Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Xperiment with Study Strategies

“Variety’s the very spice of life.” William Cowper, 18th century poet

Wait! Whatever you do, do not close that book. Sure you’re finished reading, but there is more fun to be done. You need to help your working memory deliver the new information into your long-term memory in an organized and exciting manner. Challenge yourself by asking, “How can I make this information new, fresh, and exciting?” The more novel you make the information, the more your mind will wake up and pay attention.

Novel Information

Every year clothing styles change, music styles changes, and hair styles change. We even change what we eat throughout the day. Why? The brain is a wild and crazy organ. It actually gets bored thinking about the same things over and over again. For example, has the familiarity of sitting in one position and reading from a book made you sleepy?

The mind is constantly seeking out new input and striving to make meaning from novel stimuli. Novel or novelty is derived from the Latin word, novem for “new”. If you want to make sure your mind doesn’t drift away, you are going to have to spice up the information you are reading.

The challenging part of RELAX is making sure you choose the novel stimuli that matches your multiple intelligence. Sure, you took the multiple intelligence survey so you have an idea of your top three choices, however, your prior knowledge and motivation to learn also play a part in this final step.

Breaking it Down

Howard Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligence suggests there is more than one way to be smart. When you match the way your mind likes to think with the way you study, you increase the amount of new information transferred into long-term memory and strengthen the connections for future recall.

Take all that you know about yourself as a learner (learning style/multiple intelligence) and as a reader (FLIRT/DRIVE/RELAX) and apply it to the new information you are trying to learn. Use the following suggestions to help you create novel stimuli while you study:

Auditory: Interview a friend, tutor, or teacher about the topic. Pretend to hold a press conference where you ask questions to an expert and listen to their answers. Record the class, or record you reading your notes on a small digital recorder. Then listen to it in the car, while working out or before going to bed.

Intrapersonal: Create foldable books or type out your thoughts on a blog. Keep a daily journal to record the insights you discovered while reading.

Interpersonal: Find a tutor or friend with whom to study or write out a script of you talking about what you learned with different characters. Pretend you are on the Today Show, Jay Leno, or Saturday Night Live and are sharing your knowledge to better the world.

Kinesthetic: Invent motions, craft sculptures from play-doh, or design travel brochures. Exercise immediately after reviewing your notes. While you work out, your mind will review and record the new information.

Linguistic: List vocabulary words in alphaboxes, generate acrostics, or draw word graffiti. Go on-line to to create crossword puzzles and word searches with important terms.

Musical: Produce your own lyric summaries to simple tunes or conceive rhyming poems. Listen to instrumental music immediately after reviewing your notes.

Spatial/Mathematical: Construct charts, graphs, maps, and equations that represent the content.

Visual: Construct a collage of pictures that represent abstract concepts or create a power point slide show. Video tape class or watch videos related to the subject.

Warning: DO NOT USE THE SAME STRATEGY FOR EVERY CHAPTER AND CLASS. The more you use a strategy, the less novel it becomes. You will have to XPERIMENT with different study strategies often!

Reality Check

After all this engaging work, your mind still needs you to rehearse or study every day. Take time to RELAX before going to bed. Your mind will replay any information it sees immediately before falling asleep. Establish a schedule to study a different subject each night. Remember, every time you recall the concepts, you strengthen the neuro-pathways between your prior knowledge and new information. The stronger the neuro-pathways, the easier, faster, and longer your mind will be able to remember all the fascinating facts you learned through reading. In other words, a little studying every day will get you that “A”!

Monday, November 30, 2009

How Smart are You? Part Two

In 1983, Dr. Howard Gardner published Frames of Mind in which he proposed the theory of multiple intelligences. The theory suggests there is more than one way to describe smart as compared to a number from a paper/pencil I.Q. test. Traditional I.Q. assessments measure a student’s verbal-linguistic knowledge and do not take into account other possible strengths.

The original theory included seven different categories, however, as we learn more about human behavior and how the mind processes information, Gardner has added three more intelligence types; naturalist, spiritual, and moral.

Keep in mind there is a difference between learning style and multiple intelligence. Learning style is how your mind prefers to take information INTO the working memory. One the other hand, multiple intelligence is how your mind prefers to take OUT and APPLY the knowledge you have stored. Most students have a combination of intelligences.

To determine your multiple intelligence continuum, click on the following link. Make sure to click on “free multiple intelligence test” and then click on the first option that says, “MSEXcel self-calculating formula.” As you type in the number for each question, the computer will tally up your answer. When you have completed the survey, post your TOP THREE intelligences with the final tally number. Make sure to bring this information to class on Wednesday.

Answer the Question

BUZZ! BUZZ! You have been waiting for this quiet vibrating sound of your cell phone all morning. Someone has just sent you a text message or left a voice mail. Your heart beats faster in anticipation. The curiosity is killing you! Who could it be? Do you think it’s your sweetheart?

You start to create a plan on how to check your phone because you are sitting in class. If it’s a text message, maybe you could put it under the desk or behind a folder and read it. (FYI – your teacher can always see you texting. If the teacher doesn’t take your cell phone, it’s because she does not want to interrupt her teaching to deal with your distraction.) However, if it’s a voice mail, you’re going to have to do something more drastic… like get up and go to the bathroom.

Just like your strong desire to answer your cell phone, your mind has the same need to answer the questions you asked yourself as you read the chapter. Mature readers know answering questions not only satisfies the mind, it helps transfer the new information into long-term memory.

Asking questions BEFORE reading creates a purpose for reading. When you FLIRT with the text, notice when your inner voice says, “I wonder why…” or “I’m curious about…” Write each question on a 3 x 5 card or by the text feature that created the question. These types of questions keep you interested in the reading while your mind searches for the answer to each question. (See Reveal a Purpose for more information on asking questions before you read.)

Asking questions DURING reading helps your mind clarify the author’s message. When you DRIVE with the text, notice when your inner voice says, “What does that sentence mean?” or “How should I pronounce that word?” Highlight the area that caused the confusion and then use your Local GPS tool to ask questions until you find the meaning. Local GPS questions include:

Local: Can I discover a deeper meaning if I reread this section?
Global: What do I see on the page that will support my comprehension?
Prior Knowledge: What do I already know about the topic?
Structural Analysis: If I break the word into roots and affixes can I build meaning?

Searching for answers to these questions keeps your mind focused on creating meaning instead of skipping over difficult ideas. (See Revisit Vocabulary for more information on asking questions while you read.)

Asking questions AFTER reading helps to monitor your comprehension. When you RELAX with the text, ask questions like, “What was the most important idea?” or “What did I just learn from reading that section of text?” Notice how quickly you can recall the new information. If the answer pops into your mind easily, then your mind encoded the new information successfully. Difficulty forming an answer, or having no answer at all, means you must reread with more engagement; highlighting, talking to the text, and drawing pictures.


If only you were as urgent at answering the author’s questions at the end of a chapter as you are at answering your phone after class. Author’s questions have a purpose and it’s not to prolong your homework. Answering the questions is the final support by the author to make sure you identified all the important information and stored it properly in your mind.

Answering a question is like following a dress code. Dress codes are used in schools, fancy restaurants, and private country clubs to make sure everyone meets appearance expectations. I once went to a five start restaurant dressed nicely in shorts. When I arrived, the hostess advised me their dress code by pointing to a posted sign that said, “NO SHORTS ALLOWED!” I could go home and change or borrow pants they had for people who came in shorts.

“Come on,” I pleaded, “There are girls here wearing skirts SHORTER than my shorts!” Well, I lived too far away to go home to change and I didn’t want to miss the dinner so I asked for the pants. The pants were SWEAT PANTS! BLACK SWEAT PANTS! I was mortified, but I had no choice.

