Skim reading...new normal

The evolution of ingenuity ... The use of language is ingenuity in action. The selection of words, the organisation of ideas, the adjustment to audience and context - all of these require the constantly daily application of ingenuity, even at the most banal level. Of course, language is itself a factor in how our intelligence evolves, and this is particularly applicable at present due to the swirling changes in the software and hardware of communication.

The value of the article that forms the basis of this page is that it should require students to reflect - not only about the kind of reading tasks that we teachers ask them to perform in the classroom, but also about the kind of reading they do in the rest of their life.

The article's thesis is that 'digital-based reading' results in skim reading i.e. superficial, fragmented and with simple targets, whereas traditional paper-based media demand slower, time-demanding 'deep reading'. The clear implication is that 'deep reading' is more mentally healthy than 'skim reading' - although the author's final conclusion is that we need to appreciate, and to use effectively, both techniques of reading. This is surely a proposition that students should know about and consider in some depth.

I would argue, then, that this text is highly useful for three principal reasons:-

1. It will stimulate students to reflect in depth about what happens when they read, and why we teachers spend so much time insisting on accurate, methodical and sophisticated reading skills.

2. It proposes that we human beings are going through an intellectual sea-change, through exposure to radical technological innovation - and that we should all take care to manage that change consciously and skilfully.

3. It is a prime example of high-level, complex writing - its challenging and provocative ideas depend on being able to handle the use of sophisticated vocabulary and phrasing. Accordingly, it is an illustration of the importance of 'deep-reading' skills.

Here is the link to the full Guardian article - it is worth reading carefully yourself before we start to exploit it for teaching purposes. Note that it is lucidly constructed: there is an introductory segment (paras 1-4), which begins with the real-life illustration of the plane trip and then presents a clear statement of the general thesis ... followed by a segment of supporting evidence (paras 5-9) ... and concludes with a segment on 'what we need to do': a proposal for action (paras 10-12).

Student access

In the page TASKS Skim reading...new normal , some of the following material is presented in online forms, for the students to do outside class.

I suggest the following three ways to use segments of the article in class activities. Each segment + activity concentrates on a different intellectual / linguistic skill.

1. Grasping the thesis + key vocabulary

The second paragraph of the article presents the central thesis - that the 'neuronal circuit of reading' involves the development of important 'deep reading skills'. These skills are summarised very succinctly in ll.10-14, using lots of quite sophisticated high-level vocabulary... so sophisticated, in fact, that many students may well not really grasp the ideas at all.

Accordingly, the task in the handout is to place these key terms into the gaps in a short summary text, thus demonstrating that these sophisticated technical terms have in fact been understood. This is in quite as difficult a task as might appear - for one thing, the summary text essentially explains each of the terms in much simpler language; and for another, the gaps in the summary text follow (more or less) the sequence in which the terms appear in ll.10-14 in the main article.

How to use this material:-

either present this task using the handout, for Heads-down work;

or you can use the online version provided below (project using Presentation mode for a collective Heads-up discussion);

or you can set the gap-fill task for homework, by giving student access to the page TASKS Skim reading...new normal 

You can check the expected answers by clicking on the icon below - this gives the best-fit, intended answers, but there may be other variations which could be arguable... so by all means argue with the students!

When we learn how to read complex texts in depth, we learn how to handle, and to relate, emotional and logical thinking. We need to combine what we already know, our internalised knowledge, with the skill of being able to relate situations within the text with situations outside it using analogical reasoning, and the skill of inference – being able to work out what is suggested but not stated. All of this helps us to develop skills of empathy, remembering that this means being able to put oneself in someone else’s place (which does not necessarily mean taking their side). Then we need to relate the text to the world in general: the process of perspective-taking which means stepping back to see the text in relation to its context, society, and so on. If we can look at a complex text in all these ways, we will be able to carry out critical analysis methodically and effectively, which helps us in the generation of insight to understand the world better.

