Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Reading vs. Skimming

When we give our students text books with end of chapter questions, those questions have taught our students to skim for answers. Likewise, chapter study guides have turned our readers into skimmers. 

If you truly want to help your high school students to continue to grow as readers, assigning longer and more complex texts is only part of the work of teaching. Continuing to use end of chapter questions or chapter study guides merely reinforces the idea that skimming for answers is the same academic experience as actually reading for understanding. Skimming is not reading for understanding. 

For example, I can skim in my content area, English, and be fine. If I skim in the sciences, I am sunk. I know enough about myself as a learner, and am honest enough with myself as a student, to recognize that different ways of reading are part of my academic life. This awareness is not necessarily true for high school students. 

Instead of study guide questions, I like to ask my students to make their own notes. In English and social studies, Peter Rabinowitz's "Rules of Notice" is an extremely useful reading comprehension tool. You can click on the label cloud's "Reading" label to get a reminder about Rabinowitz's "Rules of Notice."

Another reading tool is Story Impressions. Doug Buehl's Classroom Strategies for Interactive Learning is a terrific resource for all teachers. You are welcome to borrow my copy anytime. Story Impressions begins as a very scaffolded teaching tool in which the teacher goes through the chapter or section of text and picks out key names, terms, and events. These are the "impressions"--as in, you get an impression of the reading by looking at this list of key terms. 

Here's a science example for Story Impressions. You can do this with ANY content area. Most often this is cited as a pre-reading strategy...a way to help students see what they already know and need to learn. I think it is a great POST reading strategy too! It's a check for understanding, a reminder of key terms, names, and events or concepts. 


  1. The first Story Impression should be teacher-created. 
  2. Students MUST use the "impressions" in the order in which they are listed. 
  3. It's helpful to have students underline the "impressions" so that they are easy to find when you're looking at students' work.
  4. After some practice with the teacher generating the impressions, you can have pairs of students generate the impressions and then swap with another pair. This really challenges students as readers to select only the most critical impressions!
  5. Another alternative: have students add 1 or 2 impressions to the teacher list and include them in the writing...this gives students a voice because they are selecting a couple of things they thought were important but perhaps the teacher did not. 
  6. I like this set up  (give it a second to load) for Story Impressions better than the one shared in the science example.

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