Sunday, August 30, 2009


Do you talk to a male friend the way you talk with a female friend? No way! Nor should you read a science textbook the way you read a novel. Let’s say you arrive at school and start scanning the crowd for a familiar face. How you begin a conversation will depend on whom you decide to talk to. For example, if you spot a male friend, you may choose to talk about sport scores, current news events, or tell jokes. On the other hand, if you spot a female friend, you may choose to talk about friends, fashion or a TV show. The gender of the person often determines your expectations of how the conversation will go. Your knowledge of gender differences helps you adjust your topics to match expectations.

Believe it or not, these same rules apply when you read. Reading uses a slightly different “G” word. The word is genre. Different genres contain different elements of information. Mature readers adjust their mental behaviors just like you adjust your topics of conversation.


Genre (pronounced zhahn-ruh) is a French term meaning kind or type. Genre standardizes a set of expectations and eliminates confusion by placing texts into different groups depending on the elements of information used by the author.

A fiction text is considered fake and requires the reader to use the characters, setting and conflicts to make meaning. The author’s message tends to teach the reader about life through a recurring theme. The purpose of reading from the fiction genre is for enjoyment and pleasure. Examples of fiction include humor, mystery, romance and science fiction novels.

A nonfiction text is considered not fake and requires the reader to determine the author’s purpose, learn new vocabulary words and make connections between the main ideas and supporting details. The purpose of reading from the nonfiction genre is to learn information. You must always read nonfiction texts with caution by identifying the author’s point of view and the sources used. Not everything written down is to be believed. Examples of nonfiction include textbooks, newspapers, cookbooks and biographies.

Poetry is the last type of genre. Even though poetry could be fiction or nonfiction, the author expects to have a completely different conversation with you. The author wants you to notice the rhyme, sensory images and figurative language within the poem. The purpose of reading from the poetry genre could be for enjoyment or to learn. Examples of poetry include free verse, couplets, haiku, and sonnets.

Mature readers know the importance of having a variety of experiences with different genres. Each experience aids in establishing expectations and learning structures, which increase the fluency of metal tasks used for comprehension. Just as gender guided your topics for discussion, genre guides your mind for selecting the important information to match the specific genre elements. Before you begin to read, FLIRT with the text by asking yourself, “What genre am I going to read?”

TIME CHECK – Does your mind need a break? Stand up, walk around, get a drink and then come right back. You have two minutes.

Reading a science textbook is not the same as reading a novel.
Mature readers know the importance of identifying genre before they read. Different genres place different demands on the way their mind interacts with the text. A science textbook is nonfiction, which means you will need to read slowly and stop often to take notes. A novel is fiction, which means you will be able to read quickly and stop between chapters. If you expect to remember what you read, you must know how the genre guides these mental behaviors.

Fiction texts are like listening to your iPod. You can sing all the words because you are familiar with the play list. On the other hand, nonfiction is like listening to talk radio. Each moment is new and unfamiliar. Poetry is like learning words to a new song. The more you replay the song, the easier it is to grasp the meaning and remember the words.

Fiction texts consist of similar elements. Once you have read one mystery novel, you know how to read any mystery novel. Expect to read fiction with a fast and even pace. Skipping unknown words and descriptive paragraphs usually don’t affect the overall meaning of the story. However, you must read the text in order from page one until the end.

Nonfiction texts are packed with new concepts and supporting ideas. Each new concept is broken into small chunks called, “sections.” (See Look at Text Features). This is to help your mind think through and find connections between the main ideas and supporting details. Expect to read nonfiction with an uneven pace. Some sections you will be able to read quickly, some slowly and some you can skip all together. And never skip unknown words as most are needed to build meaning. (see DRIVE for a detailed account of nonfiction reading behaviors).

Poetry can be as complicated as a New York Times crossword puzzle. Don’t be deceived by the small amount of text. Expect to read a poem several times and be prepared to make mental images to help comprehend the author’s message.

Just as gender guideS your topics for discussion, genre guides your mind for selecting the right mental behaviors.

TIME CHECK – Does your mind need a break? Stand up, walk around, get a drink and then come right back. You have two minutes.

