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Published on January 28, 2020

How To Use Comprehension Strategies To Improve Learning

How To Use Comprehension Strategies To Improve Learning

From a young age, we learned the essential skills of reading. This is a skill that we often don’t think much of, especially around the subject of comprehension strategies for adults.

You’d think it’s rather weird at first. Adults all across the world are fully capable of reading anything. We’ve been doing that for decades.

But there is a massive difference between reading comprehension amongst children and adults you see. It’s something that hasn’t been explored much in science. You can tell by the number of studies out there discussing kid’s reading abilities rather than adults.

This lack in studies though, is a good enough reason to look into what kind of strategies exist for adults. As I said, an adult’s need for reading comprehension is different. It’s not so much as learning how to read but how to use the information we have, process it effectively, and leverage it.

What Are Comprehension Strategies?

Because adults are focused on processing information and leveraging it, our comprehension strategies tend to be more focused on the surrounding areas rather than internal. That being said, there are some strategies that focus on how we are reading too.

I’ll get to those further down this article, but here are some external comprehension strategies to try out:

Place Yourself In A Distraction-Free Environment

There is a lot of noise going on around us these days. From TVs, our phone, music, and other distractions. The key with this strategy is to create a reading and learning environment that’s suitable for you.

For most people, that’s one without distractions.

But what if you can’t remove all the distractions?

Simple. Some alternatives are going somewhere else. Consider going to the library, a study room, or even the bathroom. You can also listen to classical or ambient music. This muffles sounds and music without lyrics can help you with concentrating more.

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Having Someone Smarter Read With You

Let’s face it, we’re not all-knowing. There are people who are smarter than us. Maybe not in the area of reading, but the person may have read the book or is further along in life with experience and understanding.

This is what I mean by reading comprehension with adults. It’s not so much that we don’t know how to read, but rather, it may be tougher for us to take concepts from articles or books and apply them.

If you’ve got someone like a mentor, teacher, friend or parent, who has experience in this field, don’t hesitate to rely on them.

How we comprehend information varies from person to person. No matter what though, keep the following in mind should you use this strategy:

  • If you are there to support in any way, be sure to give them questions. If you’re the one asking, you can always ask them to do this too. Comprehension isn’t just reading, but using the information.
  • If you’re supporting, it pays to be able to explain things briefly. If you can summarize chapters or the whole book into key lessons that’s good.

Reading Out Loud

Reading out loud slows you down while reading. We focus more on pronouncing our words. We also process what we are reading more so when doing this.

Reading out loud also activates the parts of our brain that learns visually and through audio. It does this because we are seeing the words plus hearing them spoken aloud.

If you find yourself benefiting from this, I’d suggest looking into audiobooks. While there is no visual side to them, the audio could help. You can also look into narrated books that have audio and visual learning aspects.

Re-Reading

Sometimes, we don’t always process everything in one sitting. Or maybe there was something that’s brought up later that you don’t understand and need to go back to previous lines to grasp it.

In some other cases, we read through a page or a paragraph and can’t even grasp what was said.

Regardless, don’t be afraid to go back through and re-read it. Perhaps read it out loud. That or slow down your reading. Keep re-reading until you understand what’s going on.

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As you can tell, reading comprehension is simple at its core, but not everyone can leverage them right off the bat.

How Can I Leverage Comprehension Strategies?

Knowing those strategies is one thing, but leveraging is something else. Regardless, because reading comprehension is still a skill, we can improve it through various methods.

1. Dedicate Yourself To Reading

It’s a given that you want to be spending some time to reading. It’s recommended for starters to devote two to three hours to reading per week.

Not only that, but you want those hours to be part of a good reading session. Wat this means is that your reading is guided and relaxed.

Guided in the sense that there is structure and focused attention. You want to be expanding your vocabulary and quizzing yourself on what you’re reading.

Relaxed is being in a position where you can enjoy what you’re reading. Think back to the calming environment I mentioned above.