Mature readers know they have no choice but to follow the dress code. The key to getting a gorgeous grade is to take time to discover the hidden dress code behind every question. When it comes to answering a question, remember to follow these three easy style suggestions:

First, analyze the question by highlighting key words in the question stem and targeting the text structure. Use your knowledge of text structure to help guide your selection of text evidence and identifying key points. Once you have established HOW to build your answer, your mind will know WHAT to recall from your long-term memory.

Second, select the graphic organizer that matches the text structure. Resist the temptation to begin writing without taking time to plan your ideas. The process of jotting down a few key words not only eliminates confusion over what to include in your answer, it also helps you organize your thoughts into a strong, cohesive essay.

Third, choose a few transition words and place them on the graphic organizer. Mature readers refuse to give in to the distractive voice that screams, “Enough already! Any answer will do! Let’s slap something down and get out of here.” Strengthen your answer by connecting each thought with these small, but powerful words.

Identifying the hidden dress code before answering the question prevents you from getting a failing grade! Determine the text structure. Match what you already know to the correct graphic organizer. Then dress up your essay with transition words. Remember, every question has a different dress code. When your answer reflects the question style, your final grade will make you smile!

Friday, November 20, 2009

Linking Existing Knowledge to New Information

Verizon advertises they are, “America’s largest and most reliable 3G network,” with unlimited coverage, fewer dropped calls than other networks, and wireless service worldwide. But what does all this mean and how does hitting the “SEND” button allow you to hear your friend who lives hundreds of miles away? You don’t need to know the mystery behind how a cell phone works, you just trust the process.

The same holds true for reading. You don’t need to know how your eyes remember these squiggly lines on the page. Just trust the FLIRT, DRIVE, and RELAX process to connect new information to existing knowledge.

Your mind is like the Verizon commercial. It has billions of neurons working together as a network, making sure the message gets through. Just as the Verizon commercial tries to make the invisible network visible, you can make the network of your thinking visible by writing down your thoughts before, during, and after reading.

As you FLIRT with the text, your mind scrolls through your schema, locating the information you already know about the genre, topic, and author. Write down whatever comes to mind. It doesn’t matter if each idea is relevant to the topic. If you knew everything about the topic, you wouldn’t need to read the text. The important part of the FLIRT process is priming your mind or activating those Velcro hooks so new information can be sent along the proper frequencies.

As you begin to DRIVE your mind through the text, make sure to highlight, talk to the text, and draw pictures to keep your mind active and engaged. You don’t want any dropped calls as your neurons try to talk to each other. Talking to the text is just like typing out a text message in your cell phone. Stop often and ask your mind, “Can you hear me now?” If your mind is distracted, it could interfere with the message you are trying to relay.

The RELAX stage is like hitting the “SEND” button on your cell phone. This final step moves you beyond just “soaking up facts” to building and adjusting existing schema. Cognitive researchers call this process synthesizing. Synthesizing is when you take new information and combine it with existing knowledge. In other words, your mind is consistently comparing new information to your previous memories. As a result, RELAX enables your mind to shifting and rearranging the connections in your schema. (See I Already Know for more information on assimilation, accommodation, and elimination.) Summarizing the new information isn’t enough. Take time to allow your working memory to manipulate the new information so that it can be organized and stored in a meaningful way.

When you FLIRT, DRIVE and RELAX, the cells in your mind connect and you become smarter. And SMART is the best wireless service around!

If you want to extend your learning about how a cell phone was invented or why it’s called a “cell phone” and not a “cordless phone”, explore the following link:

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Extend Your Learning: Proactive Reading

Have you ever said, "I don’t learn anything from reading because the textbook is boring or too difficult to understand!" If you answered yes, you are a reactive reader. The problem may be your mindset, not your textbook. A reactive reader feels helpless and shifts the responsibility of learning to someone else; i.e. the teacher or author of that terrible textbook. The best way to avoid being a reactive reader is to take control of your learning.

Be proactive and search for better information on-line.

  • Build your background knowledge BEFORE you start to read. While FLIRTing with the text, determine which sections will be easy to read and which sections may be difficult. A proactive reader types the unknown words and concepts into an on-line search engine to search for movies, pictures, and articles that will activate schema and lay a foundation of new information to build upon. Try the following on-line sites:
    iii. iTunes for podcasts from other teachers

  • Clarify confusing words and ideas AFTER you finish reading. The E in DRIVE helps proactive readers evaluate their comprehension. Sometimes the Local GPS tool isn’t enough to create meaning. Type the confusing word and/or idea into an on-line search engine for more examples and/or a better explanation of the concept.

  • Caution: Not all on-line sources can be trusted. Always look for .edu, .org, and .gov domains before visiting other sites.
Be bold and ask the smartest student in class to help you study.
  • Being smart has more to do with organization, persistence, and dedication than it does with an I.Q. score. Success always leaves clues. If you have a chance to work side by side with a student that is successful, take it! What is the worst thing they could say, “No?” Most successful students will jump at the chance to work with someone else because they know the best way to LEARN something is to TEACH it to someone else.

Be daring and get a tutor.
  • Tutors aren’t just for struggling students! If you have a “B” in a class, why not get an edge over other students by working one on one with an expert. Chances are the tutor has already taken the class and can share many reading secrets to streamline your studying and improve your grade.

  • Tutors can also help you make a reservation to read. If you are tempted to play on the computer in between classes, why not make an appointment with a tutor? Research suggests learning is a social activity and talking through your understanding of a concept is much more fun than studying silently by yourself.

Don’t let your academic struggles get you down! The instant you notice your reactive mindset begin, shift your thinking by asking, “What can I do to make this information more meaningful and memorable?” The more you practice shifting from a reactive mindset to a proactive mindset, the easier it will be to find solutions. Remember, extend your learning and take back control.

Reduce the Author’s Message

Congratulations! You successfully finished reading a difficult section of text. Look back and admire all of your thinking. Can’t you feel your mind growing smarter and pulsing with pride? It’s time to reward yourself. Go ahead and send a text message to your mind. Chances are, the author already sent you the perfect text message through the text features and is patiently waiting for your reply.

Your mind is not like an email with unlimited space, it’s more like a text message. In 1985, Friedhelm Hittebrand, a communications researcher and creator of text messaging, discovered the average conversation transaction between two people needed about 160 characters when typed out on his typewriter. “Just look at your average e-mail today, he noted. Many can be summed up in the subject line, and the rest often contains just a line or two of text asking for a favor or updating about a particular project.” *

When sending a text message, is it easier to send a two word message or a whole paragraph? Two words of course! Reducing the author’s message helps your mind think faster by condensing the amount of information into two words and/or two sentences. Remember, it isn’t necessary to memorize everything the author wrote.

Mature readers alert their metacognition to search for repeated ideas and then assign a name for each group of ideas. Cognitive researchers call this type of mental process classifying. Classifying occurs when you pull together the main ideas and themes by choosing words/phrases that have similar meanings. Once the ideas are grouped, you can create a two word summary that classifies what the list of ideas has in common. These two word titles condense the text into more manageable chunks of information.

Step One: Reduce the information your mind needs to remember by condensing repeated ideas into two words and two ideas.

Step Two: Reuse the text features; titles, headings, captions, and bold words to help you generalize key ideas and reinforce information the author advertised at important.

Step Three: Recycle the phrases you highlighted or the thoughts you wrote down while talking to the text. Your metacognition alerted you that these words triggered your mind to react so keep using them to help you study.

The more you reduce, reuse, and recycle academic concepts, the faster and easier your mind will be able to learn new information. Satisfy your need for speed by sending two word text messages. Remember, when you have fun, the studying gets done.

