How to avoid the ‘summer slide’

How to avoid the ‘summer slide’

It’s well known amongst professional educators that over the summer months academic ability can drop by up to a whole grade level, a phenomenon known as the ‘summer slide’. And it’s not just isolated to school kids. The demographics in the longitudinal study mentioned in this article on Slowing the Summer Slide included students up to the age of 22!

Now I’ve no desire to be the proverbial summer holiday party pooper, so here are some useful tips you can implement over the long break to ensure your reading and writing neurons stay relatively fit and functional, so you avoid the ‘summer slide’.

Find some good novels to read

This probably goes without saying but after 9 months of academic reading your brain will need a break and reading different text types will provide it. Reach for some well-written titles that will at least stretch your vocabulary rather than any old badly written ‘bumpf’ just because it’s popular. I’m thinking 50 Shades of a certain colour and any other random ‘chick lit’!

Booker Prize winners are a good place to start, or get your hands on some classic titles that you may have had on your list of must-reads for a while. Plenty of these now come in kindle and/or audio format, if you prefer. In fact, offers a 30 day free trial via Amazon.

Of course, you don’t have to use Amazon. Waterstones offers a 10% discount with your UniDays account and lists some useful books for students including bestsellers.

Write reviews or a blog

To practice your writing skills without feeling it’s impinging on your summer enjoyment keep a journal or write some book reviews. Or even write some other product reviews about stuff you love. That will give you practice writing other text types and you can use it as an opportunity to expand and develop your vocabulary.

If you’re travelling over the summer or heading off on a big adventure you could write a blog. Set up a blog page using WordPress, Blogger, Tumblr (or any other blogging platform) so that you can update it via a mobile device then you can write and upload your posts on the move. The fact you’re writing for an audience should motivate you into drafting and editing your blog before it’s finalized which is exactly the approach you should be using for assignment writing.

If you barely read or write anything for 3 months except Instagram and Facebook updates or twitter feeds, then your reading and writing skills will definitely suffer. So, aim to keep your read-write neurons fit and functional over the summer break.

Whatever your plans, have an fabulous and enjoyable holiday but aim to at least maintain your reading and writing skills so you’re ready for the challenges of the next academic year.

Ever wondered why English is so complex?

Ever wondered why English is so complex?

This witty and amusing video created by The Open University explains how the history of English and the evolution in its use over time has led to it becoming the complex language we know and grapple with today. Give yourself a brain break, sit back, relax and hopefully have a laugh.

Content not to be taken too seriously!

Do you suffer from highlighter happiness?

Do you suffer from highlighter happiness?

How often do you find yourself looking at a page of notes covered in fluorescent yellow, pink, green or even psychedelic blue and purple lines? The page may look lovely and colourful but what does it all actually mean?

What value has the task of highlighting added to your study session?

How has highlighting the text enhanced your understanding of it?

If you can’t give concrete answers to the questions above then it’s really time to put down the highlighters and start using more active, and possibly new, strategies to approach your reading. Highlighting big chunks of text to the point where halfway down the page your brain switches off or wanders elsewhere makes it a passive reading activity, not active or interactive.

One of the most important factors when reading anything is to read actively. By active reading I mean that your eyes and brain are constantly working in unison to engage with, interpret and question the material you are reading, as well as apply relevance to your purpose of reading it.

Your brain needs to be interacting with the words, sentences and paragraphs on the page and, yes, that should involve marking the text in some way with a pen, pencil or highlighter. So, highlighting key words/phrases can be useful when identifying unknown vocabulary; highlighting quotes or other relevant sections of text is useful if you plan to include them in an assignment. Using different coloured highlighters on the different sections of text you’ve identified for your assignment can help structure your written ideas whilst still in your reading stage and speed up the writing process.

So, before you get too busy with the fluorescent pens get into the habit of asking yourself questions that you can give valid answers to:

  1. What’s the purpose of highlighting this?
  2. What value will it add to my learning?
  3. Which colour is best for that purpose, and to add that value?

Thinking of meaningful answers to those questions will enable you to think more strategically about your study approaches. You’ll then develop more effective ways of learning and using your study tools that, in turn, will lead to you becoming a more efficient and effective learner.

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How to read less to read more

How to read less to read more

If you haven’t heard of the reading trend that’s Spritzing, don’t worry too much. Even the company’s CEO and co-founder has stated “Spritzing’s not for everyone”! Whilst it may end up being useful for getting through a congested email inbox, multiple SM streams and news items, it definitely doesn’t list academic journal articles or textbooks among its recommended uses.

Combining the three main reading strategies of skimming, scanning and close reading with sweep patterns will enable you to read chunks and groups of words rather than one word at a time. Engaging your brain with active and interactive reading skills whilst applying strategic sweep patterns will lead to far more efficient and faster academic reading. Here’s how it’s done.

