“This is that which I think great readers are apt to be mistaken in; those who have read of everything, are thought to understand everything too; but it is not always so. Reading furnishes the mind only with the materials of knowledge; it is thinking that makes what we read ours.” —John Locke
Reading textbook, journals, literary works, and etc in a large amount probably something that we are very familiar with once we embark graduate study life. Feeling challenged, overwhelmed, exhausted or even beleaguered is something that inexorably comes along the way; even for myself, who actually studied literature and has been always fascinated with books my entire life. Not only was I having difficulties to manage the time and prioritise which I should read first, I also often found myself lost in the ideas and failed to have a critical and cautious engagement with the reading materials. What I mean is that I could not reflect, analyse nor form my own opinion on the issue based on the related readings; all I did was just absorbing information –haphazardly and out-of focus- and this became an even bigger problem when I had to write an essay or paper weighing on and critically reviewing all theories, concepts and issues I had been reading on.
So I incessantly asked myself questions; “Why am I like this?” “What is it that I am missing?” “Why on earth, is my reading ability as poor as those students who haven’t picked up a book until they go into college?”
As I navigated through university life in the faculty of humanities, I was fortunate to have had the chance to take credits on critical reading and thinking as well as extensive writing classes where I was taught and trained to read thoroughly and think in terms of connections between different viewpoints to get to the big picture; that is to recognise important parts of a reading text and examine how those parts are interrelated to make a whole. Eventually, my attempting to exercise my mind and connect the dots during reading enables me to reach beyond the boundaries. I started to intuitively weigh on the issue discussed in the text in respect to my own experiences, prior ideas I had been exposed to and its relevancy with particular contexts; something that I had not achieved in most of my reading activities pre university life.
Although I managed to improve my reading skills from time to time with a good deal of practice, the answers to my previous questions on the reason behind my deficient reading skill still bewildered me, and as I continued my study to postgraduate level in media studies in the UK, I still had to struggle to keep up with even more challenging reading materials and my brilliant classmates and lecturers, who happened to be seemingly natural critical thinkers.
I then realise, my actual problem was rooted far back to my school experiences. One of the problems I and probably many other Indonesians have is that we were not trained to think and read carefully and effectively in our national-based curriculum schools, especially in the 90s and early 2000s with the 1994 GBPP curriculum. I was trained to memorise and absorb a huge amount of information from many subjects in a relatively short time. This had prevented me from ‘thinking’ and ‘digesting’ the materials given the time limit and lacks of subject focus. So no matter how much I read and how many times I plowed through science pieces and literary works of both Indonesian and international authors, it is the same old thing every time; I only nodded to it and remembered it. It was like “oh, this is a nice book to read” or “nice to know this”, and that was it. I rarely took away new ideas or opinions I got from the books I read during school time further into my life and worldviews.
I am not trying to make a scapegoat out the curriculum I had been growing up with, though. This approach to education may benefit a lot for people who are interested in natural sciences; those who deal more with concrete materials which rely more on facts. The story might be different if this approach is applied to avid learners of social and humanities sciences, like me for example. It had left me so much to catch up and do on my own when I journeyed into my new reading and studying experiences especially in the UK which has strong philosophical tradition. In the process, I found that reading is not just to read for the sake of the content and commit it to my memory. I was required not only to just grasp information, but also make connections and grow my mind to form my own academic opinion. That is to say, I had to be well-read and read well, and little did I know that these are two very different things.
So this is the story of me connecting the dots between my reading and academic journeys. As I believe, this is an important step prior to developing ideas and strategies on the (critical) reading skills. First things first, ask yourself these questions: How is my reading habit all this time? Has reading been an important part of my study –and my life? What have I achieved from the many books I’ve read? And most importantly, what do I want and need to achieve from my reading activities, especially in respect to my study?
This article will continue with the reading strategies and tips on 5th November 2016