This presentation describes effective textbook study strategies. Many of these strategies are useful in K-12 education only because Open Educational Resources now allow students to mark up and annotate their textbooks.
Hi. My name is TJ Bliss and I’m an educational researcher studying open educational resources. In this presentation, I discuss effective strategies for studying from textbooks, especially when students are allowed to write in and otherwise annotate their books. This presentation is intended as professional development for educators. But it is also intended for educators use with their own students. Because it is licensed under a Creative Commons CC BY license, educators (and anyone else, for that matter) have the right to reuse, remix, redistribute, and revise this presentation for any purpose – even commercial. My hope is that educators will find it helpful in developing their students’ abilities to study effectively from their textbooks.
In most cases in K-12 education, textbooks are purchased on 7, 10 or even 14-year cycles. This means that students are generally not allowed to take notes, highlight, mark up, or otherwise engage in effective reading and studying strategies with their texts. In some cases, students aren’t even allowed to remove their textbooks from the classroom.However, the increasing availability of high quality open educational resources, especially open textbooks, has finally made it economically feasible for schools to provide textbooks to their students that can be taken home, marked up, and more effectively used as meaningful learning tools. For more information on open educational resources (also known as OER), please follow the links on this slide.Just because students have the right to effectively use a textbook doesn’t necessarily mean they will actually exercise that right. Effective study from textbooks is a skill that needs to be developed and nurtured. This skill has often been overlooked by educators, partly because many of the most effective textbook study strategies are not possible when textbooks have to be preserved for multiple years. In this presentation I will describe some of the research-based findings about how successful students study from their textbooks and then illustrate several effective textbook marking strategies.
In 1976, Whimbey reported on research that found that unsuccessful students shared some commonalities in their approach to studying from their textbooks. These students, if they read them at all, simply read straight through their textbook without slowing down for difficult sections. They often rarely stopped to check their comprehension. In a word, unsuccessful students were passive readers.
On the other hand, Hermann and Searleman reported on research that found that successful students exhibited common key behaviors in their approach to studying from textbooks. Specifically, these students consistently evaluated their understanding and comprehension of the material and often decreased their reading pace for more difficult material. This kind of active reading allowed students to make connections between what they were currently reading and what they had previously read. It also allowed them to develop useful contexts for organizing and structuring the information in their textbooks. Herrmann and Searleman also reported that successful students applied the PQ4R method for studying from textbooks, which I’ll describe in some detail next.
The PQ4R method for textbook study was introduced 40 years ago by Thomas and Robinson. It continues to be an effective strategy for getting the most out of a textbook and includes 6 main components: preview, question, read, reflect, recite, and review. I’ll briefly discuss each of these components in turn.
Before reading a particular chapter, it is helpful to first skim through the content. Skimming involves, at minimum, reading the section headings and emphasized terms. A deeper skim would involve quickly reading the first and last sentences of each paragraph. While skimming, students should ask themselves these key questions: What material will be discussed in this chapter? How is the chapter organized? How do the big ideas in this chapter relate to what I already know about the subject?
After previewing the chapter, the PQ4R method recommends tackling the material one section at a time. Before reading each section, students should preview the material and ask themselves: “What content will be covered in this section” and “What information should I be getting from this section?” This process should be repeated for each section in the chapter.
After questioning, students should actively read through the chapter section by section. Active reading includes carefully thinking about the material by asking: “Am I understanding what I’m reading?” “Are my questions being answered?” “What’s still confusing or unclear to me?”
As students read, they should constantly reflect on the material by thinking of examples that make sense to them. They should also consider drawing visual images and diagrams of the main topics and concepts. In addition, students should continually ask themselves “What does this material mean?” “How does what I’m reading in this section relate to what I’ve read in other sections?’ “How does this chapter relate to other chapters?”
At the end of each section, students should do the following to improve comprehension and memory: List the major points as they are described in the section, rewrite the main points in their own words, draw pictures or diagrams of the main points (if possible), and write down any connections they see between sections.
Students should treat the end of each chapter in the same way they treat the end of each section by listing the main points in the chapter overall, writing the major ideas in their own words and/or illustrating them with pictures and diagrams. In addition, students should pay attention to how the sections within the chapter are related to each other and to how the chapter is related to other chapters in the book. Also, students should note how the material in the chapter relates to content covered in other aspects of the class, including lectures and activities.
The strategies I’ve described for effective textbook study are greatly enhanced by the use of a meaningful system for marking and annotating the text. While most of the study techniques I’ve discussed so far apply to textbooks that can’t be marked up (like the majority of textbooks used in K-12 education across the country), the most effective study and retention is accomplished when a textbook can be highlighted and written in. Openly licensed textbooks make this kind of study possible because such books are cheap enough that schools and districts can purchase new copies each year. In the next few slides, I will briefly describe and illustrate 10 useful techniques for marking and annotating a textbook. In considering these techniques, remember that above all, a marking strategy or system must make sense to the person using it. There’s no one right way to annotate and mark up a set of text.