Quote taken from a LA Times article entitled: Why Text Messages are only 160 Characters Link for article:

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

RELAX After Reading

Trying to memorize a lot of information is not only stressful, it’s impossible. But what do you do when you are faced with a chapter that has 80 pages of new vocabulary and concepts. I have three words for you: reduce, reuse, and recycle. You are never going to learn the content material if you are bored while you study. It’s time to invite all your neurons and dendrites to a brain party. Mature readers know the mind pays attention to new stimulus, or input. There is a part of your brain called the midbrain that controls motivation. The midbrain is a wild and crazy risk-taker. If you look at the same old notes over and over again, your midbrain will say, “Yeah, yeah, been there, done that. I’m bored. Let’s go check out something new on the Internet!” This means you will have to do something different, something new, and something novel with the content you are studying. That something needs to be motivating, interesting, and something you want to practice every day. RELAXing after you read is all about taking your social life activities and infusing them with academic studying.

By this point you are becoming automatic with FLIRT and DRIVE, but what do you do with all these post-it notes? RELAX offers several ways to organize and condense your thoughts, notes, and new text information onto one sheet of paper. This makes studying fast, easy, and convenient.

Sure, you now know how to stay focused while you read. You take breaks when you need to, you talk to the text with margin notes and you make connections. However these steps only help to get the important information into your brain. They do not organize and transfer the new information into long-term memory. Simply by interpreting the author’s message in creative ways, you are putting a strong hold on the new information you just added to your schema. If you do not take this final step to help your mind RELAX, your brain will discard, or get rid of the new information. As a result, the hour you spent reading the chapter has now been a waste.


To relax, means, “to rest, unwind, and release from mental strain.” As a reader, you are taking a rest from interacting with the text so your mind is able to connect the dots of individual details into a wider, clearer, and unique new perspective. When you open the doors of your mind for review, rehearsal, and reflection, you are able to share what you learned with others. Since there are five different steps your mind must go through when RELAXing with the text I created an acronym to help you remember them. An acronym, means each letter in RELAX represents a cognitive step:

R: Reduce the Author’s Message
E: Extend Your Learning
L: Link Old and New Information
A: Answer the Question
X: Xperiment with Study Strategies

Remember, you don’t want to cram for a test and be smart for one day. You want to RELAX and be smart for a lifetime!

Evaluate Your Comprehension

It is good to have an end to journey toward, but it is the journey that matters in the end.” Ursual K Le Guin

You are driving alone, minding your own business when a large truck cuts you off. Instantly you slam on your breaks to avoid an accident. You notice a big white bumper sticker on the back of the truck that says, “How’s my driving?” At this point you seriously consider using your cell phone to call the number and tell the trucking company exactly what you think of their driving.

When it comes to reading, you are both the driver of the truck and the evaluator in the surrounding vehicles. You are the only person who can analyze your comprehension and evaluating your comprehension is the most important part of the reading journey. As you cruise up to the crossroads, where one section ends and another section begins you need to;

1. Look back over your notes. What comprehension problems did you solve? Are there areas that still require road side assistance? Identifying unclear ideas before DRIVEing to the next section is the quickest and easiest way to ensure the information in your working memory makes the trip to your long-term memory. Look back at your T4 comments to make sure you are applying the Local GPS tool for complex ideas/words.

2. Look with-in your metacognition. What happened in your mind while you were reading? What were you doing mentally to keep your mind alert and engaged? Mature readers are constantly adjusting their metacognition to match the movement of the text. Look within to make sure you were consistently taking action when you noticed your mind was distracted, confused, or overwhelmed with new information.

3. Look around the page. How are you physically keeping your mind interested and motivated to learn? Comprehension is the act of successfully applying strategies to solve isolated confusion and interpret the written text. What are you doing to make your thoughts visible? Is there anything you need to change? Look around to make sure you were interacting with the text by making connections, asking questions, clarifying words/ideas and drawing pictures. If you don’t see any signs of thinking, chances are your mind is lost and heading in the wrong direction.

4. Look forward to the next section. Do you have an idea of where are you heading and what strategies you are going to repeat? Establish a purpose for reading and prime your mind by FLIRTing with the text. Look forward to make sure you are prepared to navigate through roadblocks, vary the pace, remove distractions, and apply the appropriate note taking tools.

The crossroads of reading (look back, look with-in, look around, and look forward)* will lead your mind in the right direction while giving you the flexibility to make adjustments in your reading journey.

* The four crossroads are adapted from a sermon by Pastor Jim VanZandt, who adapted them from various devotionals.

Visualize the Author’s Message

One look is worth a thousand words.” – Fred B. Barnard
One picture is worth Ten Thousand words.” – Chinese Proverb
“A picture shows me at a glance what takes dozens of pages of a book to expound.” Ivan Turgenev

The three quotes at the top of this page reinforce what cognitive researchers have discovered:

1. The brain likes pictures. “Although each of us has the ability to process kinesthetic and auditory information, we take in more information visually than through any of the other senses.” (Wolfe, P. 2001)

2. Stronger neuron pathways are created with mental images. The mind is able to retain more information over a longer period of time since the visual images on the page are mirror images in the visual cortex. As a result, Antonio Damasio (1994) suggests you don’t need to recall the whole picture. “When a critical mass of sensory neurons is activated, the brain fills in the missing portions to complete the picture,” which makes it easier to recall information.

Mature readers visualize, or create mental images, to keep their mind engaged and entertained while they read. Sure, talking to the text and summarizing are great strategies to support your thinking, but drawing pictures is much more fun. Remember, you must create a learning environment that is exciting and pleasing to your amygdala, especially if you are a visual learner. In other words, the best way to prevent boredom while reading is to draw. (See Mind Temper Tantrums for more information on how emotions drive learning).

Did you ever wonder why there are so many billboards by the highway? When you drive, do you take your eyes off the road and sneak a peek? What do you see? Advertisers pepper the highways with PICTURES, LOGOS, and ILLUSTRATIONS because visual images convey a lot of meaning in a short amount of time. It’s only natural that you would be drawn to these visual pictures, especially the billboards that flash, change, or have scrolling texts.

Not only do pictures help you remember information, they increase your understanding of abstract concepts. Visualizing simplifies a topic by packing meaning into a picture. When a concept is complex, authors provide pictures to support your comprehension. Recent studies have found students who drew pictures to represent vocabulary definitions scored much higher on vocabulary tests than students who memorized dictionary definitions only (Bull & Wittrock, 1973).

I can’t talk about visualizing without revisiting the T in FLIRT. Applying the text structure and text organization information you learned while scanning the text for transition words is directly related to visualizing. The text structure establishes the framework for creating mental images. Should the camera in your mind focus on descriptive details or the sequence of events? Next, the text organization (how the ideas work together to illustrate connections between concepts) help you select the appropriate graphic organizer to support your note taking. Graphic organizers support your comprehension by providing a visual tool to store ideas. As you identify and highlight important ideas, place the phrase on the graphic organizer. Not only does this keep you actively engaged in the reading, it reduces the demands on your working memory because you have a place to store new information. The process of reading, highlighting, drawing, and writing tells the frontal cortex that this information is important. As a result, your mind will transfer the new information from working memory into long-term memory. Revisiting the graphic organizer after reading allows your mind to “to see” undiscovered patterns and examine the relationship between key concepts.

It’s time to do more thinking and less writing. Remember, words are nice, but pictures are better. Create your own billboards while you read so studying can be quick, simple, and fun.

Wolfe, P. (2001). Brain Matters
Damasio, A. (1994). Descartes' error: Emotion, reason, and the human brain.
Bull, B. & Wittrock, M (1973). Imagery in the learning of verbal definitions.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Identifying Important Information: Stop, Drop, and Roll

Is your purpose for highlighting to make the page as colorful as possible? Do you think highlighting every word is helping your mind remember the most important information? When you mindlessly highlight sentences instead of summarizing the author’s message, you are starving your mind of nutritional thoughts.

Reading is not like a hot dog eating contest. It’s like eating in an elegant restaurant; the pace is slow, there are several courses, and the food is eaten in small bites. Mature readers know reading without stopping isn’t good reading. They pace themselves with the movement of the text, stopping often to savor the important ideas and digest the author’s message. The best way to avoid a big fat head ache is to STOP the flow of new information, DROP into your own knowledge to assign meaning, and then ROLL the ideas onto a piece of paper for long-term memory. Every time you STOP, DROP, and ROLL, you increase your engagement and improve your comprehension. This type of cognitive process is called summarizing.

