A Textbook is Not a Novel—the Art of Active Reading

The first rule of studying from a textbook is this: a textbook is not a novel. There are no sudden twists and turns, no smoldering romances, and very little slow burn of dramatic tension to keep you up well past midnight, turning page after page to find out who did what to whom…

As serious students of wine and spirits, we need to read. However, we cannot expect to pick up a textbook, crack the cover, and be instantly spellbound. As a matter of fact, students are advised NOT to pick up the book, dive right in and read the book from front to back. In most cases, this is a serious waste of time. The alternative is active reading.

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How can you tell if you are engaging in active reading, as opposed to passive reading?

  • If you dive right in and just start reading…that’s passive reading
  • If you get bored and fidgety after five minutes….that’s passive reading
  • If you are reading while lying on the beach with your toes in the sand, listening to the crash of the waves…that’s passive reading (and what are you doing online)?
  • If you can’t remember what you’ve read an hour after you are finished…that’s passive reading—and you have just wasted a whole bunch of time and effort

Instead, let’s get active. There are a lot of systems that can be used for active reading—some of which get quite elaborate like S-Q-3R, P-4R, CP-3-0 or what have you—and these are excellent tools  encompassing the entirety of reading, studying, and taking notes.

For this post, I’d like to concentrate on just reading: active reading, that is. And, at the risk of sounding systematic, I’d like to discuss three steps: Preview, Question, Read.

Step one—Preview: Instead of diving right in—without really knowing where the text is going to take you—skim through the material first. Check out the titles and sub-titles, the charts, the graphs, and the pictures. In other words, take a few minutes and get an overview of what you are going to read. It’s like looking at a map before you arrive in a new city—you want to have a feel for the lay of the land before you start to drive around. This quick preview will help you to see the “big picture” (context) of the material and provide a bit of familiarity with the subject before you dive into the deep end.

When I approach a new module or chapter of a textbook, I like to take a few minutes to flip through the entire chapter. However, I think it’s even more important to do a quick preview each time you sit down to study, and to do this in such a way as to ensure that you first define the boundaries of your reading and proceed through the material in manageable “chunks’ or short sections.  This is easy to do, but important. By setting boundaries for your reading—whether it be a paragraph or a chapter, you help to maintain your focus. You know where you are going to begin, and where you are going to stop for a break.

Step two—Question: Take a minute to think about the material. What do you already know about the material? This can help your put the topic into its proper context. What do you think will be the main topic of the section? This can give you a purpose (looking for the answer) and can help maintain your interest. The “questioning” step should not take more than a few minutes, but it can go a long way in helping you stay focused on the reading.

Step three—Read: The next step is a thorough reading of the material. You need to read slowly and systematically, focusing on understanding and processing the information. Toss out any ideas you have of reading on “automatic pilot” with the goal of merely reaching the end.

Keep in mind that this is not quite yet the ideal time to take notes (that’s the next step). Taking notes at this stage will break up the flow of your reading and diminish your understanding. Taking notes too soon is not very productive, seeing as you aren’t likely to know if the first sentence is worth taking notes on until you read the rest of the section. Once you are through the section, you’ll have the perspective to know what’s important enough to put down in your notes, but for this step, focus on reading through the section and understanding the material.

Active reading is nothing like reading a novel…it’s a real mental workout. And—as everyone knows—workouts are not always fun, but the lasting benefits are well worth the struggle!

Click here to check out the rest of our posts on “How to Study Wine and Spirits”

The Bubbly Professor is “Miss Jane” Nickles of Austin, Texas… missjane@prodigy.net

 

About bubblyprof
Wine Writer and Educator...a 20-year journey from Bristol Hotels to Le Cordon Bleu Schools and the Society of Wine Educators

3 Responses to A Textbook is Not a Novel—the Art of Active Reading

  1. Bill Gao says:

    Hi Jane,

    This is an excellent article, very helpful to those people who start to study wine.

    Will you mind if I translate it into Chinese and introduce it to my friends in China?

    Best Wishes,

    Bill, CSW & CSS

    • bubblyprof says:

      Hi Bill! Thanks for the note and the kind words! That would be fine!! Please just include a link to the original article. Cheers, and hope to see you soon! Jane N.

  2. Pingback: How NOT to Take Notes | The Bubbly Professor

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