2. Understand and Re-evaluate How You Read Right Now

If it’s been a long time since you’ve picked up a book, this might be tougher to do. Then again, you do have to start somewhere.

What this strategy focuses on is encouraging you to read from different texts. Specifically, texts that you’re not familiar with.

Information is presented in many different formats. What you read in the newspaper is going to be written differently on a stand-alone website or on a blog. The same applies to textbooks as well.

This isn’t to say that certain mediums have superior written content, but rather, they demand different levels of comprehension.

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The key to this strategy is to go into unfamiliar territory and read that way. Challenge your existing notions and preferences for reading and mix things up. But only do so for a short period of time.

Start off with reading 20 minutes from that and push to increase the time little by little. Maybe next time devote 22 minutes of your few hours to reading from it.

3. Expand Your Vocabulary

While the previous strategy can help with this, you don’t need to be using different reading mediums to expand your vocabulary. At the end of the day, reading comprehension stems from context, the interaction of words, and vocabulary. It’s through these three things we understand what we are reading.

Expanding your vocabulary is pretty easy. You can purposely pick a word from the dictionary and learn it and apply it every day. Or if what you are reading has a word you don’t understand, write it down.

The goal is to have a running list of words you don’t immediately recognize. From there, you can make flashcards to help you memorize them.

4. Read for the Joy of It

While many of us read for work or for growth, there is merit to reading for pleasure. This is a good strategy because sometimes, we get so wrapped up in reading for growth that we can start to see reading as a chore.

Remember, reading should always be for the fun of it.

With this in mind, some things you can do for this are:

  • Reading a book that is below your grade level. Sure you won’t be learning much, but the key here is to relax and enjoy the book.
  • Pick out fiction books. Authors in these genres focus on entertaining written content as opposed to content where you are learning.

5. Stay Curious

The last strategy I’ll mention is to have curiosity. Learning stems from us wanting to know something that we do not know. Whenever we google something or read an article, it’s because we don’t know that information.

Although people are quick to do that, I would suggest stretching your curiosity further. Not only focusing on new words but new pieces of information.

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Being curious is more like a mindset than anything else, but it does lead to us seeking answers and thus reading and learning.

Here’s How to Create a Habit of Continuous Learning for a Better You.

Bonus: Speed Reading for Better Comprehension

One other strategy that I want to be touching on is speed reading. This is one of the comprehension strategies that some may have heard over the years. It’s the strategy behind how some people can read a book a day or read 50 plus books in the span of a year.

While this may not be your goal to read that much, being aware of the technique and using it can help you in extracting and learning faster than before.

Open Colleges explains this strategy in detail in an article,[1] ere is a simple version:

  • Don’t subvocalize. We were taught in school to read each word one by one. Instead, focus on letting your eyes glide through the words. How you can do this is through humming or counting in your head.
  • Read words in clusters. The next step is getting your eyes to focus on three or four words at a time. The idea is grouping everything important. What it boils down to is getting rid of filler words like and, a, an, the, etc.
  • Don’t backtrack. I said above that re-reading helps. It does, but it helps for those who want to read slowly. For speed readers, this is more time lost.
  • Focus on skimming. With so much content out there, we’ve become masters of skimming. Some of us may not realize it is all. Either way, make sure you are skimming, which is focusing on parts that are important to you.
  • Read plenty. This is a given but worth bringing up.

You can check out this article to learn how to read faster: How to Read Faster: 10 Ways to Increase Your Reading Speed

Final Thoughts

Reading may not be at the forefront of everyone’s mind, but the key to growth is through the information that’s put out there today. The better and faster we can take information, extract, learn, and apply it, the more we will grow.

As such, taking these comprehension strategies and leveraging them can help us tremendously. Even considering taking up speed reading can help you out too.

Pick up a book now and start reading!

More Tips on Learning Fast

Featured photo credit: Thought Catalog via unsplash.com

Reference

More by this author

Leon Ho

Founder & CEO of Lifehack

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Last Updated on July 24, 2020

A Comprehensive Guide to a Smart Learning Process

A Comprehensive Guide to a Smart Learning Process

One of the most crucial aspects of our lives is the ability to learn. We often take this skill for granted since not many of us pause and think about our learning process. In fact, if we did, we would probably uncover that we engage in ineffective learning mechanisms.