Summarizing occurs when a reader condenses the author’s message by deleting repeated ideas and nonessential details. Summarizing is a three course meal for your mind with an appetizer, an entrée, and a dessert.

All the FLIRTing you did before you read is like an appetizer; it wets your appetite but leaves rooms for the main course. The text features advertise the ideas the author thinks are most important. While you read, pay attention to phrases that repeat text feature information. STOP when you identify the important information and highlight no more than five to six words. Match the portion of your highlighting to the size of an appetizer; small yet memorable. In other words, highlight one phrase per paragraph.

The entrée includes reread the section and digging deep into your schema to make connections and revisit difficult vocabulary words. When you DROP the new information into your schema, you combine the information for a meaningful dish of knowledge.

Finally, after identifying important ideas and deleting details, you are ready to ROLL everything into long-term memory. Just as dessert is the perfect end to a three course meal, writing down a condensed version of the author’s message improves your memory and increases your enjoyment of reading.

The next time you sit down to read, don’t try bite off more than your mind can chew. Remember, summarizing satisfies your mind’s hunger to learn. When you take time to taste the text instead of stuffing your mind with empty thoughts, you create a healthy habit of reading.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

To skip, or not to skip: that is the question.

You know how to FLIRT and you know how to direct your metacognition to notice when you understand and when you don’t understand. The question is, “What do you do when you don’t understand a word or phrase?”

A. Depends on the word/phrase
B. Slow down my pace of reading
C. Reread the text where the confusion began
D. Ask questions
E. Do an on-line search for the unknown word/phrase
F. Skip it

I hope your answer was A: Depends on the word or phrase. Not all confusion is created equal. Reading is like untangling a knot. If you work too quickly, you could end up with a tighter knot than the one in which you started. Mature readers work with slow, strategic movements; trying different strategies over and over again until they are able to determine the meaning of the unknown word or phrase. Applying the Local GPS tool only works when you look closely at the difficult section of text, search for the context clues and persist until you gain a deeper and wider understanding. (See Revisit Vocabulary for more information on Local GPS context clues).

When your metacognition draws attention to a section of text that is difficult to understand, don’t increase the speed of your reading and ignore the problem. Slow down your pace and identify the type of confusion or road block. (See Revisit Vocabulary for a list of possible road blocks). From here you need to determine the importance of the confusion. Sometimes it is OK to skip unknown words. For example, maybe you can’t pronounce a character’s name or the name of a scientist who conducted the research. As long as you know the difficult word is a name, you can continue reading.

Sometimes the beginning of a chapter can leave you with a lot of unanswered questions. An author doesn’t reveal everything on the first page because he likes to build suspense to keep you interested and on the edge of your seat. In this situation, you have to trust that the author will reveal the information as you continue to read.

On the other hand, if the word/phrase is in the text features, repeated several times, underlined/bold, in the author’s question or summary paragraph, you need to stop and apply the Local GPS strategy. Ask yourself, “In order to understand this sentence, do I need to know the meaning of this word/phrase?” If you answer, “Yes,” than you have no choice but to search for direct context clues within the text and indirect context clues within your mind.

First, break the confusing sentence into two parts: what you understand and don’t understand. Once you identify the information you don’t understand, reread the clues left by the author and add information from your schema. Double check the meaning you made by asking, “Does this make sense for this specific concept? Does the meaning sound right within the sentence? Does the word I am pronouncing look right?”

Applying the same strategy over and over again doesn’t always work either. Mature readers are able to match the type of confusion with the appropriate strategy needed to repair comprehension. Research suggests information in a nonfiction text cannot be understood without making connections to your schema (See I Already Know for more information on background and prior knowledge).

Let’s be honest, using the Local GPS tool can be annoying. There are times when you have to realize when your attempt at using Local GPS is leading you in the wrong direction. Sometimes you don’t have enough schema to identify the context clues the author left behind. However, the author may not have left enough clues to help your mind make meaning. When you are driving in a new town and get lost, sometimes, you just have to stop and ask someone who lives in the area for help. Mature readers realize they may have to stop reading and seek help from another source or ask the teacher.

Don’t fear! All your thinking with the Local GPS tool is not wasted. You can use this information to show your teacher how much thinking you have done. By showing the teacher the notes you took while reading (talking to the text and Local GPS) she will be able to identify the exact vocabulary term or idea that is still causing confusion. Not only will you be able to get an answer to your question, you will impress your teacher.

As a teacher, I am always weary when a student says, “I don’t get it!” First of all, you aren’t telling me specifically what you “don’t get”. Secondly, I am not sure if you are making excuses so I will give you the answer without doing any of the thinking. I know about the “Lazy Game”: If I pretend I don’t understand the text, the teacher will explain the chapter to me and I won’t have to read. However, now that you know how to think through difficult words and abstract concepts, you don’t have to play the “Lazy Game” and you can impress your teacher at the same time. This is a win-win situation for you, the student, and me, the teacher.

In closing, the answer to the question: to skip, or not to skip, is… it depends on the word or phrase. Remember, everyone has trouble with reading; it’s what you do when you are confused that matters.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Revisit Vocabulary: There is Trouble Ahead

Have you ever driven to an unknown destination? Were you stressed or worried about getting lost? Did you keep looking at your directions, checking the map or slowing down to read street signs?

When you are reading, sometimes you can get lost with words and ideas you don't understand. Just as you kept rechecking the directions while driving, you have to keep checking your metacognition to decide if you are making meaning.

Mature readers slow down their pace of reading and look for context clues to help steer their mind over difficult words and through abstract ideas. Context clues are phrases left by the author to help you locate more information about a vocabulary term or complex ideas. The next time you find yourself dazed or confused, use context clues to clarify the author’s meaning.

Breaking It Down

Psst! Hey! Yeah, you! It’s your brain again. I have a secret tool that will save you a lot of time and stress. Best of all, this tool will prevent you from getting confused while reading. I call these confusing words and ideas, road blocks, because they block the meaning from entering your working memory. Road blocks are those unknown words and phrases that cause you to stop reading and say, “Oh man, what the heck is the author talking about?” Here is a list of road blocks you need to watch out for as you read:

Revisit a vocabulary word when:
• you can’t pronounce the word
• the word is new or unknown
• you are unsure of author’s meaning

Revisit an idea when:
• you are confused.
• you notice you are thinking about other things.
• you can’t create mental images.
• you can’t make a connection.

Skipping over these road blocks isn’t helpful or a mature decision. We are no longer going to let these road blocks stop our thinking! With the help of my built in Local GPS tool we will be able to navigate these road blocks and find a direct, fast, efficient route to the meaning of these unknown words and phrases.

Local GPS is an acronym for the four different types of context clues the author uses to support a reader’s comprehension. To find the local context clues, zoom in to the sentences surrounding the difficult word. Reread the sentence before, and after the word you are trying to understand. The author often uses commas, parentheses, and hyphens to signal definitions, pronunciations, and examples to help the reader build meaning. This is your local context clue because the author’s clues are located right by the word.

The G stands for global. To find the global context clues, zoom out and look at the whole page. Scan the text features (pictures, captions, charts, and maps) to see if they can give you more information. This is called global context clues because you are taking a wide view of the text.

The P stands for prior knowledge. Sometimes the meaning is implied, which means the author doesn’t come right out and say what he means. In this case, you have to look at the text and add meaning to what the author didn’t include. Your schema will help you determine a meaning or clearer picture of the word. Prior knowledge is the third type of context clue because you can use what you already know about this word to build meaning.

The S is the final context clue. Structural analysis is looking at how the word is built. By breaking the word into smaller parts you will be able to decode the meaning. Search for prefixes, suffixes, or root words. Keep in mind working with words is a complex process. Being able to pronounce the word doesn’t mean you know the meaning. Until you know both, the pronunciation and meaning, you haven’t fixed the road block.

