Find the right reasons to read ahead

You might think that reading ahead can only be positive. By knowing in advance what you’re meant to read, why shouldn’t you just read it now?

photo by lusiErin E. Templeton writes in ProfHacker, “the act of reading ahead is often exceptionally damaging to our work together in the classroom”.

Templeton, an English professor, notes that many students read ahead just to get it out of the way. Instead of engaging academically, the aim is to finish the task of reading as if that’s what matters.

What are your reasons for reading ahead? If it’s just another box ticking exercise to get another activity off your to-do list, you may be doing yourself a disservice. More than that, Templeton argues, you may be doing the whole class a disservice.

Your reasons are important. I loved reading ahead, even before I went to university. I wanted to get the initial reading and course texts understood in advance, because I knew there’d be so much more to deal with upon hitting campus.

Anyone who has been through their first year at uni will know what I mean. Overwhelm isn’t exactly difficult as a Fresher. Due to this, I would always suggest that future students swot up in advance, even if they continue to remain in the dark over most of the concepts and arguments.

I loved reading ahead. I worried less about confusing content, because I knew that lectures, seminars and tutorials would deliver clarity where I needed it. I would come armed with questions and specific goals. I was prepared to revisit the text and discover more.

This type of reading ahead is not what concerns Templeton. Unfortunately, this type of reading ahead isn’t common in Templeton’s experience. What she sees is a type of reading that severely limits critical engagement with the text:

“The study of literature is…not only reading a certain selection of texts in a particular order.  Instead, a good class takes the book list as a foundation and collaboratively generates an extended conversation through discussion and debate, analysis and critique. The themes and issues which emerge from our collective experience and conversation are not always (or even often) ones that can be predicted ahead of time.  In fact, the best of these are ones that cannot be anticipated precisely because they arise organically from the confluence of time, place and participants.”

Reading ahead is clearly not a problem in itself. However, you must be prepared to ‘read again’ to give close and careful reading of the text.

Without a critical eye, you might as well be reading for enjoyment.

Enjoying what you read is fantastic. I always preferred reading something I could appreciate beyond cold and critical study.

Perhaps reading ahead is crucial, then. It may be the only effective way to bridge that gap between enjoyment and engagement when studying subjects like English. Consume the texts in advance for your own fun, then read again with deeper focus.

How do you tackle your mountain of reading?

One comment

  1. As a teacher, I would say that of course students should read ahead but more importantly they should read around!
    However, being practical… in a course of lectures I would aim to provide one condensed reading – an A4 hard copy extract from/ on the subject of that week’s lecture that everyone must read and say something about in the seminar, plus some background reading for that week’s lecture that the keen ones will read; this is as well as the set books for the course which everyone is expected to read and refer to in their assignments, plus the additional reading that I agree does get a bit mountainous but students should pick what they find interesting from and it is better called ‘indicative reading’. It may not always be possible to follow the above depending on the subject of the course but with some sort of canonical list, eg. of ‘key thinkers’ or writers on the subject, it’s usually possible. Sounds old fashioned I know!

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