Online quiz for Presentation mode

Skim reading #1 text - Considering the conclusion + practising deep reading
Question 1. ... Study the main text, and then decide - by following the logic of the argument - which of the phrases and words listed below fit into which of the gaps.
Click on each word or phrase, and drag into into the appropriate space.
critical analysis      empathy      internalised knowledge      perspective-taking    
generation of insight             analogical reasoning                   inference 

When we learn how to read complex texts in depth, we learn how to handle, and to relate, emotional and logical thinking. We need to combine what we already know, our    , with the skill of being able to relate situations within the text with situations outside it using    , and the skill of   – being able to work out what is suggested but not stated. All of this helps us to develop skills of    , remembering that this means being able to put oneself in someone else’s place (which does not necessarily mean taking their side). Then we need to relate the text to the world in general: the process of    which means stepping back to see the text in relation to its context, society, and so on. If we can look at a complex text in all these ways, we will be able to carry out     methodically and effectively, which helps us in the     to understand the world better.

 

 

Skim reading #2 text - Considering the conclusion + practising deep reading

Questions 2-7 ... read the text carefully, understand the argument, then in the MCQs 2-7, choose the option which best fits the meaning of the word or phrase in the context of the text.

2.  “collateral damage”  (l.2)

 

 

3.  “atrophy”   (l.5)

 

 

 

 

 

 

4.   “incentivizes”   (l.7)

  

  

  

  

 

 

5.  “silos”   (l.9)      

 

  

 

 

 

 

6.  “redress”   (l.13)

 

 

 

 

 

 

7.   “entrenched”   (l.14)

 

 

 

 

 

 

Total Score:

2. Considering the conclusion + practising deep reading

The conclusion of the article, in my view, is less clearly stated and explained than the opening explanation of the main thesis. It is not exactly clear what specifically is meant by a "bi-literate reading brain". If we wish to interpret accurately what this concept might involve, we need to read carefully and in depth - and this will include precise understanding of vocabulary, which is what the MCQ exercise sets out to promote.

How to use this material:-

either present this task using the handout, for Heads-down work;

or you can use the online version provided in the page  TASKS Skim reading...new normal  - project using Presentation mode for a collective Heads-up discussion;

or you can set the MCQ task for homework, by giving student access to the page TASKS Skim reading...new normal 

Answers You can see the expected answers to the MCQs by opening the page  TASKS Skim reading...new normal  , and doing the online version of this exercise.  .

3. Group work - studying evidence, including critical thinking

If the students show sufficient interest, you can include this additional activity. The handout below provides the five paragraphs (5-9 in the article) which describe supporting evidence for the thesis. The value of dealing with this is to emphasise how well-selected evidence is necessary to support any argument... and also, that one should apply critical thinking to evidence, just as to any overall argument.

The activity works like this:-

>  divide the class into small groups / working parties

>  issue one of the paragraphs to each group

>  ask them to do the tasks specified:-

#1 – Prepare notes to give a short and clear oral summary of the ideas in this extract

#2 – Critical thinking : what questions should be asked about what is stated in this extract?

#3 – Based on what is stated here, what advice would you give about ‘good reading’?

>  when they are ready, ask for reports back to the whole group, and develop the discussion from there...

Individual practice in summary The same material is presented in a slightly different format so that you can set the exercise of summarising each paragraph in writing. You can then collect in the summaries and mark them... and also go on to the general discussion phase suggested above.

This individual practice version is available in the box below as 'Skim reading handout #4'.

Links & extensions

Invention of printing ... explores the impact of the previous great technlogical change in communication... EXTENSION:  this page teaches precise comprehension + summary skills - these can be developed further through the pages Summarising patterns and Summary practice

Print versus internet  ... more on the way that changes in technology change the way that culture is expressed ... the Student Access page  TASKS Print versus internet  provides online versions of the comprehension exercises: SKIM and T/F + justification

Impact of computers ... comparison between the invention of writing and the invention of computers

Technology & reading ... about reading in the digital age

Technological Change ... extensions from a TV comedy sketch about a medieval help-desk

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