Remember, context clues are located within the sentence, on the page, or within your own mind. If you get lost, turn on my Local GPS to help you navigate through the road blocks, gain a deeper understanding of an abstract concept and save time from looking words up on the computer.

Reality Check

You are in the driver’s seat now. Knowing your destination or purpose to read isn’t good enough. You need to know different ways to build meaning by using the context clues on the page to help you figure out unknown words and ideas.

You are now ready to expand your understanding of how your mind builds meaning. The good news is you are independent and free to drive your mind wherever you want it to go. The bad news is your choices may lead you off the road and into a ditch. You must steer yourself over difficult words and through abstract ideas.

Your world is going so fast. Be a rebel and slow down! Once you identify a confusing word or idea, use your Local GPS to guide you to a deeper conversation and understanding of the author’s message. Beware, the more you apply these strategies, the more information you will retain and the smarter you will become. Avoid the temptation to skip over the words/ideas due to time constraints or lack of effort. This slip of poor judgment will only result in a loss of meaning and a missed opportunity to sharpen your mind’s ability to maneuver around difficult sections of text.

Just as you were required to fulfill a certain amount of hours before you got your driver’s license, your mind needs time to acquire problem solving strategies. Whatever you do, do not pull over to the side of the road and give up. Get behind the wheel and follow the Local GPS clues until you reach a clear meaning. Sure you may need to back up and reread or even take a detour from the page you are reading to investigate the glossary or on-line dictionary. Ask yourself, “Does this make sense? Does this sound right? Does this look right?” When you uncover the meaning of these words and ideas, you will experience a wonderful sense of satisfaction. Sit back and enjoy the ride!

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Reckless Reader

“Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” Albert Einstein

If you know the dangers of reading without a purpose, reading in a noisy environment, or reading without talking to the text, yet continue these habits, you are a reckless reader! Reckless is defined as a defiant disregard for danger or consequence. You are putting your memory at risk with your careless reading and lack of attention to your thinking.

Let’s talk speed. If you don’t adjust your driving speed to match the demands of the road, you could end up with a speeding ticket, or worse, someone could get hurt. Mature readers know fast reading is not good reading. If you try to read too much, too fast, you will only get frustrated, overwhelmed, or give up. In order for you to be aware of your thought process, you have to be willing to vary your pace. Just because your eyes can see the words and your mouth can say the words, doesn’t mean your mind is able to retain the words. Be prepared to stop often and allow your mind time to catch up with the author’s meaning. Right now you are learning how to direct your awareness, which means, the slower you go, the more you’ll know.

As you read, always be on the lookout for obstacles that may block your mind’s ability to make meaning. When this occurs, you will have to stop, redirect your focus, and navigate around unknown words by using another route to create meaning. Whatever you do, don’t ignore the unknown words or confusing ideas by skipping them or increasing your reading speed. This reckless behavior will cause your mind to crash. You may have to try several different strategies until you find the strategy that fixes the comprehension problem. If you take the time to train your brain to slow down when you are confused, you are one step closer to becoming a mature reader.

Just as different genres determined your reading behavior and purpose for reading, all texts vary in their required speed to read (See FICTION/NONFICTION: GENRE MATTERS for more information on genre). Before you begin to read, scan the page and determine the speed that will help you make meaning. For example, if you were looking in the phone book for a phone number, you wouldn’t start on the first page and read every name until you found the person.

You’re speed would be fast and you would skip pages until you reached the first letter of the last name for which you were looking. Slowing down, you would scan the page until you found the last name. If there were several with the same last name, you may slow down even more and begin to read each name one at a time. If you read a novel like this, you would hurt your chance of making meaning. Take into consideration, you can’t drive fast on unknown roads. Make sure to complete the FLIRT Phrase before reading to identify the demands of the text and a safe reading speed.

Let’s talk about your level of attention. Can you drive fast every day regardless of the weather? Of course not. The weather conditions also determine the level of attention required to reach your destination safely. On a sunny day, you may lean back in your seat, sing along with the radio, and talk with your friends. On the other hand, if it snowed while you were at work, you know the drive home will require a heightened level of attention. You sit up in your seat to see on the road better. You calculate the difference in stopping time by staying further behind cars. Sometimes you may even turn off your music and ignore the ring of your cell phone so that you can concentrate better.

This is the case for most reading materials. Mature readers know their level of attention will vary depending on the text and their purpose for reading. When you are browsing through a magazine, you’re relaxed and reading for fun. However, if you are reading information for a test, you are much more engaged by talking to the text, taking notes, and rereading to clear up any confusion.


It’s time for you to sit in the driver’s seat and take control of your thinking. Keep in mind, metacognition means being aware of and controlling your thoughts. While reading, use your metacognition to monitor your pace and level of attention. Self-regulate the amount you can read by chunking the text into small, hand size sections or by taking a break every twenty minutes. Stay alert by activating your schema and writing down connections. Engage in a conversation by talking to the text in the margins or on post-it notes. Change the direction of your thinking by slowing down and pay attention to warning signals by trying different strategies when you are confused. Be prepared to stop as soon as you experience fatigue and monitor your memory by ask yourself questions.

Remember, speed kills any chance at creating a deeper understanding of the author’s message. Don’t be a reckless reader. Adjust your reading rate and pay close attention to confusing words and ideas.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Direct Your Metacognition

“Those who know how to THINK need no teachers.” – Mahatma Gandhi

Sirens, flashing lights, bent metal, and broken glass… close your eyes for a minute and visualize a car accident. We’ve seen them on the news, driven by them on the road, or maybe even personally experienced them. Every time you get behind the wheel you are making a promise to other drivers that you will obey the speed limit, keep a safe distance behind other cars, and pay attention to street signs and signals. Your ability to consistently monitor and adjust your driving is directly related to arriving safely at your destination. Unfortunately, some drivers speed, lose control, and take their eyes off the road which causes chaos for other drivers.

Believe it or not, reading demands the same behaviors. Mature readers know their ability to monitor and adjust their speed, apply strategies, and pay attention to the author’s signs and signals (text features) is directly related to arriving with the deepest understanding possible. On the other hand, immature readers take huge risks by procrastinating. As a result, the reader creates pressure to finish the reading as fast as possible. Often they read late at night when their mind should be resting. Then their eyes get blurry from fatigue, they lose their focus and don’t take breaks when their mind is full of new information. Consequently, their mind crashes and they destroy any chance at retaining the new information.

Your mind does not have a “cruise control” or automatic pilot you can switch on and think about other things. Every thought your mind has can and should be controlled by you. Metacognition, meta means about and cognition means thinking, is a term used to describe a reader’s understanding about their thinking. Metacognition gives you a framework to support and guide your thinking. Once you are aware of how, what, and why you are reading, you will gain better control over your thoughts. As a result, you will create a deeper meaning, become more focused, and retain more information. Mature readers are constantly aware of their thoughts and are able to self regulate or control their thoughts by applying strategies when comprehension breaks down. Read this simple sentence:

Sit still, be quiet, and wait until something pulls your string.

How did it go? You probably read the above sentence quickly, easily, and with 100% accuracy, but do you truly understand what the author is talking about? I call this FAKE READING. It feels like you’re reading, it looks like you’re reading, it even sounds like you’re reading, but you’re not! I know you think reading is being able to identify words on the page; however it is not enough to just read the words correctly. You have to construct meaning.

Let’s do another drive by this sentence while I show you the strategies I used to construct meaning from this sentence.

Sit still, be quiet, and wait until something pulls your string.

