Read Like A Harvard Student

Harvard Library posts on it’s webpage “6 Reading Habits to Develop Your First Year at Harvard.” The web article states, “critical reading and close reading of texts is essential for academic success.”  The truth is, all English teachers know this. But are teachers modeling for students how to read deeply and critically. Every student should be reading the Harvard article, not just students attending Harvard, right?

The six habits of critical reading Harvard Library suggest lead to reading proficiency:

1. Preview the Text – Well, nobody just walks into the store and takes the first thing off the rack or shelves.  No, we preview everything, look it over, examine all aspects of an item before be buy it. If we are talking clothes, we might even try it on. When reading we have to do the same thing: note the features of the text (headings, length, layout, and who the author is).

2. Annotating – I am all for throwing out the highlighter.  Students need to learn how to read with a pen or pencil. Underline the important details and write notes in the margins.  I showed students a copy of my annotations of a short story we read in class so they could see my thinking while reading and rereading the text. 



The notes that I make in the margins include connections, predictions, questions, and restating important details.  These are the type of notes that I want my students to take with any reading assignment in class. As teachers, we need to show students how to take notes and what to take notes on. So, today I flipped my classroom and rather than assigning my students a reading to do outside of class I modeled in class how I would read. 

3. Outlining, Summarizing, & Analyzing – While reading, students must dialogue with the text. Ask questions that will help them to understand the text more deeply. Three important questions to ask include: (1) What does the author want me to understand without stating directly? (2) What is the central idea? (3) Why is this relevant?

4. Look for Repetition and Patterns – Paying attention to the author’s language is crucial. Vocabulary and figurative language all indicate the author’s point of view.

5. Contextualize – At the end of a reading a person needs to “re-view” the text and think about his or her understanding of the text. 

6. Compare and Contrast – How does this text influence your understanding and knowledge? How does it compare (and contrast) to other texts? 

The suggestions made by Harvard Library are what all teachers are trying to instill in their students: to read deeply and engage with the text.  Many teachers call this type of reading “close reading” — think Common Core.   A close reading requires students to pay careful attention to the text. But this cannot be a one time lesson. Nor, can teachers assume that students know how to take notes in the margins and code the text. These reading habits need to be modeled in the classroom on a continuous basis so that students understand that when they are reading for academic purposes, reading is more than just moving their eyes across the page. Reading closely is digging deeper into the text to extract the main idea, understand the meaning, and analyze the author’s meaning and craft.

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