Strategies for Reading a Professional Text: Strengthening Professional Learning Blog Series

As it is right now, I have nine professional books in my to-be-read pile. I want to have them all finished now, but I know that isn’t realistic. Even a month from now is probably not a probable goal to set and achieve. It’s so challenging picking what to read next, making the time, and then implementing my new learning!

I won’t finish all these books in the time period I want to, but I will finish them. I need a systematic approach and a plan. When I begin tackling a book or a stack of books I have two modes of reading. Fast and slow. You may think, what’s that even mean?

Simply put, some texts are easier to read than others. A professional book with more new to me information is one I know I’m going to read slower. A book that is centered right within my wheelhouse as a teacher of writers potentially could be a fast read. Living within this thought also lies the realization that books speaking directly to what I believe in as a teacher of writers will likely be read fast as opposed to a book challenging my beliefs. Having an awareness of my own “confirmation bias” is important if I am going to grow myself from my professional reading. It’s important to me that I take a moment, now and then, to check myself and what I’m reading. Is it only serving my beliefs or am I opening myself up to evaluate, understand, and make space for those sharing differing opinions in the world of writing instruction?

Therefore, the first thing to do is decide what books are going to be fast and what will be slow. Then, of course, what is most pressing right now in terms of what I need to know and what I want to know.

Once I’ve decided what to tackle, I have multiple ways of organizing and channeling my thinking when I determine a plan of action. If you are someone who feels like there is just never enough time to read a professional book, saddle up next to me while I walk you through some strategies I use to make it enjoyable and worthwhile.

Making Time

Making time for anything is always about decisions. Nothing really goes away, but most of the time, as adults, we get to decide what we move around. Here are some tips on making time to read.

Non-Negotiable Time of Day

I tend to read blogs and articles in the morning before work and leave my professional book reading for before bed. If there is a time of your day that is less interrupted, take those ten, fifteen, or twenty minutes and make the time to read your professional text.

Set a Timer

Days are packed with work, students, families, and responsibilities. If you only think you can spare ten minutes a day, set a timer, read and then stop. Each day you do, you will move closer to completing the book and filling your knowledge base.

Segment the Text

Sometimes I put sticky notes through a book to section it out. If I notice the book is lumped into chapters that go together, I might read those that most benefit me in the short term, and set it aside to read the other parts another time.

Take Notes

Making your learning stick has been researched extensively. Overwhelmingly researchers have said that summarizing, paraphrasing, or jotting notes through the physical act of writing them down, makes learning last longer. When I take notes, I have a few different methods that work for me, and sometimes I choose a method based on the type of book I’m reading. Taking notes, or jotting bits of information, as well as summarizing sections can both be helpful strategies because each requires you, the reader, to begin synthesizing the information into a more digestible form (Beesley and Apthorp, 2010).

Sketchnoting

When I read a book a few months ago about writing assessment, I was pushed into uncomfortable places, and the book made me think long and hard about some of my beliefs. I found keeping a page for sketchnoting helped me track my thoughts through the text. The ideas were difficult for me to process and there was extensive research to work through. Being able to look back at my notes helped me to re-examine and then reread with more clarity.

Sketchnoting is something that can have varying levels of aesthetic qualities. I would say my sketchnotes are simplistic and for me that’s okay. There are also sketchnotes that span toward artistic and the level of processing that can accompany this representation of ideas is something I hope to explore with more depth. Tanny McGregor shares resources and ideas here that can help you determine if sketchnoting is the right kind of note-taking process for you.

Tab a Notebook

With some books, I will tab my notebook to keep my notes organized. A place for quotes, questions, or sections I want to summarize. When I get to a spot I want to take this particular type of note, I can flip to that section. Then when finished, I can quickly go to my organized “piles” of summaries, quotes, and see if my questions were answered.

Sticky Notes

I “sticky note” in a lot of ways. With a book on grammar instruction, I have keywords jotted on sticky notes so I can quickly flip back to a lesson or explanation of an idea. On some, I place a large sticky note on the front of the book, listing page numbers and essential ideas I want to revisit, so I won’t forget what’s in the book.