Think about it. Has your learning helped you recall things you learned last month? Go back a year and ponder.

A lot of how we learn was tucked away in school. Our exposure to school learning is the basis of how we learn moving forward. However, over the past few decades, learning has evolved into different stages of learning, and that becomes the main issue.

No longer are we looking at examinations of people’s characteristics about understanding and learning. Instead, scholars have created learning processes that use materials that support our interactions with others and our goals.

As a result, we can learn new things more smartly and effectively – which will be covered as we proceed further in understanding the learning process.

The Essential Steps of the Learning Process

In his book Outliers: The Story of Success, Malcolm Gladwell states that the key to success is for us to practice 10,000 hours on a specific skill. It’s also worth noting that the skill needs the correct learning direction. If you’re learning how to do something the wrong way, you’ll continue to use it the wrong way.

But before understanding the learning process, we must understand the stages of learning. Written in the 1970s, Noel Burch created a model called the Four Stages of Learning. [1]

From there, we can use the stages of learning as a basis for how to learn effectively.

1. Unconscious Incompetence

Think of a skill that you are good at and that you use every single day.

Now think back to when you first developed that skill. Were you good at it? Probably not.

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You never heard of the skill or had a desire to learn of it until that point. This is the first stage: You know nothing about it.

2. Conscious Incompetence

Once you have heard of the skill, you begin to delve into it.

Driving a car is a perfect example. Before this stage, you never felt the need to learn how to drive. Nevertheless, once you became of legal age, you had to study to get your license. You likely made several mistakes on the driving test as well as during the written test.

This is the stage where you feel learning is slow, and you’re also aware of your mistakes.

3. Conscious Competence

By this stage, you know pretty much everything you need to know. At the same time, though, you are also aware that you need to focus and concentrate on what you are doing.

This stage can be that you know the rules of the road and can drive well. However, you feel you can’t talk to anyone, play any music, or look away from the road. You feel like you need total silence to focus and concentrate on driving.

At this stage, learning can be even slower than the previous stages. The learning isn’t consistent, nor is it a habit yet.

4. Unconscious Competence

By this stage, you’ve made it. You know everything in and out about the skill. It’s become a habit, and you don’t need to concentrate. You can relax and let your unconscious mind take over.

Exceeding the 4 Stages: Flow/Mastery

While Burch only covered four stages, there is another stage that exceeds it. This is the flow or mastery stage.

You may have heard of something called a flow state. [2] It’s the mental state where someone is performing an activity and is fully immersed in it. They feel energized, focused, and get a sense of joy from doing this activity.

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Flow or mastery can stem from all kinds of activities like Writing, reading, jogging, biking, figure skating, and more. It’s also characterized as complete absorption in what you’re doing, making you unaware of space and time.

Different Types of Learning Process

Another aspect of the learning process is the types of learning. While every person goes through those stages of learning, how we learn is different.

Having covered four learning styles in 4 Learning Styles to Help You Learn Faster and Smarter, I’m recapping the different types of learning in psychology.

Psychiatrists have narrowed how we learn down to seven learning styles as below:

  • Visual (spatial): Learning through pictures, graphs, charts, etc.
  • Aural (auditory-musical): Learning through sound and music.
  • Verbal (linguistic): Learning through spoken or written words.
  • Physical (kinesthetic): Learning through the body, hands, and a sense of touch.
  • Logical (mathematical): Learning through logic, systems, and reasons.
  • Social (interpersonal): Learning through groups or talking to people.
  • Solitary (intrapersonal): Learning individually through self-study or individual assignments.

You may be asking why all of this matters and actually how we learn plays a significant role. How we internally represent experiences stems from how we learn. What we learn not only establishes how we recall information but also impacts our own word choice.