Underlining and highlighting is the most common textbook marking strategy. However, it is often not done effectively. Following some simple guidelines will help ensure that underling and highlighting will contribute to successful study. First, students should avoid underlining or highlighting until they’ve read through a section or paragraph at least once. Then they should go back and underline or highlight ONLY the words or phrases that summarize the main points of the passage. It’s extremely important to limit the amount of highlighting or underlining, as too much emphasis will defeat the purpose of the technique. Effective highlighting is challenging and requires continually conscious evaluation by asking “What is most important or valuable in this section? What is not as important?
In addition to highlighting and underlining main points, it is often useful to place boxes around transition words like first, second, third, next, finally, for example, furthermore, in addition, as a result, consequently, and so on. Boxed transitions make reviewing the material more effective by cueing students to concepts that have several components. Likewise, it can be very helpful to identify and number any lists in the text, like steps in a procedure, components of a concept, or points in an argument. Sometimes lists are identified by transition words, like first, second and third. Many times they are not, though. Thus, the process of identifying lists itself can be quite instructive. Numbering lists students find can help them in reviewing the material later.
One reason students sometimes don’t learn as much from their textbooks as they can is because they don’t often know the meaning of every word they come across. Not understanding even a few words in a single paragraph or section can be difference between understanding the passage or being completely confused. One easy way to overcome vocabulary deficiencies is for students to look for and circle words they don’t know. After completing each paragraph or section, students should use a dictionary (or, even easier, a web search tool like Google) to look up the definitions of all the circled words. Then they should write an abbreviated definition of each circled word in the margin of the page. Writing the definitions in their own words will also help students remember their new vocabulary. The definitions will also be valuable when students are reviewing the textbook for a test or an assignment.
A strategy than can help students better understand the material and make connections between sections and chapters is using the margin to jot down the main ideas of the passage. At the end of each section (and at the end of each chapter), students should take a few minutes to write a brief (5-10) word answer to the question “What was most of this passage about?” It is important that students keep their summaries very short and concise, both for improving understanding of the content and for later review. This strategy is especially useful for passages that are long or dense.
A fifth strategy that can help students more effectively mark-up their textbooks is to identify and note any examples and in-text definitions. Anytime a students sees an example of a main point or concept, he or she should make a note in the margin using the abbreviation “Ex:” followed by a brief label identifying the main idea being exemplified. Also, anytime an important word or concept is defined in the text, students should label it with the letters “Def.” for definition. Labeling examples and definitions has two advantages: First, it will help students understand the material better the first time they read it because they will be differentiating main points from examples of main points and key words from definitions of key words. Second, when students return to the material later for study and review, they will be able to quickly refresh their memory using the examples and definitions they’ve already identified and labeled.
A sixth textbook marking strategy is for students to write their own ideas and then place them in square brackets. Placing ideas in square brackets is helpful for later review, but the most important part of this strategy is that students actually write ideas in own words. One useful thing to write about is any connections students see between what they are reading at the moment and other passages, class discussions, assignments or activities they’ve experienced. There is usually a lot of space for students to write their own ideas in the margins at the top and bottom of each page. Keep in mind that this strategy requires a lot of effort, active reading, and critical thinking. But the effort is worth it. Students will find that as they try to internalize material by writing ideas in their own words, their study will become more interesting and more useful.
Part of students writing ideas in their own words is writing down any questions they have as they read. Of course, using this strategy requires that students ask questions about what they are reading in the first place. Asking and writing down questions can help students think more critically, make connections between old and new material, and start wondering about the implications and applications of what they are reading. This strategy will go a long way to improving students’ understanding and helping them remember what they’ve learned.
At the end of each section or chapter, students should write down a concise, but thorough, summary of what the passage. The main ideas students jotted-down in the margins as they read will help them construct this summary. Students should be certain to only write their summaries after they’ve completely read and studied the passages they are summarizing. Students should write their summaries in the whitespaces at the end of sections and chapters using brief phrases and their own words (not quotes directly from the text). Summaries should always answer the question “What was this section or chapter about?”
Another useful way to summarize sections or chapters is to use maps or other visual diagrams to outline the relationships between concepts, sections, and chapters. The point of making concept maps is to isolate and organize the main ideas in a passage of text. Mapping is much easier and much more effective if students have noted the main ideas in the margins as they read through the chapter or section. Mapping and diagramming can be used in addition to, or in place of, students writing summaries in their own words.
A final textbook marking strategy is locating and noting opinions. Textbooks are usually full of factual material, but authors’ opinions and perspectives also show up from time to time. Students could use check-marks to identify opinions within the text and then evaluate how important the opinions are to the overall point of the passage. Students can use multiple check-marks to identify opinions they feel are more important than others. Isolating opinions from fact can help students better understand the material and avoid the confusion often caused by not noticing this difference.
