David Bartholomae & Anthony Petrosky

All college student can read on some level; however, many do not read effectively. In other words, many students falsely think they can understand concepts or lessons by memorizing the words and information rather than understanding the ideas which are expressed by words. Consequently, information is retained mainly for the purpose of passing an exam; memorization is mistaken for learning. Therefore, it is crucial for college student to develop reading strategies and techniques which will aid in learning, understanding, and retaining key concepts from textbooks, essays, novels, technical materials, and other kinds of reading.

David Bartholomae and Anthony Petrosky offer a different way of thinking about reading in their text Ways of Reading. They emphasize the importance of implementing various strategies and techniques into your reading. When applied to your reading assignments, these reading strategies and techniques will undoubtedly guide you in becoming a stronger, more critical reader with greater chances of comprehending and retaining what you read.

If you know something about a text your are going to read, your perception, interpretation, and understanding of that text will likely begin before you start to read. Even if you do not know anything abut a text, your mind tries to make sense of what you are attending to. You may have experienced frustration with trying to read something that you did not understand; you may have tried to tackle it, or you may have given up discouraged because it seemed tool foreign, too inaccessible. A feeling or sense of difficulty or confusion when tackling something new is normal. Most people experience this feeling when confronted with new ideas, thoughts, or concepts. Recall a time when you found some new task difficult or confusing. Later, when you had mastered the task, it seemed easy. This will also happen with your reading and writing; as you practice, it will become easier.

Think of your work with reading as new experiences to be tackled and mastered. Realize that your mind will make sense of each new project it takes on. Making sense of a text often requires a conscious effort on your part which can and might include: paying attention to clues before you begin to read, connecting what you are reading to material you have read before, aiming for a comprehensive rather than a fragmented view of the text, seeing the text from many different perspectives, and working as an active, not a passive, reader. To help you improve your reading, thinking, and writing performance, take advantage of introductions, headnotes, footnotes, and illustrations included in many texts. Many readers skip these helpful additions and miss opportunities to create stronger, fuller readings. Good readers will take advantage of these helps.

Titles reveal an abundance of information about texts. Taking time to think about a title can help you with your reading. From a title, what concrete things can you say about the text or its author? What assumptions might you make about the reading? Remember that authors choose their titles and their words with care; one of their goals is to communicate, so pay attention to titles since titles can signal meaning before you begin to read.

When you read an essay, try to read without stopping each time you come to a word or phrase you do not understand. Jot down or underline words you do not know and look them up in a dictionary after you have finished reading. If you interrupt your reading a number of times, it will be more difficult to create an understanding of a whole text. We realize that there is a temptation to stop each time you encounter an unfamiliar word. Most of us have been taught, somewhere along the line, that we must read and understand every single word in order to make sense of a text. Usually, though, interrupting your reading has the opposite effect and will cause your reading to be fragmented. If you keep stopping, it might be difficult to create an overview of a reading. Starting and stopping might make it difficult to remember what you have read. One strategy that often proves more effective than stopping your reading to look up individual words is to determine the meaning of words or phrases in context. You should do this quickly; do not get bogged down trying to figure out a word. If you cannot get it quickly, move on. When trying to figure out a word's meaning from the context, look at the function of the word: What does it seem to mean? What does it do in the sentence? What possible meanings and functions would be nonsensical? By decoding the meaning of words in context, you are more likely to increase your reading speed, comprehension, and vocabulary.


Ways of Reading. 3rd. ed. Eds. David Bartholomae and Anthonly Petrosky. Boston, MA: St. Martins Press, 1993.

Breaking Boundaries. 2000. Comfort, Carol. Prentice-Hall, Inc., Upper Saddle River, New Jersey 07458.


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