The Value of Improving Your Ability to Scan or Skim Text

Reading is a fundamental skill for everyone and the person who never learned to read effectively is doomed to every bit as much at a disadvantage as the illiterate who never learned to read at all. For the greater part of the population, reading–not math, as you might have been told–is the most essential skill to ace in order to guarantee accomplishment in learning in all disciplines. With strong reading abilities comes a greater tendency for gaining an advantage in more prominent areas of the educational process

Effective readers learn eventually have to figure out how to utilize a variety of reading techniques put to use for a diverse purposes: scanning, skimming, search reading, careful reading and browsing.  Both skimming and scanning are useful for opportunities for efficient accumulation of important concepts and key details. Thee two techniques apply equally well when taking a test and when surfing the internet for specific information.

The basis of scanning for details is in the ability to pick out keywords that lead to a connection within the mind of the most relevant and important information on the topic. Improving the art of scanning can be as simple as realizing that behavioral conditioning is one very solid approach to taking in new information. In other words, before taking a test, compile a list of key words that you expect to find on that test and then surf the internet for web sites containing those words. Or, alternatively, grab your text or notes, highlight the important words expected to be on the test and make them stand out. The most relevant words highlighted or bolded or italicized is a means of conditioning a reader to separate mostly meaningless text from the text which is vital to understanding the larger topic at hand.

One of the failures of the school of standardized assessment education is the dogged insistence by the designers of such exams that every student approaches the task of scanning for details in the same way. Some students are capable of quickly skimming over an entire paragraph and immediately apprehending the relevant details while others may need to focus on specific keywords, tone, connotation and connections between ideas to arrive at the same conclusion. Vocabulary does not exist in a vacuum separate from all other academic disciplines. Many students would benefit significantly on their test scores if the exams were presented in a form that provided connotative clues outside the primary focus of the text itself. The ability to recognize whether certain works have Latin roots or German roots or belong to the domain of Middle English can have a huge impact on the process of scanning for the details that are relevant to the actual content of the text. The failure of standardized assessments as a means of teaching reading and other disciplines is at heart a failure of ideology.

The only recourse when addressing a failure of ideology is utter rejection of the premise replaced by a willingness to expand the concept of learning models to focus on enhancing individual strengths. The ideological collapse of the standardized approach lies in the weak foundation premise that everybody approaches the scanning and reading of text in the exact same way.  If you want to improve your ability to scan for details or skim for the big picture, don’t necessarily rely on the approaches you have been taught or that work for your friends. Know your own strengths and learn from them: if you learn better by listening than reading, invest in audio books and practice scanning and skimming by literally scanning and skimming the audio: fast forward through the book and listen to smaller chunks. Eventually your particular strength will allow you to become attuned to inflections by the speaker that key your brain to what is importance and what is not. When possible, try to find web sites that offer audio options for hearing what is written rather than reading it.

If you are more of a visual learner, then train yourself for better scanning and skimming comprehension by starting out with material that is heavier on imagery: photos or graphs in books, gifs and info graphics on web sites. Eventually, all different learning types will have to improve the act of actually reading. Because. as mentioned earlier, ineffective reading is just one step above illiteracy.


What do you think?

Written by Tsexton


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