Here’s an example passage that has been marked up using most of the 10 textbook marking strategies I’ve described. Take a moment to see how these strategies have been applied to a real example.
Finally, it is extremely important to remember that a textbook marking strategy and system must make sense to the person using it. The ideas I’ve discussed should be adapted to meet the needs of each individual student. Some strategies may work better than others and some may not work at all.
The point of this presentation is this: Successful students show commonalities in how they study from their textbooks. Above all, successful students are active readers. The PQ4R method and the textbook marking strategies I’ve described are aimed at facilitating active reading.
Here are some other resources on textbook study tips and strategies.
I hope this presentation helps you improve your students’ learning through effective textbook study. Please feel free to contact me with any questions or comments. And remember, this presentation is an Open Educational Resource licensed under a Creative Commons CC BY license. This means that you are free to revise, reuse, remix, and redistribute this material for any purpose. It is my hope that if you find it useful you will share it (or any derivative you create) with your colleagues and associates.
Textbook Study Strategies
Studying From TextbooksWhen you can actually write in them! TJ Bliss tjbliss.org This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 UnportedLicense
Open Educational Resources Enabling more effective learning http://tjbliss.org/why-open-education http://vimeo.com/43401199
Unsuccessful Students• Read material straight through• Do not slow down for difficult sections• Keep going even if no understanding• Read passively Whimbey (1976). Intelligence can be taught. New York: Bantam
Successful Students • Monitor own understanding • Reread difficult sections • Periodically review material • Read actively • Relate new and old material • Develop a context to organize material • Use the PQ4R MethodHerrmann, D., and Searleman, A. (1992). Memory improvement and memory theory inhistorical perspective. In D. J. Herrmann, H. Weingartner, A. Searleman, and C. McEvoy(Eds.), Memory improvement: Implications for memory theory (pp. 8-20). New York:Springer-Verlag.
Preview• Skim chapter – Read section headings – Read boldfaced and italicized terms• Ask: – What material will be discussed? – How is it organized? – How do the big ideas relate to what I already know?
Question• Before reading each section, ask: – What content will be covered? – What information should I be getting from it?
Read• Read actively by thinking about understanding: – Am I understanding the material? – Are the questions I asked earlier being answered? – What do I not understand?
Reflect• Think of own examples• Create visual images of concepts• Ask: – What does the material mean? – How does each section relate to other sections? – How does this chapter relate to other chapters?
Recite• At end of each section – List major points – Put main ideas into own words – Draw pictures or diagrams – Note connections within sections
Review• At the end of each chapter: – List major points – Put big ideas into own words – Draw pictures and diagrams – Note connections among sections and chapters
Textbook Marking Techniques Facilitating Successful Study
1. Read first then underline or highlightselectively.• Read a passage through• Go back and underline/highlight words or phrases that best summarize passage• Limit amount of underlining/highlighting• Requires conscious evaluation – What is most valuable? – What is not as valuable?
12. Box transitions and number importantideas.• Transitions: – First,…Second,…Third, – Next, – Finally, – For example,• Number lists of information embedded in text – Transition words are good indicators
3. Circle specialized vocabulary.• Look up definitions.• Write brief meanings in margins.
4. Jot down main ideas in the margin. Use margin for key concepts• “What was most of that passage about?”• Summarize concisely (5-10 words)• Especially useful for long, dense passages
5. Label examples and definitions.• Identify main idea being exemplified• Note in-text definitions
6. Write own ideas in [square brackets].• Connections to other passages, class discussions, or assignments• Use top or bottom of page• Requires active reading and critical thinking• Will make study more interesting and useful
7. Write questions as you read.• Questions help you think, relate to new material, and wonder about implications and applications• Active questioning can improve learning and retention
8. Summarize larger sections andchapters.• Summarize AFTER reading – Don’t read and write at the same time• Use brief phrases• Use whitespace• Use own words, not quotes from the text• “What was this section (or chapter) about?” Use whitespace to summarize sections or chapters in my own words.
9. Map sections or chapters.• Visual diagram showing relationships between concepts – Isolate and organize main ideas• Use in addition to OR in place of summaries Sections Map Chapters
10. Check-mark important opinions.• Isolate opinions of the author from factual statements• Evaluate importance of opinions• Use multiple check-marks for more important opinions
Keep in MindA marking strategy and system must make sense to the person using it.
The PointSuccessful students are active readers. Certain strategies facilitate active reading.
Other Resources– http://academic.cuesta.edu/acasupp/as/601.HTM– http://www.tc3.edu/docs/study/improving_textbook_reading.pdf– http://www.pugetsound.edu/academics/academic- resources/cwlt/classes/accelerated-reading/textbook-marking-and- annotatin/
Contact Me firstname.lastname@example.org http://tjbliss.org This work is licensed under a CreativeCommons Attribution 3.0 UnportedLicense