A practical reading comprehension and annotation strategy that works well for many readers is to draw mind maps during or after reading. The University of North Carolina has a fantastic resource for Visual Brainstorming that I use with my students, involving Mind Mapping and Concept Mapping as ways to visually connect many ideas from a text and develop early structures for essays, discussion, and other projects. We will return to Mind Maps for various parts of the reading, research and writing process in this text.
Chunking and Close Reading
Chunking and close reading are inter-related reading strategies that allow readers to “zero-in” on one or two passages that are especially difficult to understand. Often, as mentioned before, it is beneficial to annotate this difficult place as you read, ask your question in the margins, and continue on to see if the context of the rest of the article or chapter, or video, answers your questions.
Then, if you are still perplexed by the end of your reading, go back to that section and look for certain words; make connections between sentences; ask yourself what the author was intending to do here (even if they were not very successful for you as a reader), and ask yourself any other questions to discover meaning.
If you still have difficulty figuring out this difficult section of the text, don’t despair! Struggling through these moments of understanding and solving these problems is where your growth will happen—and it’s not about persisting through one isolated reading situation. The strategies you can practice and start to internalize as a critical and active reader should help you learn to overcome various struggles in understanding difficult texts that you are bound to encounter in college, and perhaps this class. The key is going back to developing your flexible mindset.
Reading Difficult Texts
As we said above, becoming a “better” reader in college is not about learning new words one by one, or figuring out the meaning of one difficult article. By developing a growth mindset and being flexible and open-minded as a learner, becoming an active reader is about using strategies to get through difficult texts. Each time you try a new strategy that works for you, and continue to use and practice that strategy, you will be able to persist through any difficult text you encounter by annotating your way through difficult sections, with various new ways of annotating and asking questions to solve problems.
Now that you’ve likely taken a look at The Importance of the Act of Reading by Paulo Freire, we recommend re-reading that text to practice close reading, chunking, and annotating sections of difficult text to gain greater understanding of the meaning of the whole.
In addition to using hypothes.is, the annotation tools built into this textbook, and other ways of reading you are probably already practicing, various authors suggest the use of “parallel text sets” (Schoenbach et al.) as a way to better engage and comprehend texts and literature. As we’ve mentioned previously, a parallel text set is essentially a different type of “text,” such as a video, which “parallels” the traditional text you read as a class. In this textbook, we have embedded various videos, graphics, and hyperlinks to “mix up” the ways we are delivering content to you.
We also encourage you to find YouTube videos and other more visual ways of organizing any information you read for this class on your own, not in place of reading but in addition to it, to add to your understanding of the concepts and the ideas being shared.
Extending the reading strategies we have introduced in this chapter to poetry and other literary forms, such as fiction and even songs by your favorite popular artists, will make you a more effective and engaged reader, one that is ready to make original meanings from ALL texts and engage in meaningful conversations with authors, peers, professors, and other readers about those texts.