It also influences which part of our brain we use for learning. Researchers uncovered this through various experiments.[3]

For example, say you’re driving to a place you’ve never gone before. How you learn will determine which method of learning you’ll use. Some will ask people for directions, while others will pull up Google maps. Some will write the directions out, while some won’t and merely follow street signs.

Knowing how to learn to this depth is vital because once you know what style you use, you can then develop a learning process to be a more effective learner.

How To Become an Effective Learner?

The learning process varies from person to person. Generally speaking, though, consider the following steps and considerations:

1. Improve Your Memory

Learning doesn’t only require that we learn information, but to retain it. If we are to learn something, we will have to learn and relearn. This means recalling and having a sharp memory to keep that information.

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Improving our memory can range from a variety of things. From memory palaces to practicing other memory improvement tactics.

2. Keep Learning and Practicing New Things

Learning a new skill takes time, but there is nothing wrong with learning a few other things. International Journal of Science – Nature: Changes in grey matter induced by training[4] reported that those who juggled between learning different topics increase their gray matter which is associated with visual memory

3. Learn in Many Ways

While we have our own go-to style, delving into other types and stages of learning can be useful. If you learn by listening to podcasts, why not try rehearsing information verbally or visually?

It will not start great, but by improving your skill to describe what you learned orally, you are further cementing the knowledge in your mind.

Judy Willis MD, M.Ed in her publication on Review of Research: Brain-Based Teaching Strategies for Improving Students’ Memory, Learning, and Test-Taking Success[5] states how the more regions we keep data stored, the more interconnection there is in the collection information that we later process.

4. Teaching What You Learned to Others

It doesn’t have to be in a tutoring situation, but this method is still a reliable way for two people to grow.

Regardless of learning styles, we retain the information we tell others more effectively than if we keep it to ourselves. Was there a random fact you told someone a few months ago? You are more likely to remember that information because you brought it up to someone.

5. Use Relational Learning

Relational learning is relating new information to things you already know.

A typical example of this is remembering someone’s name. You can better recall that person’s name if you associate that name to something or someone familiar.

6. Gaining Practical Experience

Nothing beats learning than trying it for yourself. Sure, seeing information does have its strong points -and most learning styles benefit from exposed information – there is something to be said about getting your “hands dirty.”

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7. Refer Back to past Info If Need Be

The learning process is not perfect. We’ll forget at certain points. If you ever struggle to remember something, make a point of going back to your notes.

This is key because if we try recalling, we risk ourselves learning or relearning the wrong answer. And again, there is a difference between learning the right way and the wrong way.

8. Test Yourself

While this step may seem odd, there are benefits to testing yourself. Even if you think you know everything about the topic, going back and testing yourself can always help.

Not only does testing improve our recall, but we may realize that we learned a concept or task incorrectly. That knowledge can enhance our effectiveness in the future.

9. Stop Multitasking

While we should be learning new things all the time, we shouldn’t be trying to do several tasks at once. We ought to focus on one activity at a time before moving onto other tasks.

By trying to multitask, we are learning less effectively and are only hindering ourselves. Check out how multitasking is merely another way of distracting ourselves.

Bottom Line

Psychologists define learning as the process of a permanent change in a person’s behavior resulting from experience. The understanding of the learning process is up to us, but do consider the bigger picture. Be aware of what style works best for you, and work to improve it while enhancing other learning styles. The only way we can advance a skill is to learn continuously. Even in the skills you have mastered, there are always new developments.

You can learn more about how you can cultivate lifelong learning and attain an edge in every niche that you get associated with today!

Featured photo credit: Aliis Sinisalu via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] Gordon Training International: The Four Stages of Competence
[2] Habits for Wellbeing: Flow: the Secret to Happiness: Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi
[3] Training Industry: How the Brain Learns
[4] International Journal of Science – Nature: Changes in grey matter induced by training
[5] Judy Willis MD, M.Ed: Review of Research: Brain-Based Teaching Strategies for Improving Students’ Memory, Learning, and Test-Taking Success

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