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!