1. ASK A QUESTION: What activities can I do with string? Fly a kite, play with a yo-yo, go fishing, jump rope
2. IDENTIFY UNKNOWN WORDS: I need to clarify the word “string” by changing it to the word “line.”
3. MAKE CONNECTIONS: When I read the sentence again; Sit still, be quiet, and wait until something pulls your line, I can make a connection to a day I was sitting by the pond with my father while we tried to catch fish.
4. CREATE PREDICTION: I am going to predict this sentence is about fishing because I don’t have to sit still or be quiet when flying a kite, playing with a yo-yo, or jumping rope. (I know some of you know it alls are thinking I don’t have to be quiet when I fish either but let’s save that argument for another day. I’m trying to illustrate a point here, not teach you how to fish.)
DRIVE involves flexible strategic thinking, which becomes automatic with repeated practice. Remember how long it took you to learn how to drive. It took days, weeks, and even months to be the fabulous driver you are now. Learning how to notice your thinking doesn’t happen overnight. It takes time to condition your cognition. Being able to sustain a focused thought takes practice. You must be patient with yourself and allow the mind time to rest. Your mental capacity to direct your metacognition is strengthened every time you adjust the pace of reading, apply different strategies when you’re confused and stop when your mind needs a break. (See Condition your Cognition for suggestions on strengthening your metacognition.)

Friday, October 16, 2009

Condition Your Cognition

“The more you practice what you know, the more you shall know what to practice.” W. Jenkin

What did you think about the quote? Did I just hear you say, “What quote?” You skipped over it, didn’t you? You thought, “Oh, there is a quote, I don’t need to read it.” Or maybe your eyes read the quote but your mind didn’t think about it.

Your mind is not a light switch you can turn on with the push of your finger; it’s more like a muscle. It needs time to warm up and it loves to be stretched. Read the quote again, and then give your mind the space it needs to warm up and build meaning.

The author’s message can be applied to any activity you want to do well. Do you remember the first time you tried to drive? In the beginning, you didn’t know what you were doing. You were overwhelmed with every little movement, button, or flashing light. However, the more you practiced, the easier the activity became. You knew what you needed to practice, only because you practiced.

Research suggests professional athletes will practice 500 more times than armature athletes because they strive to improve their performance. To practice means; to do or perform (something) repeatedly in order to acquire or polish a skill. In other words, every time a baseball player stands in the batter’s box he learns what actions help and which actions hinder hitting the ball. Once the baseball player knows which actions are successful, he repeats them over and over again causing his mind to build stronger and stronger connections between neurons. As soon as these neuron connections are strong enough, they will respond automatically without having to think about the spacing of his legs, squaring his shoulders, and raising his arms. As a result of this automatic response, the baseball player is able to focus on more important information like the path and speed of the ball.

When it comes to reading, mature readers practice applying strategies to create meaning until the neuron pathways become automatic. Instead of thinking about the sound each letter makes, the meaning of each word, and the message behind each sentence, a mature reader’s mind makes these decisions automatically. Therefore, her mind is able to identify areas that were difficult to understand, generate meaningful conversations with the author through talking to the text, and notice when her mind is distracted.

What is your reading stamina? Can you read in a quiet room for long periods of time, without feeling fatigue? You are fooling yourself if you think you can improve your reading without reading. Mature readers know increasing their stamina, or conditioning their cognition doesn’t happen overnight. Just like training for a marathon, you have to be willing to start with small chunks of text and slowly build up your thinking muscles. If you try to do too much, too fast, you could get overwhelmed or worse, quit. Over time you will be able to increase the length of time you read and the cognitive steps required to FLIRT and DRIVE will become automatic.

Coach your mind by noticing which strategies create the most meaning before, during, and after you read. Give your mind a pep-talk when it wants to quit. Suggest a better game plan when the text seems too difficult to comprehend. Push your mind to dig for the deeper meaning. And never, ever give up! Albert Einstein said, “I think and think for months and years. Ninety-nine times, the conclusion is false. The hundredth time I am right.”

Thinking is a process that takes practice, stamina, and determination. However, once you’ve established a reading routine, your mind will automatically and consistently perform the high levels of thinking required for academic texts. Remember, if you don’t use your muscles, you lose them. Begin to condition your cognition today!

Wednesday, October 7, 2009


Have you ever highlighted a chapter and truly felt like you understood the concepts. Then when you reread the chapter to help you study for a quiz you couldn’t remember why you highlighted that phrase or word? Talking to the text prevents this situation from ever happening again because you write down your thoughts at the same spot as the highlighted idea. Now when you study, reread, or use the text to support your opinion, you can see exactly why you highlighted. Get comfortable with talking to the text by stretching your mind to notice what you are thinking while you read.

Learning how to talk to the text is like buying a new pair of Prada shoes. At first, the shoes are tight and a little uncomfortable. You may only wear them for a short amount of time to stretch them out. Sometimes you get a blister, but you know the more you wear them, the sooner you will break them in and they will feel comfortable.

When reading, it is uncomfortable to stop reading and write down what you are thinking. Talking to the text, also known as T4, slows your pace of reading and forces you to engage in a deeper conversation with the author. Just like breaking in a new pair of shoes, you have to slowly stretch your mind to ask questions, make connections, and add information the author didn’t supply.

The nature of nonfiction is multi-layered. The author doesn’t have the time or the space to explain every abstract concept in detail. He expects you to activate your schema and search for information you’ve previously learned to support your comprehension. (See I Already Know for more information about how your prior knowledge and background knowledge can add meaning to any text.)

The author also uses text features to advertise important information. Sometimes the best way to present information is through a map, graph, or picture. If you quickly glance at these text features, or worse, skip over them completely, you are missing an opportunity to create a better understanding of complex ideas.

Mature readers interact with text features by stopping and writing down the hidden meaning. Not only will this strategy ensure the new information enters your short-term memory, it will make the frontal cortex perceive the incoming signals as meaningful and important. As a result, your working memory will search for more connections causing the new information to have a higher chance of transferring into your long-term memory. As you can see, talking to the text moves you beyond just taking in facts to actually creating a deeper relationship with the author. (See Look at Text Features to discover the different layers of support an author supplies to a reader.)

Breaking it down

There is a difference between talking to the text and writing notes in the margin. Talking to the text requires you to add your personal thoughts to the page. On the other hand, rewriting a condensed version of the text is considered summarizing the passage, not talking to the text. T4 allows you to create a space for your mind to strategically work with the text until you understand what the text is about and how you feel about the author’s message.

Depending on your purpose for reading, the way you talk to the text will change. If you are reading an article for a research paper, you may be searching for information to support your thesis. As a result, you are evaluating the author’s point of view so you will stop and write; “I agree because…” or “I disagree because…” If you are reading a chapter to learn about chemical compounds, notice when you are confused. Therefore, you want to highlight the ideas and words you do not understand and write down what makes the idea confusing. Other times questions pop into your head and you want to remember to ask these questions during class. If you don’t take time to write down these thoughts, chances are you won’t remember why you wanted to ask the question in the first place. Use the prompts below to guide your talking to the text.

• In the text it says…. I already know…. So I wonder…
• After reading…. I didn’t understand…. I realize I need to…
• The author states… I agree/disagree… Therefore I believe…
• When I read…. I wondered… I will remember…

Make sure you don’t fall into the trap of talking to the text just to talk to the text. You must only use T4 to help your mind strategically create meaning. The clearer you are at defining your purpose before you read, the easier and more effective T4 will be! (See Reveal a Purpose to help you decide why you are reading and what the author wants you to learn.)

Just like the new shoe analogy, you need to start slow and only choose to use one or two prompts at a time. If you try to use too many prompts, you will spend more time thinking about your thinking and not about the concepts you are trying to learn. Once your pace of reading returns to normal, break-in a new T4 prompt. Eventually your mind will have a closet full of prompts to match every thought you encounter.

Reality Check

It’s time to try on this season’s hottest Prada prompts. If you have the courage to allow your mind to talk to the text, you will discover a perceptive and intelligent conversation fit for any high profile celebrity. Embrace the initial discomfort while you stop and write down your thoughts. As the saying goes, “Fashion before comfort.” Getting an "A" on a test always looks the best!