It’s time to determine the genre of your books. Check out the front and back cover of the book. Look inside for a table of contents, index, and glossary. If the book lists chapter titles but doesn’t have an index or glossary, chances are the book is fiction. If the book’s chapters are broken into smaller sections with headings, pictures, and bold words, the book is probably nonfiction. Remember, reading is easy once you know how to approach the text.

The next time you pick up a text, take time to determine if it is fiction, nonfiction or poetry so your mind can begin to establish a mental plan of behaviors, strategies and expectations. When you FLIRT before you read, you let the genre guide your mind to successful, focused and purposeful conversations with the author.


Do you know how to flirt? The actual process of flirting begins long before you talk to your love interest. Let’s say the person you like is in one of your classes. You wouldn’t just role out of bed and go to school. You would carefully choose the “right” outfit to make your eyes stand out. Spend extra time in the bathroom making sure every hair was in place and your breath smelled fresh. You might even prepare questions to ask and topics to discuss just in case you got close enough to talk.

If you know how to flirt with a human, you know the cognitive process a mature reader goes through before reading a text. Mature readers prepare their mind to read as you prepare to look your best for that special someone.

To flirt with means, “to take into consideration.” As a reader, you are taking into consideration the author’s style, the way the text is organized and the topic being discussed so you can hold a strong mental conversation and remember the important information. When you open the doors of your mind for interaction, conversation, and growth, you are able to remember what you read. Since there are five different steps your mind must go through when FLIRTing with the text I created an acronym to help you remember them. An acronym, means each letter in FLIRT represents a step. The next five chapters explain each letter in detail.

F: Fiction or Nonfiction: Genre does Matter
L: Look at Text Features: Check out Those Special Features
I: I Already Know: Search for Connections
R: Reveal the Purpose: Get Interested
T: Text Structures: Organize a Date

FLIRTing with the text is not enough to comprehend or make meaning from the chapter.Mature readers know FLIRTing with a text is only the beginning of the reading process. If you expect to remember what you read, you must slow down and be an active reader by taking notes, highlighting and drawing pictures. Skimming and scanning the chapter are terrific for creating a curiosity to read. However, this is only surface reading.

Skimming is like watching for a cute face to walk by at the mall. You see a few cute faces but you never go up to talk with them. On the other hand, scanning is like watching for your friend. You are looking for a specific face in the crowd. Once you find your friend, you go and engage in a conversation.

Skimming is done first to grasp an overview of the chapter, activate schema, identify topics and establish a purpose for reading. Start at the top of the page and read the text features. As you reach the bottom of the page, stop and identify sections/ideas/words that are new to you by highlighting, writing notes or adding marks. These marks make your thoughts visible for future reference. The marked sections will need to be read with a deeper, slower process (see DRIVE).

Scanning is done to determine if the resource contains the information you need. You know what you are looking for and search for specific words and phrases. Once you discover the information, you interact with it by highlighting it or writing it down. When you are trying to answer the chapter questions by searching for key words instead of reading, you are scanning. (see RELAX for a more effective way to answer questions.)

TIME CHECK – Does your mind need a break? Stand up, walk around, get a drink and then come right back. You have two minutes.

It’s time to apply your FLIRTing skills to your books. Yes, those dry, boring textbooks that weigh down your backpack and cramp your social life. I want you to get interested in reading by FLIRTing with those textbooks of yours. Go ahead; sneak a peak at the whole chapter. Take a good look at each page. Check out the titles, headings, pictures, captions and bold words. Then start asking questions and marking sections for further reading. Just like flirting, some sections are worth a second look. You may want to skim over a section because you need to build some background knowledge. Maybe you noticed a section that was discussed in class and you want to double-check your memory. However, other sections may only require one look because the charts, pictures or maps gave you enough information. Academic reading is about reading smarter, not harder.

The next time you pick up a text, take into consideration the external clues the author left so your mind can begin to make meaning. When you FLIRT before you read, you become more interested in the topic, which helps your mind stay focused and organized.

Saturday, August 29, 2009


Did you know you were not born with the ability to read? That’s right, it is not natural for you to read. You had to teach your brain how to make meaning from these squiggly lines on the page. Research suggests human minds differ in their ability to make meaning. The key to remembering what you read is to discover the way your mind likes to learn.

