I teach ESL/EFL reading strategies to freshman undergraduate students in a 7-week course. All of these students are in a science (maths) program, 75% of them would qualify as reluctant readers in their native language, about 50% have some form of dyslexia. As you can imagine, motivating the majority to do any reading of any kind is quite a task. However, over the course of their studies they’ll have to work with several English language text books, so they need to get into a routine and they need to, at least to some degree, enjoy working with these texts.
Naturally we’re discussing all the classic strategies - skimming, scanning, taking notes, summarizing, looking up words, making inferences, and so on, and so forth - but today I wanted to discuss non-text-based strategies and environmental factors. I started off with this video, “How To Read a Book You Don’t Want To Read.” It’s mostly about novels and targets a slightly younger audience, but it was a helpful kick-off. In the beginning of our discussion, students noted that the video told them nothing new. To a degree, that’s true. Students are aware they should start early, they should cut their reading into bite-size chunks, they should have an active reading position, cut out distractions, and take notes. They’re aware. But they don’t do it.
In response to their criticism I said “so far you’ve all rated your weekly reading as readable to easy, correct? Now, imagine if instead of having you read and respond to several paragraphs per week, I’d have just told you to finish the chapter by week 4 and write a 1,000 word paper on it? You’d find that much harder? But it’s the same thing. The text doesn’t change, nor do the questions I ask about it. You say you’d be more frustrated, spend more time on it, and have a harder time on it overall? Well, those things are direct results of choosing not to divide your reading into manageable sections.”
I found that really blew their mind, which I hadn’t really expected.
We also discussed environmental factors and having to study for extended periods of time. Even though you work and plan ahead, students will still find themselves having to study for several hours - reading chapters, working on problem sets - and this only increases as exams approach. In order to analyze their approach to reading under these circumstances, I asked how many of them had some kind of smartphone (100%). Then I asked them how many of them ever turned off their phone completely in places other than airplanes (10%, at night). Then I asked them how many switched off the sound in places other than school, work, places of worship (hardly anyone). Then I asked where they kept their phone while studying (100% kept it on their desk, in their pocket or in their purse, so close at hand). We concluded that pretty much all students were actively engaged with things happening on their phone while studying. In addition, nearly all students admitted to having Facebook or other social networking and/or online gaming sites open while reading on their computers and to checking them whenever they get a notification or simply get bored with their reading.
It’s information overload up in those brains. In order to tackle the issues with Internet access and smart phones, I introduced 20/10 cycles and dance parties. You should have seen their faces when I mentioned the latter! None of them had ever (or would admit to ever) had a dance party study break. NOT. ONE. How does that happen? Anyway, we started with 20/10 cycles, which I know are a thing in general but which I got from Unfuck Your Habitat. I told them to just try, for 20 minutes, to put their phone on silent, place it on the other side of the room, shut down their browser (or all tabs not containing the reading), and keep their tush in their seats and their eyes on their text. Just for 20 minutes. After that, I told them, you get 10 minutes to check your Facebook notifications, tweet back at your classmate, go on gchat with your boyfriend, grab a Red Bull from the fridge, do anything you like. And after 10 minutes you put your phone away again, shut that browser down, and read. Wash, rinse, repeat. The idea seemed to intrigue them, because they are aware that 10 minutes is plenty of time to do all the social stuff they keep interrupting their work with over a 30-minute period.
After about 3 cycles, I continued, it’s time for a dance party. They all looked at me like I was crazy. “It’s completely useful though,” I told them. “Exercise both releases endorphins, which make you happy, and it gets your heart pumping, which means your brain gets more oxygen, causing you to think more clearly and be more focused overall. Make a playlist with your favorite silly dance tunes, and be sure to rock out to it for at least 5-10 minutes every 75-90 minutes.”
When all this was over, we moved to pronunciation. I told them never to say “I can’t breed” when they mean “I can’t breathe” (“it means you can’t have children and also implies that you’re a cow or some other type of cattle”) and we watched Catherine Tate say “am I bovvered” a lot. It was a good day.
20/10s AND dance parties!
Yes. There is a desk under there.
See that bin of books? Idk where they came from, but they’re been sitting there for MONTHS.
That rolled up poster? I’ve been meaning to hang it up since the beginning of the school year.
Circle area- random papers abound!
That stuff’s been there since August.
Kids can’t even access all the books.
Yep. That’s Halloween stuff.
And now! The After:
AAAAHHHHHH I LOVE IT.
You’re such a success story!