24 Jan 2017

Speed Reading course - DCU December 16th 2016

© Steve Hutchinson


Guest post by Brendan Devlin,  College Librarian in DIT Kevin Street He is interested in a critical perspective of knowledge and holds that many issues in librarianship can usefully draw on the wisdom found in American pragmatist philosophy.

I attended an ANLTC course in DCU on December 16th 2016. I attended because of my interest in critical reading.  I am involved with the development of a critical reading initiative described at this website with a number of colleagues from Institute of technology Blanchardstown and Institute of Technology Tallaght. Anyone interested in this critical reading initiative please contact me via email brendan.devlin@dit.ie

The entire day was congenial from the welcome on arrival, to the timely breaks, relevant content and excellent organisation of the course. Many thanks to Ellen Breen and her team in DCU. The course involved a combination of collaborative discussions among delegates which created useful reflective moments.


Drawing down – drawing in
Perhaps the most unusual feature, in a time where one is usually assailed by digital presentations, was how the presenter Steve Hutchinson drew the content of the course together. He initiated the course by drawing the main themes in the four corners of a large whiteboard. These included 
  • Absolute Speed  
  • Criticise and Comprehend  
  • Strategic Focus
  • Habitual consistency
As the course progressed the whiteboard became populated with graphic representations of the course content. This approach acted as a very convincing pedagogic tool. It allowed the presenter to maintain interest and focus. The completed graphic, which was photographed by delegates, was a takeaway gift that condensed the course content in a very amenable form. The graphic is attached: see above.
 
Absolute  Speed – not the full story
It became clear that this was not just a course about the mechanics for increasing the speed of reading which was covered very comprehensively. Techniques such as extending the number of words viewed at any one time were explained. Strategies to avoid sub-vocalisation to enhance speed were also presented as were the use of tools to use as guides to aid focus and enhance speed. 
 
Criticise and Comprehend
The course also included a section on critical reading addressing the evaluation of a selected text. This included inquiries about the purpose of a text and the questions it sought to answer. We were asked to evaluate the appropriateness of the research approach. We were also asked to consider how the arguments were structured and if they were justified.
 
Strategic focus
We were also questioned about our approach to the selection of texts and advised to ask why the text was of value. The first task was to identify the purpose in reading a text. Having identified the purpose the task of selecting texts becomes much easier. Techniques such as considering the title, skimming the abstract, table of contents, headings and subheadings and topic sentences at the beginning and end of paragraphs were recommended. While these techniques are useful for selecting texts, they are also of value when reading a text as well.
 
Habitual Consistency
The final section dealt with the consistency of how we approach note-taking. Here the presenter offered a system for annotating a text. He recommended a consistent approach for highlighting major ideas, secondary ideas, things that are not understood, things that are deemed to be interesting, and text for quotations. He also recommends the use of different colours for distinguishing facts, methods, personal critique and unusual insights.

A fresh and relevant course
While the basic content was familiar to most of us the manner in which it was presented made it fresh and relevant. The most intriguing feature, as stated previously, was the emerging graphical representation of the content on the whiteboard tracing the progress of the course to its conclusion. This approach reinforced the theme that all components were part of a holistic process.  One can sometimes assume a knowledge of a topic area. Steve Hutchinson’s course presented what I would have considered familiar territory but enhanced my connection and understanding of the relevance of this for me in my professional role. This course is relevant for all librarians and indeed for all those involved in any form of inquiry. I would enthusiastically endorse this course.

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