COMPREHENSIONof College Level Reading Assignments A slide presentation based on Chapter 5 of The Allyn & Bacon Guide to Writing, 6th ed. (Reading Rhetorically: The Writer as Strong Reader)
What makes a reading assignment difﬁcultto understand? • Vocabulary • Unfamiliar context • Unfamiliar Genre • Lack of background knowledge
Obstacle to Comprehension: Unfamiliar Vocabulary• an obstacle is something that gets in the way of progress• comprehension is understanding• vocabulary refers to words or terms used by a speaker or author• Understanding the meaning of words used in a text is essential to understanding the text.
Consider the following passage: • French toys: One could not find a better illustration of the fact that the adultThis passage comes from frenchman sees the child as another self. AllAnnette Laver’stranslation of the essay the toys one commonly sees are essentially a“Toys” by Roland Barthes.It was ﬁrst published (in microcosm of the adult world; they are allFrench) in 1957 You can . reduced copies of human objects, as if in theﬁnd the full text onSlideShare. eyes of the public the child was an homunculus to whom must be supplied objects of his own size. • The author communicates the same point in three ways: • toys...are essentially a microcosom of the adult world • they are reduced copies of human objects • the child [is seen] as an homunculous to whom must be supplied objects of his own size
• If you don’t comprehend the precise meaning of the passage, look up the deﬁnitions of any unfamiliar words. Take the time to unpack the meaning of the passage.• microcosm and homunculus are words that reveal the precise meaning of the passage
• microcosm means miniature world or little world• homunculus means tiny human being
Once you understand the terms used, it iseasier to state the ideas in your own words:• All you have to do is look at the toys kids in France play with to see that the culture views children as miniature adults: the toys they play with are just toy versions of adult objects (like cell phones, tool belts, vacuum cleaners, and car keys). How helpful are the speciﬁc examples in making the meaning clear? VERY. SHOW; DON’T TELL.
Obstacle to comprehension: unfamiliar context• Context is relevant background information that helps you comprehend a particular text.• The meaning of the preﬁx con- is together; context refers to information that should be considered together with the text to better understand its full meaning.
Consider this painting carefully. Close your eyes and open them again. Find a focalpoint in the painting. Move your eyes from point to point until you have carefullyviewed the whole painting. Write a sentence that summarizes your interpretation ofthis painting.
Consider the painting’s context:‣ The name of the painting is Landscape with the Fall of Icarus.‣ It was painted in 1558 by Belgian painter Pieter Bruegel.‣ Icarus is a ﬁgure from Greek mythology who, with his father, made wings out of wax and escaped from the prison where they had been unjustly held. Though his father warned him not to ﬂy too close to the sun because his wings would melt, Icarus did not listen. He is seen drowning in the bottom right corner of the painting. Do any of the other ﬁgures in the painting notice?‣ Do you see how this background information helps you understand the meaning of the painting?
Comprehension Obstacle: Unfamiliar Genre• a genre is a category • blues, folk, and electronic are genres of music• genres of writing are categories, styles, or • action-adventure, kinds of writing romantic comedy, and ﬁlm noir are movie• detective, fantasy, sci-ﬁ, genres and horror are genres of ﬁction
• In this class, you are asked • Whereas you don’t have to to consider personal essays, question where a thought analytical essays, speeches, begins and ends when you poems, informative podcast read an analytical essay full transcripts, and textbook of clearly separate chapters sentences, you have to know to read a poem with• Whereas you might scan a the goal of identifying each individual thought since this grammar podcast transcript or textbook chapter genre of writing is written searching quickly for in lines rather than essential information, you sentences. should read each line of a poem slowly and carefully. • Take the time to ﬁgure out what kind of text you are being asked to read. It will help you to understand it.
Comprehension Obstacle: Lack of Background Knowledge• Realize that authors make assumptions about what their readers know about and don’t need to have explained to them.• Consider when and where the text was written. When you are reading a text written in 1895, it is not likely that the author who wrote it in 1895 anticipated students reading it in 2013. Therefore, you may need to look up references to events the writer would assume everyone reading knows all about. This is just one example of the many reasons you may not know all a writer assumes his or her readers know.
• Consider a passage from an essay I frequently assign in this course. The essay is called Finding the Strength to Fight Our Fears. It was written by Terry Ahwal and published as part of the This I Believe series on National Public Radio in 2007. When I was 11 years old and living under the Israeli occupation, I took a chance and after curfew I ran to visit my grandmother who lived two blocks away from us. On the road, I had to hide under a truck to avoid soldiers who were coming my way. For 20 minutes I lay there in utter fear watching their boots walk back and forth in front of the truck. My heart was pounding so fast and loud that I was afraid one of the soldiers would hear it and I would be killed instantly.• The author assumes that the reader is familiar with the Israeli occupation. Many of my of my students are not.• To overcome this obstacle, when you find unfamiliar phrases in texts, you should take the same approach as when you find an unfamiliar word: look it up. Use Google or your preferred search engine to locate a simple overview or definition of the unfamiliar phrase.
Solutions to the problems:• Unfamiliar vocabulary: Get into the habit of using a dictionary when you read.• Unfamiliar context: Read everything provided with the reading assignment and seek out information if it is not provided.• Unfamiliar Genre: Take notice of the type of text you are being asked to consider and approach it with an awareness of the purpose, audience, and characteristics of the genre.• Lack of background knowledge: Look up unfamiliar phrases to ﬁll in the gap between what you already know and what the author assumes you already know.
Read like an expert:‣ Expert readers are not walking dictionaries or speed readers. Experts take their time, often reading slowly.‣ They use dictionaries to clarify meaning.‣ They consider any background information offered with the text (from the date and place of publication to information about the author to previews of the text’s content to questions following the text) and, if not provided with any context for the reading, they seek it out.‣ Expert readers are not experts in everything. They search unfamiliar phrases, names, references to events, etc. to acquire the background knowledge the writer assumes they have.‣ Expert readers consider the kind of writing they are reading and do not approach a textbook chapter in the same way that they approach a poem.
Read like an expert:‣ Expert readers take notes and question the text. They approach a text as if they are entering into a conversation with the author and allow themselves to speak back by writing notes of response or questions in the margins.‣ They read a sentence, a passage, or an entire work as many times as they need to in order to fully understand it.‣ Expert readers want to understand complicated texts. This may be the key factor to becoming an expert reader. You have to want to understand, which requires believing that you will beneﬁt from it. Believing or even suspecting that there is nothing worthwhile to be learned from reading a given text is the biggest obstacle of all. Expert readers realize that you can learn from authors with whom you completely disagree or from reading about something that you are not personally interested in before you started reading.‣ Reading like an expert is more time consuming than you would like it to be, but real learning involves struggle, and comprehending a text is often the key to success in the college classroom.