Unfortunately, the presumption that these format should be easy for the bright or gifted student is incorrect. Textbooks usually use a bottom-up formatting approach, meaning they begin with a lot of small details and eventually reveal the bigger picture to the reader. Bright and gifted students usually do much better with a top-down approach, where they can link the small details to a bigger picture that they are already beginning to conceptualize (e.g. we should start with the context of why the civil war occurred rather than the date, geographic boundaries, and leader names).
A lot of my students report feeling like their texts
and teachers need to “get to the point”
We have actually known this is a problem for bright students for some time. It is the reason that trade and academic journals have an “abstract” at the start of articles. This is essentially a summary-first approach that recognizes that there is too much information to keep track of in the reading. By providing the big picture first, the reader can now determine what information is important and understands how it relates to the topic as a whole. It also increases your memory of this information, as the “context” in which the information is mentally filed allows that information to be stored and retrieved in a more logical fashion.
So are we out of luck with our high school (and strangely many university) textbooks? Nope, we just need to read the chapter backwards:
- SCAN. Look through an average chapter for any new textbooks to see how many summaries there are. Repeat steps 2-4 for each summary.
- REVIEW. Read the summary and any provided key point/topic lists. This will help you get an idea of the context or “big picture” that is being communicated in the chapter. You may not understand everything by this point, but your brain is starting to make categorizations based on the “big picture” and now you can better recognize what information in the chapter is important.
- SEEK and EXPAND. Now go through the chapter and (depending on your preference) either read the chapter in a more traditional fashion or seek out the information needed to expand your knowledge based on the key categories you picked up from the summary.
- QUIZ. See how you did by completing all review questions. This will help you figure out what important details you may have missed. Go back to the chapter and seek out the information you missed or did not fully understand.
What about books without summaries? Novels, Non-Fiction, or Plays? Come back next week for more ideas on how to hack your approach to those materials as well.