Use Twitter

If the book you are reading has a hashtag, you could tweet thoughts, ideas, or notes to share. You can also create your own unique hashtag to compile and collect notes or ideas you want to remember for later. Two Writing Teachers co-author Kathleen Sokolowski blogged about this and shared how to create a Twitter Notebook. Check out her post here. This also allows you to share a bit about what you are reading and potentially engage in a conversation with the author, publisher, or your colleagues about your notes and ideas.

The Lay of the Land

Another excellent tip for reading a professional book is to read the table of contents and then surf through the appendix before starting the actual chapters of the book. This gives you the lay of the land, prepares you for some of the information you are about to take in, and allows you skip to some parts that might be most important for you to read right away. You can save other chapters for the end. Writers, editors, and publishers spend countless hours organizing text for readers. They do what they feel will be best for a majority, but sometimes readers have needs at different times. Unlike a novel, this is a time when it’s okay to skip to the end so you can see what’s coming.

Using What You’ve Read

Once you’ve finished reading a professional text, the best thing you can do is start trying out your new learning!

Here are some ideas to make new learning a reality in your workshop.

Timeline

Choose a few goals to try out in your workshop. Write these goals individually on sticky notes with a deadline. On a piece of paper, place the stick the notes in order. Each time you try the new strategy, idea, or teaching point, make a tally or if it is a one-and-done type goal, take it off to show you’ve accomplished it!

Colleague Involvement

If you have some exciting new ideas for your writing workshop time, consider enlisting the help of a colleague as an accountability partner. Ask them to come in and watch your idea in action.

Create Your Own Chart

Just like we make charts for our students, creating a little chart with the steps, or ideas you hope to make part of your workshop time will help remind you and keep you on track. It’s so easy to fall back into old habits even if we desperately want to try something new! We forget. Creating a small anchor chart to tape to your bookshelf, desk, or computer monitor might be just what you need to solidify new learning from a professional text happens in the classroom.

Making time, synthesizing our learning, and then making positive changes within our classrooms is all part of what reading a professional text is about! We read because we want to learn from teachers, authors, educators, and the fantastic minds that surround us in professional texts. As you make decisions about what to read next, I hope you will consider trying out a strategy to not only read a book that is new to you but also try out your learning and share with your colleagues. I also bet you have tried and true strategies that have helped you accomplish reading professional texts. Share your thoughts and ideas below AND tell us what you hope to read next! Let’s create a list of great professional texts in the comments for all of us who teach writing. Even better, your comment will enter you in the giveaway! 

You can also continue the conversation on Monday night at 8:30 p.m. EDT when we continue to chat about our professional learning! Join us.

Giveaway Information:

  • This giveaway is for a copy of Welcome to Writing Workshop: Engaging Today’s Students with a Model That Works  Thanks to Stenhouse Publishers for donating a copy for one reader. (You must have a U.S. mailing address to win a print copy of this book.)
  • For a chance to win this copy of Welcome to Writing Workshop, please leave a comment about this or any blog post in this blog series by Sunday, May 5th at 6:00 p.m. EDT. Melanie Meehan will use a random number generator to pick the winner’s commenter number. His/her name will be announced in the ICYMI blog post for this series on Monday, May 6th.
  • Please leave a valid e-mail address when you post your comment so Melanie can contact you to obtain your mailing address if you win.   From there, our contact at Stenhouse will ship the book to you. (NOTE: Your e-mail address will not be published online if you leave it in the e-mail field only.)
  • If you are the winner of the book, Betsy will email you with the subject line of TWO WRITING TEACHERS – WELCOME TO WRITING WORKSHOP within five days of receipt. A new winner will be chosen if a response isn’t received within five days of the giveaway announcement.

Source:

Beesley, A. D., & Apthorp, H. S. (2010). Classroom instruction that works, second edition: Research report. Denver, CO: Mid-continent Research for Education and Learning.