To prove this theory, notice how your mind recalls the following items:
· Remember the Star Spangled Banner (National Anthem)
· Remember a basketball
· Remember how to swing a bat
· Remember the definition of a flower

Did you hear the tune for the Star Spangled Banner, see a picture of a basketball and physically feel swinging the bat? “Information is not stored in a specific location in the brain but in various locations- visual, auditory, and motor cortices – and is joined in circuits or networks of neurons (p. 72, Wolfe, 2001).” Remembering the definition of a flower was harder because you had to pull from several different cortices to create meaning.

Even though all sensory information flows into the visual, auditory and motor cortices, your mind may prefer to use one over the other two. You’ve heard the term diversity to describe race, ethnicity, and gender. When it comes to the brain, cognitive scientists say humans are neurologically diverse or differ in the style their mind likes to learn. Some minds prefer to listen and talk (auditory learner), some like to look at pictures and draw (visual learner), while others would rather move and touch (kinesthetic learner).

On the web site,, Victoria Chislett, a performance psychologist, defines the three learning styles as:

  • Someone with a Visual learning style has a preference for seen or observed things, including pictures, diagrams, demonstrations, displays, handouts, films, flip-chart, etc. These people will use phrases such as ‘show me’, ‘let’s have a look at that’ and will be best able to perform a new task after reading the instructions or watching someone else do it first. These are the people who will work from lists and written directions and instructions.
  • Someone with an Auditory learning style has a preference for the transfer of information through listening: to the spoken word, of self or others, of sounds and noises. These people will use phrases such as ‘tell me’, ‘let’s talk it over’ and will be best able to perform a new task after listening to instructions from an expert. These are the people who are happy being given spoken instructions over the telephone, and can remember all the words to songs that they hear!
  • Someone with a Kinesthetic learning style has a preference for physical experience - touching, feeling, holding, doing, practical hands-on experiences. These people will use phrases such as ‘let me try’, ‘how do you feel?’ and will be best able to perform a new task by going ahead and trying it out, learning as they go. These are the people who like to experiment, hands-on, and never look at the instructions first!


  • If your mind prefers visual input, you must look at the pictures on the page before, during, and after reading. You should also take notes by drawing pictures to represent the concepts you read.
  • If your mind prefers auditory input, you may have to read out loud or record yourself reading and then play it back. You should talk about the concepts you read before you take notes.
  • If your mind prefers kinesthetic input, you may have to read standing up or sitting on an exercise ball. Stop often to walk around the room and take notes by creating movements to represent the concepts you read.

    How are you smart?

    For more information on learning styles, visit:

Wolfe, Patricia. (2001). Brain Matters. Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development. Alexandria, Virginia.

Thursday, August 27, 2009


Is your purpose for reading: TO GET ‘ER DONE? Do you count how many pages are left, grumble that you’re bored, or think reading is pointless? The problem may be your lack of purpose, not your mind. When you look at reading as a task to cross off the “To Do List” instead of an opportunity to learn, you are creating a prime environment for a mind temper tantrum.

Your mind is not a responsible adult, it’s more like a two year old child; naturally curious and always asking, “Why?” If you begin to read without setting a purpose, the child inside your mind throws a temper tantrum. It goes something like this; “Why do I have to read? I don’t want to read! I want to text my friends, surf the Internet, and watch TV. I don’t care about reading. I never remember the information anyway. THIS IS WASTING MY TIME! AAAHHHHH!”

The best way to avoid a temper tantrum is to be proactive by deciding why you are reading. Your purpose will change depending on whether you are reading: for entertainment, to learn, or to evaluate.

If you are reading for entertainment, you are reading for fun. Since the reading material matches your interests, it’s easy to read. As a result, your mind is able to multi-task (do two things at once) such as; listen to music or watch TV, without effecting comprehension. Entertainment sources include; text messages, magazines, and novels.

If you are reading to learn, you are reading to be informed. Since the reading material is new, it’s harder to read. As a result, you will have to read slower and stop more often. Informational sources include; textbooks, professional journals, technical manuals and reference materials.

If you are reading to evaluate, you must read with a critical eye. Not everything written down is true. Pay attention to the author’s word choice. If the author makes a statement about a belief that should be held, a judgment that should be shared, or an action that should be taken, the author is trying to influence your feelings, thoughts and behavior. Persuasive sources include; editorials, movie/book reviews, advertisements, and letters to the editor.

