To Read or Not to Read?

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Samantha Stratman

Word Count: 1148

To Read or Not to Read?

I love reading. I absolutely love it. Haven’t you seen my bookshelf? Books stretch on and on as tribute to the reading I’ve done over the years. From the Junie B. Jones books I read in elementary school to the Pretty Little Liars series I read in high school (along with every Sophie Kinsella book there ever was), there is no doubt I love to read. Well, that was the case. Up until about two years ago.

I’m not saying that with a flip of a switch I decided I didn’t like reading anymore. Of course I still like to read, but finding the time has become a challenge of its own. In high school I had lots of time to read for fun, but now that I’m in college a lot has changed.  The last book I read (for fun) was during winter break, and before that was during the summer. In fact, I haven’t read for pleasure once since being busy with school. This isn’t to say that from dawn to dusk I’m stressing and sweating over school work. That’s hardly the case. I find a lot of time to watch TV and roam about social media. But none of my free time is spent reading for pleasure. And that is the greatest tragedy of all.

 High School vs College

When I was in high school my English teachers used to encourage reading by allotting about thirty minutes each class period for pleasure reading. I loved this part of the day. The best part was there was no ‘reflection’ or assignment based on the reading we had done. It was solely meant to give us time to read for pleasure. As Ahern stated, “school reading plays a factor in how we see all reading.” Since I was associating reading with pleasure, I was more inclined to read outside of school.

However, since graduating high school my reading frequencies have taken a sharp turn for the worst. I began reading less and less for pleasure and more and more for school. When I moved up to college for the first time, I brought my five favorite books (all by Sophie Kinsella) with the intention of reading at least three over the course of the academic year. I didn’t even read one. I started to wonder if I was losing interest in reading. I used to be an avid reader and now I was finding myself spending most of my free time either watching TV or on social media. Referring back to Ahern’s statement above, I had begun associating reading with school and unenjoyable events. This made me want to read less outside of class.

Since tracking and recording my reading and composing processes for a week, I learned a lot about how I spend my time and it’s given me a chance to think about ways of improving my reading tendencies.

I spent how much time?

I tracked my literacy tendencies for the week of January 23rd to the 29th. After tracking my habits I learned a lot about myself and how I spend my time – most of which was surprising. First off, almost a quarter of my time is spent watching TV (yikes), whereas a third of my time is just spent on reading/studying for my biology class. I figure this is because this is a labor intensive class, with respect to taking notes and reading. So when I sat down to write this paper, I really started thinking about my study techniques when it comes to taking notes and reading, and how these may affect the amount of time I spend on each. Figure 1 shows a detailed breakdown of how I divided my time among my classes and free time throughout the week.

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Figure 1 is a pie chart detailing the breakdown of how much time I spent on various activities throughout the week

When I take notes in class I indicate the lecture the material is from, as well as highlight the main question and write the answer below, as seen in Figure 2. In a way this is kind of like annotating because I can easily reference the main ideas when I’m studying for an exam. However, I don’t annotate when I read and this probably contributes to the hours it takes me to get through one passage.

uwp paper 2 pic 1

Figure 2 shows notes I took in my biology class

When I read for biology, I find that it can take hours, hence a third of my time. Was this because the passages were long? Maybe. But I figured there was another reason. One that could potentially be worked on or improved. So why was it taking me eons to read a single passage? Rosenberg explained this phenomenon perfectly, “I’d hold on for a paragraph or two, and then suddenly I’d be thinking about my classmate Joel’s elbows – Did I find him sexy? Crap! How many paragraphs had my eyes grazed over while I was thinking about Joel’s stupid elbows?” This was me. Every. Time. I could never get through an entire passage without my mind wandering. So how could I read without constantly getting distracted?

What do I do?!

Rosenberg offers a really good piece of advice, “Figuring out the main argument is the key to reading the text effectively and efficiently.” This could be really helpful in my readings because often times I find that I’m reading extraneous details about how disruptive selection resulted in two different beak sizes for the West African finch. Instead of spending ten minutes reading this section over and over, I can move onto the sections that support the main argument, and those that my professor emphasizes. This way, I’ll spend less time reading but still walk away with the main idea.

Another method that may help is given by Ahern, who suggests being an active reader. She states, “Make yourself either take notes as you’re reading or write a paragraph or short comments about what you thought once you finished.” This, in theory, is annotating. When I annotated Ahern’s passage for my UWP 1 class it not only made my reading more efficient but when I looked back on the passage to find supporting pieces of advice it was easy because I had highlighted them beforehand. So by applying these methods, I’m sure I can become a much more productive reader, freeing up more of my time to spend on other activities such as reading for pleasure.

One Week Later

Since incorporating Ahern’s and Rosenberg’s advice into my studying, I’ve found that I’m much more productive. I’ve found that I’m not spending ages trying to comprehend irrelevant details in my biology readings, or losing focus when I’m reading articles for my UWP 1 class. I’ve also begun annotating shorter passages, such as the ones for my UWP 1 class. Although it’s more work, I actually spend less time overall since I’m actively reading and not easily distracted. Now that I’m more productive with my time, I have more time to spend on reading for pleasure, as I’ve begun Sophie Kinsella’s newest novel, Wedding Night. And everything in the world is okay again.