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Effective reading
Episode 86th March 2023 • Leeds Beckett University: Skills for Learning • Skills for Learning team @ Leeds Beckett University
00:00:00 00:11:06

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In this episode, Morven Grindrod and Tim Deignan from the Disability Advice Team share their thoughts on how to read effectively for your course while you’re at university.


Grindrod, Morven

Thanks for joining us today and welcome to our podcast on reading. My name is Morven, and I'm one of the study Skills tutors and I'm joined by my colleague Tim.

Deignan, Tim


Grindrod, Morven

And we're going to give you a few hints and tips on how to read effectively.

The tips, they come from the students that we work with, and they've told us that these ideas are useful, so hopefully you'll find them useful as well. So why reading?

Well, reading is a core skill at university, and it really underpins all your learning, and you'll find that the more efficient and effective you are at reading, then the better your writing becomes.

And we also understand that the amount of reading you’re required to do can be a bit overwhelming and daunting for students.

So, we hope you're going to find some of these hints and tips useful.

So, Tim, what's your first suggestion that students could use to help with their reading?

Deignan, Tim

Yes, Morven. So, it might sound very obvious, but this is a useful tip. I think a lot of students find that just drawing up a target list can be a big help. So that just means making an initial list of publications, literature that you want to have a look at.

So, for example, if you're doing a particular topic for an essay, what are the core texts relating to that topic in your module reading list for example? What are the recommended sources of information maybe that were mentioned by the lecturers in your seminars, lectures, workshops, et cetera?

So, making that list, putting together that initial list and finding the class numbers you know of the books. If you're going to the library to get hard copies of books, what are the class numbers? Look at the look in the library catalogue. Find the class numbers - that's the number on the spine of the book that identifies it so you can track it down on the on the shelf, wherever that is in the library building. Or if you're going online, then identifying again the list of journal articles or whatever literature the items are that you have on your list, so if it's an ebook, an electronic book, then you know the ebook chapters. You need to find those ebook chapters, the relevant ones, and download them.

So, identifying, making a list identifying the literature and doing all of this systematically means that you will have what you need to make a start with your reading.

And you can't read it if you don't have it, basically.

Grindrod, Morven

Absolutely, Tim - that’s a really good place to start.

And I think once you've got that list, it's really important that you think about having some questions prepared before you start reading.

There are a number of different techniques that you can use for reading, and there's some information on those on the Skills for Learning website if you want to have a look at those.

But in particular, I think it's useful to have questions in your mind. So, think about why you're reading that text - what you want to get out of it? It may be for an assignment, it may be for getting to know a topic, whatever the purpose, you need to have a focus on what you want to get out of it. So, the sort of questions could be - How can I use this text? How does this link to other things that I've read? Is there anything I'm reading that I don't agree with? Is there anything they don't really understand, and I need to look somewhere else for?

Deignan, Tim

Yes. Yeah, indeed. And a big part of that looking process Morven is again, I think being really selective. Just as with the with the target list being really selective but within the individual publications, the individual texts that you have. So, you know, you might have a book that's

250 pages long maybe, but you might really only need a couple of paragraphs from in there. So, it's all about finding the good stuff, and that makes a huge difference to how effectively you read. knowing how to look. And you know, be really selective in terms of how you look.

So, for example, you might be looking for definitions of a concept or a theory, in which case you might have a bunch of books there on the table if you're in the library in front of you.

So, just use the index. Use the table of contents selectively with, you know, search terms, very specific words that you're looking for to zoom in on exactly that specific thing that you're looking for.

And when you find it on you know page 127 or wherever it is, make a note. Write down a quote from the paragraph or paraphrase it in your own words or whatever you want to do with that key information that you've found, so that you've got it. Yeah, you've got it. You write it down in your laptop or in your notes if you're using a pen and paper or whatever you prefer.

So that basically you're taking that out, you're taking it away with you and you're ready to incorporate it into your essay or your report or whatever you want to do with it. And, of course, you should also record the page number if it's a quote and all the relevant reference details, bibliographic details to include in your essay references.

Grindrod, Morven

Thanks, Tim. And I agree it's important to capture that information in the moment.

My next tip is to do with the amount of time you spend reading.

So ideally, you've planned your time for your reading. You know exactly what you want to get done. But some students tell me they spent hours and hours reading one article and that worries me. You may spend lots of time, but it's not effective reading, if it's not effective reading a lot of that time will be wasted. So, I suggest that you start reading as soon as you start to lose focus. Be aware when you're struggling to concentrate and starting to zone out and stop.

Some people find it useful to read and short time blocks. You may have heard of the Pomodoro technique where you work in 25-minute periods of time and you have a 5-minute break, so that could be a really useful strategy when you're reading texts. Or maybe you could read two or three paragraphs at a time, and it's good to stop at that point.

Get a bit of a break. You can then check your understanding and be confident that what you're reading is actually going in and being effective.

And have a think about using some technology to help you with your reading.

Tim, what are your views on using tag to support reading?

Deignan, Tim

Ah yes, indeed, there are all kinds of useful tools out there. So, for example with journal articles.

Uh, you've got a PDF. Don't just read the article, the PDF, passively and leave it as you found it. What you really want to do is to make that article your own. Make the PDF your own, customise it in your own way, and to do this you can use the tools in the drop-down menu. So, for example, there's the digital highlighting tools option where you can highlight key bits that catch your eye, that you think might be relevant to your essay. For example, maybe using different colours for different topics, or you can use the comment tool to make notes to yourself, where you might see you know a connection with this article that you're reading and something else that you've read so, make a comment for yourself for later to make that connection in your essay, for example.

So, you can write that down, make sure you don't forget it. So, the PDF should be basically an active document and you should read it actively so that you're engaging with it using these tools, marking up that PDF so that you can return to it later on and you can find exactly what you highlighted. You can look again at the notes that you made and that way you're going to get much more out of your reading. Your reading is going to become more effective by using those tools.

And also, in relation to Technology tools, Morven, I think you're big on audio files.

Grindrod, Morven

Yes, definitely. There's lots of technology out there now that's free and there's been huge developments. For example, you might like to think about using a screen reader, and in the past the voices were a bit robotic, but now we've got lots of nice natural voices that you can choose to read. So maybe you think about using those to supplement your reading. Not all the time, but maybe sometimes switching to a screen reader.

You can also listen to the readings on audio files, and if you look on my Beckett. You'll see something called Blackboard Ally where you can actually download all the materials on my Beckett in different formats.

So, it's definitely worth having a bit of a play around with some of those things. And there's also lots of free accessibility tools on the Microsoft Office suite, and that's free for you and worth trying out the read aloud functions and so on and seeing if they can help.

So, we're coming to the end of our short podcast. Please have a go at some of the ideas and tips that we've shared today. This has been just a quick introduction to some of them and there's lots of useful resources on the Skills for Learning website if you'd like to find out more. So, thank you very much for joining us today.

Deignan, Tim

Thank you.



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