Reading Textbooks: The College Plague

Student surrounded by books and feeling overwhelmed

First, let’s acknowledge this universal epidemic. College students despise reading textbooks and e-books that cover content with academic information. Fortunately, I discovered a cure for the reading plague that only requires five teaspoons of ingestion: 1) survey 2) question 3) read 4) retrieve and 5) review. In my class, I have found the SQ3R Method to be a step-by-step approach to learning and studying from textbooks. Although it took my students time and practice to master this method, it has been valuable in regards to preparing students for more content-driven class discussions, increased retention and understanding of information, strategic study skills, and test preparation.

At the beginning of each semester, I introduce to my students the SQ3R Method—it was originally devised to read college textbooks in a systematic approach. Students need to understand that this approach is completely different from casual reading; instead, it is a strategy for productive academic reading. In my attempt to get students to be more intentional and actively engaged, I began to embed the SQ3R Method into my instruction.

SQ3R Method

The SQ3R Method is a reading comprehension and study skills method named for its five steps: survey, question, read, retrieve and review. This method was introduced by Francis R. Robinson in 1946. In class, students receive several copies of a graphic organizer to use when reading, along with an explanation of each step. The template explains:

  1. Survey– Record important titles, subtitles, captions, subheadings, graphics, illustrations, highlighted text and vocabulary words from the chapter (students are not reading at this point.)
  2. Question– Turn each heading into a question before you start to read.
  3. Read– Read to find the answers to the questions and write the answers below.
  4. Recite– In your own words, write what you have just read. Write summary sentences that paraphrase the key ideas and main points.
  5. Review– Write the important details from the chapter. Create a short outline, or concepts map of what you read, or what you need to remember to do well on the test.

In completing each step, I found that many students benefited from step 4 (Recite). When students were given an opportunity to write in their own words about a key idea(s), they were able to fully understand core concepts about different theories and principles. This led to expert understanding that was preceded by enriched classroom discourse.

SQ3R Student Survey

At the end of each semester, I like to get feedback from my students. I do this because their feedback helps me to improve the quality of my instruction. In all that I do, student test data and feedback guides my instructional decision making. The fall 2019 student survey responses revealed:

Does the SQ3R Strategy hold you accountable to read your textbook/ebook?

  • 94%- Yes      6%- No

Does the SQ3R Strategy help you to retain information from the textbook/ebook?

  • 79%- Yes       21%- No

Does the SQ3R Strategy help you to “chunk information for understanding what is being read?

  • 94%- Yes        6%- No

Does the SQ3R Strategy help you to prepare for taking a test?

  • 86%- Yes        14%- No

Have you transferred the SQ3R Strategy to other courses that you are taking?

  • 7%- Yes           93%- No

Does the SQ3R Strategy contribute meaningful classroom discussion

  • 100%- Yes        0%- No

From my students’ feedback, I can conclude that the SQ3R Strategy has been effective in my classes. In order to generate its effectiveness, I had to guide my students through consistent rehearsals which required repetition. This allowed information to convert from short-term memory to long-term memory. However, to my chagrin, I was surprised that students did not transfer the use of the SQ3R Strategy to other classes. As I began seeking for reasons why, students explained that the strategy “actually” required them to read and held them accountable for attending classes prepared. In other words, the students did not want to intentionally read with purpose.

In my future efforts to get students to understand the importance of the SQ3R Strategy beyond my class, I must change their mindsets through sharing data outcomes regarding their grades and demonstrating how self-efficacy drives success.  Overall, the SQ3R Strategy helped my students improve their comprehension, efficiency in reading, and study skills.