“Thinking is the hardest work there is, which is probably the reason why so few engage in it.”
- Henry Ford

Do you know how to drive? Driving is learning how to monitor your speed and your attention while steering a vehicle from point A to point B. This takes discipline and obedience. There are a lot of events that can add distractions while driving like, cell phones, changing the music, eating, or talking to passengers in the car. There are pressures and temptations when you are late or lost. Sometimes you want to drive too fast and ignore the warning signs.

If you know how to drive a car, you know the cognitive process a mature reader goes through while reading a text. When it comes to reading academic texts you must be able to navigate your thoughts through difficult vocabulary and be prepared to turn around when you get lost. Phase two explains how to DRIVE while you read so you can comprehend the author’s message.


To drive is defined as; being able to steer a vehicle from point A to point B. Sure you may be able to drive a CAR but can you drive; a motorcycle, a tractor trailer, or a bus? Each of the examples above requires different skills to be able to steer the vehicle from point A to point B. In fact, they are so different you must take a driving test to prove you have the skills and then obtain a license in order to safely DRIVE each vehicle.

This is the case for most reading materials. Each text you encounter requires a different set of skills to make meaning. Why do you think you have to take a test for each class you take? Believe me, it’s not because your teacher loves to grade papers. You have to prove you have the skills to read and understand the text in each subject.

Since there are five different steps your mind must go through while DRIVEing with the text I created an acronym to help you remember them. An acronym means each letter in DRIVE represents a step. The next five blogs will explain each letter in detail.

D: Direct Your Metacognition
R: Revisit Vocabulary and Predictions
I: Identify Important Information
V: Visualize the Message
E: Evaluate Your Comprehension

Reality Check

Hey, this is your brain here. I need to talk to you. It really bugs me when you assume I can do all the reading myself. Reading is a two way street buddy; it takes both me (the brain) and you (the reader) to make meaning from these squiggly lines on the page.

First of all, you read too fast. What do you think I am, a NASCAR? After awhile, I’m so confused I crash. I take all that new information and throw it into the junkyard. If you expect me to remember, you need to adjust your reading speed and apply strategies to keep me from thinking about other things.

Second, you skip over new or difficult vocabulary. Avoiding confusing ideas isn’t helpful or a mature decision. With the help of my built-in GPS I will help you find a direct, fast, and efficient route to the meaning of these unknown words and phrases.

Third, you try to memorize every word on the page. It is virtually impossible to remember everything you read, and I ask, why would you want to? Deleting repeated ideas will help you condense the author’s ideas, develop a deeper understanding, and improve your memory. Keeping it simple is always more effective!

Let’s not forget the fact that I enjoy pictures much more than words. By transferring key words and phrases into meaningful pictures, I can recall more information. Get creative by drawing graphic organizers to show the relationship between ideas.

Finally, you never take any time to chat with me. As soon as your eyes reach the end of the chapter you close the book and do other things. Listen, if you aren’t going to take the time to make sure I store the new information into your long-term memory, than I’m not going to take the time to transfer the information. I need you to create a space that allows me to work with the new information and identify ideas for which I am still confused before you jump to a new topic.

We have a long road ahead of us. Sit back, relax, and enjoy the ride!

Wednesday, September 23, 2009


1. How does FLIRTing with a text, before you read, help you understand the author's expectations for you as a reader?

2. How does FLIRTing with a text keep you from quitting the reading?

Sunday, September 20, 2009


You’ve just finished watching Rachel Ray cook a ten minute meal. You have the recipe, and you have the ingredients, but do you have the proper tools? Just as a chef needs tools to manipulate the ingredients, readers need a graphic organizer to purposefully select information from long-term memory and mix it with new information from the text. Your ability to manage this manipulation of old and new information has a huge impact on how your mind processes and stores ideas.

Not all texts are created equal. The more structured the text, the easier it is for the mind to determine important text information and make connections with your schema. Research suggests, your mind is only capable of retaining information relevant to existing experiences (see I ALREADY KNOW). Look at these letters for ten seconds, then close your eyes to see how many letters you can remember IN THE SAME ORDER THEY APPEAR.


How many letters could you remember? Now repeat the process by looking at the letters below, closing your eyes and recall the letters IN THE SAME ORDER THEY APPEAR.


Which group was more meaningful and memorable? Both groups have the same thirteen letters listed in the same order; however, the second one makes more sense because I organized the letters into meaningful chunks. Your brain already has information about each one of these groups, but until I pointed out how they were organized, your brain struggled to make meaning.

As the experiment above proved, if you don’t take time to organize new information into meaningful chunks, your mind will get lost in the sea of sensory input streaming into the thalamus. As a result, you will have difficulty storing new information.

Helping your mind organize information will speed up your reading and improve your memory. Take time to FLIRT with the text to identify the external text structure and internal organization. The text structure helps you focus on essential information and the graphic organizer helps you purposefully connect isolated facts in a meaningful way.

A graphic organizer provides a container to visually show the relationship of ideas. The type of graphic organizer you use will depend on the author’s purpose, or how the author expects you to construct meaning. The goal is to identify the relationship between concepts and then find the most effective way to organize new information. The six most common text organizations are: enumeration, description, compare/contrast, sequence, cause/effect and problem/solution. To see sample graphic organizers, visit:

Enumeration, description, and compare/contrast are used when a concept is discussed through describing characteristics. With these texts, the way concepts are broken down into smaller subgroups is more important than the order it is presented.

When a concept is discussed through a process or time (dates), sequence, cause/effect, and problem/solution are the most effective graphic organizers. With these texts, the order the information is presented is most important.

FLIRTing organizes the mind’s schema by matching the right graphic organizer to the text structure of the passage. Taking notes on a graphic organizer allows the working memory to make strong connections between prior knowledge and new information in the text. This will improve your comprehension by allowing the mind to store new information in an organized, concise manner. Therefore, if you want to remember what you read, you must take time to establish a system for organizing and storing information before you read.

Streamline your thinking and deepen your understanding of the concept by choosing a graphic organizer that matches the demands of the text. Remember, using a graphic organizer will prevent your mind from getting burnt out.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Recipe for Reading

Remembering what you read is not automatic; it’s like a skilled chef carefully selecting ingredients for a five course meal. A chef uses a recipe to guide his decisions. For reading, the text features and author’s questions are a reader’s recipe. Each section is a separate recipe with its own ingredients. When you read, you can’t say, I am going to read to read. You have to be clear on your purpose and your direction. Mature readers know what they will have to do before they read a text.

Informational texts place a different set of demands on the reader. The good news is you have taken time to check out the external structures of the text and have gathered quite a lot of information. You know the genre, the topics, the purpose, and the pace of reading the text requires. All of this information is helping your mind establish a system for storing information.

Text structures give your mind a system for storing new information while you read. Authors use different text structures to support your mind in making meaning. If the text structure is based on description, the mind will store information by connecting common characteristics. If the text structure is based on time, the mind will store the information in sequential order.

As soon as you know the type of text structure the author used, your mind is prepared to retrieve information from long-term memory and processing new information. Before you read, FLIRT to determine the external structure of the text. When you serve your mind a five course meal of FLIRT, not only will you be able to read, you’ll be able to think!

Sunday, September 13, 2009


How do you read on-line texts? Do you start at the beginning and read every word? Do you read as fast as you can for 15 minutes and then give up when your brain is tired? Of course not! You skim through the web pages and say, “I wonder what this article is about? I’m curious about that picture.” Mature readers know the mind is naturally curious. When you FLIRT with the text, ask questions to create interest and set a purpose to read.

1. While you FLIRT, write your questions onto one side of a 3 x 5 card. Make sure to have one question per 3 x 5 card. Not only are 3 x 5 cards easier and lighter to carry around, they make studying very kinesthetic.
• Rewrite any author questions.
• Use pictures to write I wonder questions.
• Turn headings into questions.
• Use bold words to write I’m curious about questions.

