with my initial reaction against poets sitting at windows writing what they see. It just seems-- and this is purely my opinion-- like a waste of time.

With all the beauty in heroism and all the ugliness and injustice in the world, I feel like problems like this one are kind of a waste of time. But at the same time, there's something here, something that seems almost to celebrate the proletariat lives we're looking at.

I might be stretching a little, but that's part of the process, injecting yourself into this text. It's part of how you respond to this kind of piece. As for me, I honestly can't decide if I like it. I do think that poems like this, whether the observation in it makes the oddly superior tone and stance of looking down at people worth it or not, need to do more.

I think I'll maintain my assumption that poets looking out of windows should probably get up and find something to write about before setting pen to paper or finger to keyboard, but I'm not a poet. Also I do think that the shortness of this piece, after having read it, might indeed be because of how focused it is. Unlike the other work of Eliot's that I've encountered, "Morning at the Window" doesn't seem to be trying to be about very much. I don't think that's a problem, though. The title is honest, at least.

I think I've answered most of the questions I came up with before reading. This engaged reading of a text has been necessarily short, but I encourage you, if you really want to understand how reading strategies like SQ3R can help you, to just try it. Even if you feel odd the first time, asking yourself questions and then telling yourself what you just read. Just do it and see where it takes you.

There's one part of the process I haven't demonstrated yet. If you remember, when we first talk about reading as part of the SQ3R strategy, I said you shouldn't just be reading but that you should be annotating as you go. So what does that mean?

Annotations are a form of active reading, which for our purposes we'll define simply as using engagement techniques in order to talk back to a text. The techniques include annotating, which basically means to comment on in notes, as well as highlighting and underlining. Essentially, active reading means doing something while you read.

It means engaging with the text physically, either by taking notes or highlighting or otherwise noting the text's main points, as well as areas you find particularly interesting, which might be useful for quoting or paraphrasing when you're working on your own writing project. Active reading is a way to make sure you're entering into the conversation of a text, because you're responding to it.

You're adding your own points, adding emphasis to its text, whenever you think the emphasis is needed. You're making it your own, and you're doing so at least in part because whatever notes you write, whatever highlighting and emphasizing you do, will probably come in handy later on in the writing process.

Let's take another look at T.S. Eliot's poem. Now, I've obviously not had the palm on paper in front of me, but if I had here's an example of what it might look like after an active reading. Take a moment to look closely at what I've done, pausing the video if you like.

Did you notice how I was asking the text specific questions about its language? Why this word? What does this do? I've also commented on the way the second to last line surprised me. It might be useful later for me to remember that this was my initial reaction to seeing the line about the smile.

And as you can see, I highlighted some of the sections of this piece that stood out to me. Again, this is an obviously condensed example of what you might do to a longer, more traditionally academic text. But the overall effect is the same.

Here you can see me responding to the text, entering into a conversation with it. And in doing so, I'm paving the way, for any kind of written response, or whatever other use I might make of this text. Either way, I did way more than read it, don't you think?

So what did we learn today? We learned about engaged reading strategies and how they can help you become a more effective reader. We went over the SQ3R, scan, question, read, recite, review, but then we practiced it. Then we talked about active reading and got to see a demonstration. I'm Gavin McCall. Thanks for joining me.

Terms to Know
Active Reading

Using engagement techniques such as highlighting, underlining, and annotating to “talk back” to a text.


A reading comprehension strategy that involves surveying a text’s headings, subheading and so forth; pre-questioning what the text will be about; reading actively and using the information already gathered; recite or recall using keywords to answer the questions from the questioning step and clarify the text’s key points; and review your notes and textual marks (highlights/underlines, annotations).