Picture a world without a pandemic. Picture a world without technology. Picture a world with youth that actually likes to read. Which is the hardest to believe?
As a society, we are constantly reading everything around us. From stop signs to roadmaps, and from our words to the little warning on the back of the ghost pepper tabasco sauce that says, “don’t put this in your eyes,” even though you ended up doing it anyway. The simple fact is that we are always reading, even in our thoughts. But if only it were so simple that the thought of reading always translated into the action of it. Reading is intimately tied into communication and the processes of writing, so how do we maximize the potential of reading to assist us in our writing?
My research has determined that implementing strategies like strategic questions and analysis, and changing environment and mentality have a significant effect on reading comprehensions and therefore writing quality. After diving into the reasons of why reading is essential to writing, I will offer solutions based on data collected in a study of first-year multilingual medical students. Then I will address the implications this can have for future writers and finish with a personal statement.
Like the muscle memory I use when I’m driving, sometimes I get lost in my thoughts while reading and autopilot entire pages on end. This is a problem because if I want to be a writer or at the very least a writing tutor, I need to be able to read efficiently. The Longman Guide to Peer Tutoring by Gillespie and Lerner, emphasizes the importance of quality reading skills. Like the symbiotic relationship of leaders and followers, there is no writing without reading. They are “inextricably linked,” intertwined in ways that make it difficult to determine if a writer’s difficulty with a writing task is a problem with his reading or writing (Gillespie and Lerner 105). A given piece of writing is only as useful as the reading done to achieve it, so in order to actualize the potential in a piece of work, we must read properly.
Before we can understand what factors can influence beneficial reading practices, we need to define what a beneficial reading practice is in the first place. “There are different levels of comprehension,” says Vimbai Hungwe in his academic journal entitled Using a Translanguaging Approach in Teaching Paraphrasing to Enhance Reading Comprehension in First-Year Students. He says that “shallow comprehension” is the result of unauthentic reclycing of information, and that we should avoid it for the sake of reading improvement. “Deep comprehension,” on the other hand, should be the goal of a reader. It is only achieved when a reader progresses beyond literal comprehension to using prior knowledge in addition to the text in order to reach an understanding (Hungwe 2).
The problem that holds readers back is their nurtured desire to opt for “shallow knowledge” (listing facts, definitions, and other memorized material), instead of deep comprehension (Hungwe 2). Since the student is only good as the master, students’ struggles come from errors in education. Because the United States school system heavily rewards students for science and mathematics program grades rather than grades on creativity, students are taught that regurgitating generic information is more important to survival than conceiving original thought. Readers need to acknowledge this problem and combat it by pursuing deeper “explanations, causes, and implications” while reading (Hungwe 2). This will eventually improve the quality of writing, because every thought becomes more developed than it would have been otherwise.
To go into detail as to how important reading comprehension is, I will offer a comparison: reading is very similar listening. This comparison is apparent when people supplement the word “hearing” with “listening”, the same way they confuse “skimming” with “reading”. There is no way to internalize and summarize a message without properly understanding it, so attentiveness stimulates learning. It’s not enough to take everything at face value (there is no life without imagination). We attach thought, meaning, and emotion to every phrase, so it’s in our best interest for our conversations and well-being to at the very least attempt to understand what other people are saying to us. There is no point to reading if you don’t learn anything from it, just as there is no point of listening to someone if you don’t understand what they are saying.
Once we understand that the purpose of reading is to learn and comprehend, the next step is to incorporate strategies that benefit workflow. Writing Center tutor’s prior testimonies suggest that the environment impacts the effectiveness of reading tremendously (Gillespie and Lerner 106). Some people like it cold, others like it hot, whatever it may be, there is a clear connection between environment and reading comprehension. We’ve all heard the saying “messy room, messy mind”, so if there are things near you that can attract your attention, it will be perpetually difficult to maintain focus. It may take time to find the perfect location but being comfortable where you are will increase your productivity. This extends into the energy, the atmosphere, and the music you might be listening to. All of these factors impact the quality of reading and writing. Different styles can often require different approaches. Just the same as reading comprehension taking time to achieve, it’s crucial to take the time and learn what tendencies increase workflow.
Strategic questions can be used during reading to achieve comprehension and during tutoring sessions to guide the conversation into a productive state. It’s important to leave opinions at the door and learn from the information that is being presented. Granted, this doesn’t apply to all styles of writing, but I certainly cannot offer a specific solution for every prompt imaginable. There will be instances where the writing is meant to be opinionated at surface level, but at its core level, writing is all based upon research. Every piece of writing was influenced by something because writing is just the actualization of our thoughts. Am I getting too philosophical?
I’ve come to learn that as a tutor I am not here to dictate how someone should write; instead, I’m here to give someone the tools to express themselves to the best of their abilities. Asking specifically about tutee’s reading style allows them to acknowledge their own tendencies. Talking about my own reading styles and bringing up styles that have been successful in the past can advance the process. Three strategies of successful readers that can be incorporated immediately are: “looking up words they don’t understand, identifying the text’s main ideas, and asking questions about what will happen next in the reading,” (Gillespie and Lerner 107).
In a research study done by Lewis and Thornhill in 2012, it was identified that he three most frequently used reading strategies by first year college students were “identify and skip unknown word, reprocess information to clarify meaning, and reread for clarification” (Hungwe 9). The way you learn a language is the way you write it, so the goal is to allow one another’s language to reveal itself in writing. This process is revealed via learning about ourselves through practice and repetition. Asking questions of what to do when read something we don’t understand leads us to a multitude of possible solutions. Rereading, looking up words, taking breaks, summarizing, and discussing with another person are just a handful of responses to common reading struggles.
Insanity is defined by doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. There are only so many sentences you can write with the same five words… but what about one hundred? The more we learn the more we can incorporate into writing. My father used to tell me that everything in excess is bad, but I think in this case there is an exception. Complacency is the antagonist of creativity, so it is impossible to improve as a writer if you never read. We are a product of our environment, so the language we hear and read directly influences our way of thinking. If we limit ourselves to the same thing over and over again, that becomes who we are. Reading introduces us into new thoughts, because what we read either contains or expands our minds by changing our perception of the world (Deustcher).
Even if the only reading you do every day comes from your text messages, there are several ways to make every one of those conversations more understandable. As a communication major, this is a certainly a goal of mine. Changing your environment, incorporating strategies, and having a constructive mentality will all help you read better. The benefits extend further than a tutor session, as these strategies can impact your all areas of your life. They are problem solving techniques that continually act to better yourself as a person, because it is not just in the context of writing where these techniques can apply. What separates a writer’s previous papers is not just a difference in their personality, but a difference in context, environment, and writing genre. It’s safe to say you will never write the same paper twice.
Bruce, Shanti and Ben Rafoth. Tutoring Second Language Writers. Logan: Utah State UP, 2016.
Deutscher, Guy. “Does Your Language Shape How You Think?” The New York Times, The New York Times, 26 Aug. 2010, www.nytimes.com/2010/08/29/magazine/29language-t.html.
Hungwe, V., 2019, ‘Using a translanguaging approach in teaching paraphrasing to enhance reading comprehension in first-year students’, Reading & Writing 10(1), a216.
Gillespie, Paula and Neal Lerner. Longman Guide to Peer Tutoring, 2nd edition. NY: Pearson/Longman, 2008.