Don’t read every word:

A lot of students are shocked and confused when I tell them this but, the fact is, you don’t always have to read every single word in order to understand a text. Knowing when you do and don’t need to read the text thoroughly is part of the secret to speeding up.

Once you’ve identified a text as being relevant for your purpose using skimming and scanning strategies, skim over it again to ‘pre-view’ the text. Allow your eyes to move in sweep patterns, zig-zagging across and down the page then back up again picking out key words and phrases. As your eyes are skimming down and back up the centre of the text, allow your peripheral vision (excuse the poor pronunciation in this otherwise entertaining video) to take in the words and phrases necessary for you to grasp the main ideas.

Read with purpose:

active reading, interactive reading, reading skills, close readingRemember, efficient reading should have a clear purpose so your focus while you read should be on addressing that purpose. It may be to review vocabulary and new concepts in preparation for a lecture, to build knowledge and clarify ideas from a text for a seminar discussion or to find key arguments to construct a written assignment.

During your close reading of the text, hold a pen/pencil or use your finger to guide you as you sweep across the text varying your range of vision and speed in collaboration with your level of understanding. Slow down your close reading speed when you encounter more complex areas, speed up again when the text is more straightforward.

Interact with your text:

By using a pen or pencil as a reading guide, you can also underline or circle words/phrases that require more of your attention. They may be fundamental to your reading purpose, or you may need to look them up in a general or subject-specific dictionary.

You can also identify sections of the text that you’re thinking about incorporating into a written assignment. Use Post-it flags to mark those sections of the text so you can remember where they are and come back to them easily. Alternatively, use the flags to identify sections of text you need to re-read because they’re more complex or you’re struggling to understand them.

Remember though, your brain does the actual reading and understanding, your eyes just do the seeing so make sure your brain is actively engaged and interacting with the text. If your focus and concentration start to falter, chunk the text down into smaller sections in your pre-viewing stage and apply the SMART approach.

If you’re struggling to keep on top of your reading, download your totally free copy of The Unlocked Learner’s Guide to Skilled Reading. It contains 9 pages of proven strategies for becoming a faster, more efficient and skilled reader.

Strategise your reading

Strategise your reading

Effective and more efficient (meaning faster) reading involves and includes 3 main strategies: skimming, scanning and close reading. Each of these reading strategies should be used in different ways to extract information for different purposes from the various text types you interact with, both printed or ‘hard’ copy and online.

For example when reading a newspaper or online news page you’re likely to rapidly scan over the page looking at key words in the headings and sub-headings of several articles to identify which are of most interest to you. You’d then quickly skim-read the first sentence of each paragraph or the beginning and the end for ‘gist’ or close read the articles at a slower pace, depending on the complexity of the topic and how it’s been written about.

Online reading strategies:

Most websites require a combination of rapid skimming and scanning strategies to identify, select and focus on the relevant information you need. This enables you to separate out that relevant information from the many other irrelevant bits of information there may be on the page in side bars or, increasingly, pop-ups. It’s no wonder people are increasingly finding it a struggle to stay focused on one thing!

When researching online you’d ideally scan-read to select relevant articles based on key words from your database or Google search, then skim-read rapidly to check those articles for further relevance to your reading purpose. You’d then save or download, discard or add the article to your ‘Read later’ folder based on that relevance.

Print/hard copy reading strategies:

To identify whether a printed textbook will fulfill your purpose, skim over the back cover and the contents page and/or scan through the index to check the extent of its relevance to your specific angle of research on your chosen topic. Once you’ve identified the specific chapters or pages you need, flag them using Post-it™ strips in preparation for the more involved close reading stage. I often colour-code pages based on which section or theme of my essay I think I may use the information for. Or I’ll just write ‘intro’ or ‘conc’ on the Post-it™ strip depending on whether I plan to add that content to my introduction or conclusion.

For printed journal articles, scanning over the titles then skimming through the abstract will enable you to identify relevance. Again, use the technique of ‘flagging’ pages in preparation for the close reading stage and label the flags if you can identify where you’ll be using that content in the writing up of your assignment.

Close reading for full comprehension:

Close reading is often the most critical and time-consuming stage of academic reading and, bearing in mind you’ll already have skimmed and/or scanned the text, it usually occurs on the second reading. It involves a slower pace of reading to ensure you comprehend the text at word, sentence and paragraph level for full understanding to the point where you can re-write the ideas and incorporate them into your own writing about the topic.

Not all of a selected text requires close reading, just as not all of the text actually requires any reading. For example, the abstract, discussion and conclusion of a journal article may contain all the relevant information you need so you’d be wasting time reading the entire  paper including introduction and methodology.

Use strategies to overcome complexities:

Reading academic texts requires a more strategic approach to the day-to-day, over-simplified online texts we skim and scan over. Academic texts are written using more complex vocabulary embedded in more complex sentence structures which, naturally, makes them more challenging to read. Efficient academic reading, therefore, requires appropriate and effective use of all 3 strategies in a way that ensures your reading is active and interactive.

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