Thursday, October 6, 2011

Getting to Know your Textbook

Did it ever occur to you that at some point in your education, you made a shift from learning to read (grades k-4) and reading to learn (grades 5-12)?  While you may not have realized it, this shift did happen.  It happens for all learners.  In the upper grades, reading materials becomes less about the letters and sounds and more about the meaning of the content.  In about 4th/5th grade, it becomes important to know this because it will help you know how to approach your assigned reading in a respective subject.  After all, you use a much different approach to reading 20 pages of a novel than when you have to answer 10 questions on weather at the end of a chapter in your science book.
I know it sounds silly, but in order to truly gain as much as you can from your textbook, you have to spend some time dissecting it.  The table of contents tells you how the book is organized.  If you take your history book, for example, it is no doubt organized chronologically.  A science book may be organized categorically, and math books are usually organized sequentially as skills build on one another.  After you are finished looking at the table of contents, a good move is to locate the review the index.  This can be found at the back of the textbook and is arranged in alphabetical order.  This is most often used like a reference guide.  Say, for example, you wanted to look up information on a cylinder for math class.  You might find the following information in the index: 
          area of 435
          base of 434
          comparison to other geometric solids 437
          definition 433
          volume of 435
You can use this information to expedite your search for information.
Another important part of a textbook is the glossary.  I've seen this used most in science and social studies.  The glossary is a mini-dictionary and can be located at the back of the book, in front of the index.  Not every textbook has a glossary. Usually, a foreign language textbook has an extensive glossary and, often, will have two:  one glossary in the English language that translates to the foreign language and one that provides the foreign language equivalent of English words.
Sometimes, a textbook will also contain an appendix.  An appendix usually displays templates of  materials referenced in the book that the reader can use in a variety of circumstances.  A common template in a science book may be for lab work.  These materials are usually supplemental in nature and are not always required for students.
Textbooks can be pretty overwhelming as they are often thick and heavy.  It is important for teachers to help facilitate learning by helping students become familiar with the format of their textbook.  It is through this familiarization process that students develop a comfort level with the textbook.

Greenberg, Michael, M.A., Painless Study Techniques, Barron Publishing. 2009.

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