Finally, remember to always respect your inner child. The instant you feel a temper tantrum begin, give your mind a time out. Walk away from the text and allow your mind time to process the new information.

When you communicate a clear, specific purpose for reading, your mind pays attention to the text. Set a purpose and lose the temper tantrum. It’s that simple.


I dare you to turn off your cell phone for twenty minutes. It will make you smarter! Did you just say, “No?” What are you, chicken? What’s the worst thing that could happen? Speak up, I can’t hear you. Did you just say, “My family and friends might try to contact me and if I don’t answer, they will start to worry.” Are you serious? You’re telling me that your “peeps” can’t wait twenty minutes while you read a small section of a textbook?

Your cell phone isn’t holding you back from studying; it’s your desire to avoid reading! You sit there, staring at the textbook, just praying that someone will call you so you can stop reading.

Rebel! Go against your desire to avoid reading.

It can be difficult to disobey the ringing vibration of the cell phone, especially if you are not rebellious by nature. That’s why I am asking you to take the seven day rebel reading challenge. In one short week you can take control of your studying and improve your memory.


Day 1: Become aware of how often your phone rings and interrupts your studying. Tell the caller you are studying and will call them back in twenty minutes.

Day 2: Make a commitment to rebel by posting a message (via Facebook, Twitter, email, text, etc.) that you will be unavailable to respond to calls for the next twenty minutes. Notice how often the phone rings, but don’t answer it. After twenty minutes, respond to the callers.

Day 3: Repeat the above process, but turn your phone off for ten minutes. Check your phone after ten minutes and then turn it off again. Respond only to emergencies. (BTW, your friend’s call about which shirt to wear is NOT an emergency!)

Day 4: Don’t post an alert that you will be unavailable to calls for twenty minutes. Just turn off the phone for ten minutes, check it, and turn it back off for another ten minutes. When you are
finished reading the section, jot down a summary sentence and then return important phone calls.

Day 5: Repeat the above process, but increase the turn off time to fifteen minutes. Continue checking the phone and reading until the whole chapter is finished. Reward yourself by taking a break to respond to your callers.

Day 6: Keep the turn off time to fifteen minutes and be aware of how quickly you finish the chapter and how much you remember.

Day 7: Continue the rebellious reading but increase the phone free time to twenty minutes.

You have the power to turn off the cell phone, remember what you read and discover your inner genius. Don’t wait for the phone to stop vibrating! Be proactive. Become a rebellious reader and blog about your results.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Let's Get Physical

Humans are creatures of habit. We do things because “that’s the way it’s always been done.” We pick up habits from our culture, parents, and friends. There’s good news and bad news. Bad news: many of these habits make you ineffective while reading. Good news: it’s never too late to change.

Dr. Phil McGraw, a T.V. psychologist, is well known for saying, “How’s that working for you?” You need to spend some time reflecting on your reading habits and ask yourself, “How’s that working for me?” You will find some habits support your reading while others hinder your ability to make meaning from a text. Take time to set yourself up for success by evaluating your reading habits and choose to read smarter, not harder. Cut out your bad habits and replace them with good habits!

Your brain is often compared to a computer. Your daily habits of sleep, diet, and exercise all effect the way your computer (brain) functions. Let’s take a closer look as to why your physical health is connected to learning.

Learning is two parts. Getting it and remembering it! In order to get it, you have to focus on what you are trying to learn. The lack of sleep affects your ability to focus on what you are reading.

Dr. Lewis Terman, originated the Stanford-Binet Intelligence Test, found that the longer students slept, the better they performed in school. Additional studies have confirmed the link between sleep and performance. Why? Proper sleep allows for better focus on what you are reading and increases the amount you remember from what you learned the previous day.

The scary thing is many Americans are starved for sleep. Most people focus on the “getting it” part. Once we get it, many of us take remembering the information for granted. If we do not remember, what is the point? There are many strategies to increase your memory. One of the simplest things that you can do is to get enough sleep. Yes, sleep. How hard is that?