2. Read the section with the purpose of answering your question.
• Highlight key words and ideas that help answer the question.
• Talk to the text by writing other thoughts in the margin.

3. Once you finish reading the section, write a summary that answers your question on the other side of the 3 x 5 card.
• Draw pictures or make motions to help your mind make connection to the information.
• When writing the summary, close the book so you are only using your working memory.
• Check with a tutor, peer or professor for any questions you couldn’t answer.

Your mind is not an encyclopedia filled with isolated facts in alphabetical order, it’s more like Google, waiting for you to type in your topic and hit SEARCH. As soon as you ask a question, your mind quickly searches for relevant connections.

The next time you pick up your textbook, log-on to your mind computer and enjoy all the free applications that allow you to play while you read. Visualizing allows you to transfer the printed text into moving pictures. Activate your Schema to create personal conversations with the author. Sneak a peek behind the scenes when you Infer the author’s message. The Clarifying application offers 24 hour customer service to explain confusing words and ideas. You could even get a chance to identify the most important information by using your Summarizing application.
When you set a purpose to read, you are the one controlling what and how you read. Become part of the most innovative and interactive community in the world; read.
Open up your textbook and start FLIRTing with the text features. Notice your mental thoughts as you scan the pictures, headings, and bold words. Jot down what you already know about the information advertised by the author. Write down any questions that pop into your mind. Ask yourself, “Am I reading to learn or to be entertained?” “What do I hope to learn from this text?” “What will this text be about?"
Use this information to determine how fast or how slow you can read the text. If you know a lot, you may just have to skim the text. If you don’t know a lot, you will have to stop often and read slower to make sure your mind has time to make meaning of the new information. Pay attention to your inner voice. The instant it starts thinking of something else, stop and refocus. Take a break every 15 to 20 minutes. Skip what you know, read what you want to learn, and focus on reading for meaning.

Thursday, September 10, 2009


Starting a conversation with someone you like can be slow and uncomfortable. And searching for topics of conversation can be a challenge. Have you ever experienced an awkward silence because you have no idea what to say?

Don’t look now but your “someone special” is coming over to talk with you! Stop worrying, you look fabulous but what are you going to say? The quicker you make connections, the easier it will be to talk. If you’ve flirted correctly, you should be well on your way to making connections. Take a deep breath, smile, and ask yourself, “What do I already know about this person?” As you use this information to chat about the last class you both attended, you’ll find yourself saying, “Me too!, I know!, I remember when I…”

Just like flirting, you need to search for connections before you read. Mature readers make connections between their previous experiences and the text features to support their memory. The amount of connections you make determines how efficient and effective you will learn the printed material. Before you read, ask yourself, “What do I already know about this topic, author, or genre?”


Schema (pronounced skhēma) is a Greek word meaning plan. Schema is the mind’s way of being organized so you can quickly recall information. Throughout your life your mind has been storing and organizing two different types of knowledge: background knowledge and prior knowledge.

Background knowledge contains stored memories you have personally experienced. Examples include: trips to the beach, sporting events, and experiences with family. You use background knowledge schema when you make text to self connections and text to world connections. (See CUT IT OUT for more information about connections).

Prior knowledge contains all the factual information you have learned. Examples include: historical, scientific, and mathematical concepts learned in school. You use prior knowledge schema when you make text to text connections and text within a text connections. (See CUT IT OUT for more information about connections.)

Not all ideas are created equal. The amount of background knowledge and prior knowledge your schema contains is different for every topic, concept, and vocabulary term. As a result, the connections you make between the text and your previous experiences will vary.

Your mind doesn’t automatically remember new information unless it can be connected to existing schema. Cognitive researchers have found schema is not like a single filing cabinet, it’s more like Velcro (Heath, 2007). “The Velcro Theory” suggests new information enters short-term memory for a few seconds. If the mind cannot “hook” old information to new information, the new information is discarded. In other words, you are only capable of retaining information relevant to existing experiences. How do you activate these hooks?

Before you read, FLIRT with the text by looking at the text features and asking yourself, “What do I already know about the topic?” By activating your schema, you alert your mind to useful information already stored in your long-term memory. This information will help make meaningful connections between your mind and the author’s message.

Each time you learn or experience a new concept, your schema has three different types of reactions: assimilation, accommodation, or elimination.

Assimilation is when the mind perceives the new information as meaningful and creates new connections. For example, Fred knows tusks are long, white, external teeth used for protection. From his visits to the zoo, Fred has seen walruses with tusks. During a unit on African Elephants, Fred learns elephants also have tusks. Fred’s schema added or assimilated connections between walrus-tusk-elephant.

Accommodation is when the mind alters or changes existing schema. For example, after Fred’s new discovery of elephant tusks, Fred applied this information incorrectly to all elephants. While he was doing a research project on different types of elephants, he discovered only certain elephants have tusks. Fred’s schema changed or accommodated by removing some of the connections between “all elephants have tusks” to “not all elephants have tusks.”

Elimination occurs when new information is perceived as irrelevant or when old schema connections are not used regularly. Your mind naturally eliminates or prunes away neurological connections that aren’t used to make room for new connections. This is why it is important to read, study, or talk about factual information every day. If you don’t use the new connections you built while reading, your mind will eliminate them.


Your personal life has everything to do with what you are reading.

Mature readers know their amount of schema strongly influences their ability to make meaning from the text. Don’t waste your time trying to memorize concepts in isolation. Without connecting new knowledge to your previous knowledge, your mind may not be able to recall it for future conversations or tests. Even worse, your mind may perceive the new information as irrelevant and discard it. Why take the chance? Support your mind by taking time to determine what you already know.

You have a lot of useful information in your mind. Some of the information you have personally experienced. Other times you heard it or saw it on TV. You may have read about it on the Internet, book, or magazine. Some information you may have just learned by looking at the text features. You can keep your mind interested by making connections to four different areas of knowledge.

Text to Self connections arise when you make connections to your background knowledge, or stored memories you have personally experienced. Ask yourself, “When have I been there, done that, or felt that way?” If you discover a connection, jot the idea in the margin or on a post-it note right by the text feature that stimulated the memory. Start your sentence with, “I already know…”

Text to World connections occur when you make a connection to something you remember but haven’t personally experienced. Maybe your Uncle was in Iraq or you heard about the topic on the news. Ask yourself, “When has someone else been there, done that, or felt that way?” If you make a text to world connection, start your sentence with, “This reminds me of…”

Text to Text connections happen when you recall similar information from a text you have read in the past. Ask yourself, “Where have I read about the topic, the place, or a person’s feelings?” Begin your text to text connection with, “I remember when…”

Text within a Text connections are made when you recall information you just read. Maybe you previewed the introduction and summary paragraphs of the chapter or a topic from another page was discussed again. Ask yourself, “Has the author left any clues about the topic, the place, or the person’s feelings?” When you make a text within a text connection, start your sentence with, “From what I read in the text…”

As soon as you take time to check all four areas of your schema, you create a deeper understanding and remember more. Making connections helps you transfer the new information into long-term memory so you can ACE your test.


It’s time to ask yourself, “What do I already know about the genre, author, and topic?” Open up your textbook and look at the text features. Notice your mental thoughts as you scan the text. Write down any memories that pop into your mind. Pay attention to your inner voice as it compares the text feature information to your schema.

As you FLIRT with the information advertised by the author, establish a plan for your reading. This will help you determine which sections will be difficult to read. For example, if you have an abundance of prior knowledge, you will find the section easy to read and your pace fast. However, if the topic is new or you have very little prior knowledge, be prepared to read the section with a slower pace, stopping often to make sure your mind has time to make new connections within your schema.

The next time you pick up a text, take into consideration your previous knowledge about the topic so your mind can build strong neurological connections. FLIRTing with the text alerts the mind to focus on critical features and anticipate specific connections.

Check out Chip Heath and Dan Heath's book Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Other Die at