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1 The experience of reading

The best way to develop your understanding of the reading process is to follow the principles of the Kolb learning cycle, by doing some reading and then reflecting on your experience. To this end, Activity 1 asks you to read an extract from an article by Richard Layard (2003) titled ‘The secrets of happiness’ which appeared in the New Statesman. To keep the task manageable I have reduced the article to half its original length and, for ease of reference, paragraph numbers have been added.

It is important that you read the article as a lot of discussion in the course assumes you have done so.

Click here [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)] to view Reading 1

Activity 1

First note down the time you start, then print out and read the article ‘The secrets of happiness’ by Richard Layard. It may be worthwhile to print out more than one copy of the article as you'll be asked several times to make notes on it. As you read, jot down a few thoughts on the first five questions below. Don't skip this note taking - it will help you to reflect on your reading afterwards.

  • 1. What are your feelings about reading the article?

  • 2. Are you experiencing any difficulties as you read?

  • 3. Are there parts of the article you find unclear?

  • 4. Does the article seem interesting? Does it seem worth the time you are spending on it?

  • 5. Where and at what time of day are you doing the reading?

When you have finished reading the article, jot down your answers to these final questions:

  • 6. How long did you take to read it?

  • 7. Did you make any markings on the article as you read it (using a highlighter pen, ballpoint, or pencil), or write notes?

  • 8. In a sentence, what is the article about? (Don't look back, work from memory.)

  • 9. What can you remember from the article? Write down two or three points that stood out for you.

  • 10. Do you think you will be able to remember what was in the article this time next week?


Below you will see the responses to Activity 1 given by four students: Salim, Erin, Lewis and Kate. Like you, they were busy with other coursework. Compare your notes with theirs and reflect on the reasons for any differences.

1. What are your feelings about reading the article?

Notice that Lewis and Kate seem to have approached the article as ‘work’, something to ‘get through’. Neither looks forward to reading it. (Lewis explained later that he receives support for dyslexia and feels daunted when confronted with several pages to read.) Salim and Erin, on the other hand, focus on what the article is about, rather than what the pages look like. They take an interest in what it has to offer, though Salim is flagging towards the end.

2. Are you experiencing any difficulties as you read?

They all seem to agree that the article is demanding. Salim and Erin feel that they are being made to think hard. Lewis is wondering whether he is just having a bad morning. Kate, meanwhile, is already recoiling by the fourth word. She doesn't sound very keen to immerse herself in what the article is about.

3. Are there parts of the article you find unclear?

Salim, Erin and Lewis have all got stuck at particular points, while Kate says she finds the whole article unclear.

4. Does the article seem interesting? Does it seem worth the time?

In spite of the challenges the article presented, Salim and Erin seem to have found it stimulating. Lewis has a more mixed response and Kate, once again, expresses hostility.

5. Where and at what time of day are you doing the reading?

The four have found the opportunity to do the reading at very different times of day. Clearly there is no ‘correct’ time for reading. It depends on you and the patterns of your life.

6. How long did you take to read it?

Since the article was not ‘coursework’, the students did not have an incentive to spend much time on it. However, Salim spent three times as long on it as Kate. Both Salim and Erin, in later answers, indicate that they would have spent further time re-reading the article, if they needed to remember what was in it.

7. Did you make any markings on the article, or write notes?

8. In a sentence, what is the article about?

Salim and Lewis show a grasp of one of the key themes of the article. Erin's answer is a bit vague. Kate's is accurate, but could be taken from the first paragraph alone.

9. What two or three points stood out for you?

Salim has captured some of the central points. So has Erin to a lesser degree. Lewis has focused in on specific elements in the article which he found interesting. Kate's response is flippant and suggests she didn't approach the article very seriously.

10. Will you be able to remember the article next week?

Interestingly, Salim and Erin, who both seem to have engaged quite effectively with the article, suggest that they would need to do more work on the article to remember it. Kate thinks she will remember the main points, though her responses don't indicate having grasped much beyond the opening paragraph.

A pattern seems to emerge here. Salim and Erin appear to have worked actively on the article and tried to understand its main themes. In the process, they found the article interesting, could remember it better and wanted to continue with further reading. Lewis was feeling somewhat the worse for wear and tended to focus on particular parts of the article that interested him, but he nevertheless gained a reasonable grasp of what it was about. Meanwhile Kate seems to have taken against the article from the outset, spent little time on it, read fairly superficially and learned little. It would be a mistake to draw firm conclusions from just these brief notes.

How did your responses compare with those of Salim, Erin, Lewis and Kate? Did reading their responses cast light on your own approach to reading the article?

Key points

Reading for study purposes is a demanding activity. You will learn best if you:

  • take an interest in what the text is about;

  • make a determined effort to understand the main arguments;

  • work actively on the text as you read.


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