Leslie Stahl’s report on the Science of Sleep (March, 2008) featured Matthew Walker, director of UC Berkeley's Sleep and Neuroimaging Laboratory and senior author of the study coordinated with researchers from Harvard University, suggests that getting a good night’s sleep after you learned new information make you remember it better. This new information flies in the face of the idea of pulling an all-nighter. Let’s go back to the computer analogy. All day long, you are learning. This new information is being typed into an ‘email’ to yourself. While you sleep your brain hits the ‘send’ key. The only problem is that the ‘send’ key is not hit as your fall asleep. It happens during the last two hour of the sleep cycle. You need between 8-10 hours of sleep. If you are not getting the recommended sleep, there is a good chance that your brain will not remember the information. Feel better. Learn more. Remember. Sleep.

The proper amount of sleep is just as important as a proper diet. Eating healthy is vital to a healthy body and a healthy brain. The brain uses 20% of your body’s energy and is the only organ that doesn’t store energy. You are what you eat. In fact, you are only as smart as your last meal, because your brain is using the food that you just ate. Avoid food with a lot of processed sugars. Eat fruits, dark green vegetables, eggs, lean meats, beans, and nuts. Eat a high protein meal for breakfast. Breakfast is the most important meal of the day!

Be a detective and investigate food labels so you are making healthy and smart choices. Eating foods with high-levels of protein increase mental alertness, energy, and motivation. Eating carbohydrates alone, without protein, has a calming effect and aids in focus. Glucose (nature’s sugar) is fuel for the brain and comes from simple and complex carbohydrates. Fruits are extremely healthy but won’t activate the food/mind/mood response. Don’t forget the water! Never get thirsty. You should drink eight or more glasses of water a day. You brain cannot function its best if you are dehydrated.

Best Proteins: Shellfish, fish, skinless chicken, veal, lean beef, low fat cottage cheese and yogurt, dried beans, peas, and tofu.

Best Carbohydrates: Whole wheat bread, crackers, muffins, rolls, bagels, pasta, potatoes, rice, corn (tortillas); cereals and oatmeal served with milk blocks the effect but is still nutritional.

You know that exercise is important for the body, but did you know that exercise could make you smarter? When you exercise you increase your blood circulation and more oxygen and glucose pass through the brain. Exercise increases energy production and waste removal. Exercise reduces the stress chemicals that prevents learning and is also thought to anchor new information in the brain. If you exercise while you are learning or immediately after you are learning, you will more likely remember the information. Are you getting the picture? Eat right, get enough sleep, and exercise. Not only will you be healthier, but you are preparing your brain to learn. If you want to learn exactly how or why a sleep, diet, and exercise affect your brain, check out these websites.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Are You a Distractive Reader?

Have you ever said, "I have trouble staying focused while I read. I get bored and my mind starts to daydream." The problem may be your environment, not your mind. Quick, scan your desk. Are you listening to music, watching TV, or texting your friends? If you answered yes, you are a distractive reader. A distraction is when someone or something blocks your mind from paying attention to the text you are reading. The best way to pay attention to what you are reading is to avoid being distracted by other stimuli.

Your mind is not a sponge, it’s more like a coffee filter. Information pours into your mind through your five senses (sight, sound, smell, touch, taste). In less than a second, this new information is filtered or processed. If the new information matches previously stored information, the mind assigns meaning. This useful information passes through to what cognitive researchers call the "working memory". If the mind is unable to assign meaning, the information is ignored or discarded. On average, 99% of the sensory information is forgotten (Gazzaniga, 1998).

No matter how hard you try to pay attention, your mind is naturally going to be drawn to three specific stimuli: new or novel thoughts, loud sounds and fast moving objects. It only takes one commercial to realize advertisers have known this research for decades. New and improved products are shown on the TV screen through rapidly changing pictures. Advertisers even have the ability to increase the sound level of the commercial! If you apply this information to your reading environment, every new thought, sound or flashing picture has the potential to distract your mind from processing the written text. You might not be able to control what your mind pays attention to, but you can improve your ability to focus by removing distractions.

What does this mean to you as a reader? If you want to remember what you read, you must remove the distractions from your environment. Sit in a quiet room with the TV off, computer off, cell phone off, and head phones out of your ears. By removing distractions, your mind will pay attention longer and remember more.

Remember, multi-tasking while reading is as dangerous as multi-tasking while driving! Be a safe reader and remove all distractions before you read.

Gazzaniga, M. (1998). The Mind's Past. Berkley, CA: University of California Press.