Skimming may seem counter to close reading and using textual evidence to support analysis, two major skill requirements of the Common Core State Standards in English/language arts. But author and literacy consultant Sarah Tantillo makes the argument on Middleweb, a website for teachers in the middle grades, that it is actually a “crucial skill” for close literary analysis, and one that should be explicitly taught.
She describes a lesson she observed in which the teacher asked students to explain how they knew a character in the novel they were reading was frustrated. The students put their noses in their books to pull evidence out of the text, and Tantillo realized many were trying to re-read the entire chapter. Tantillo then asked the teacher if she could take over the lesson for a moment. She quickly taught them to look for key words that signal characterization—directly from the narrator or based on the character’s words, actions, or thoughts. “We need to teach students how to skim!,” she writes. “Ironically, we often overlook this skill.”
It may seem obvious, but I know it’s something that I, during my years as a classroom teacher, really did overlook.
Many educators differentiate between skimming and scanning, with skimming referring to looking over an entire text to gather main ideas, and scanning meaning pulling out specific words and phrases. Under this definition, Tantillo taught her students to scan.
An area ripe for both skills though, it seems, is news literacy. I recently blogged here about a study finding that only half of high school civics and American government teachers devote one or more units to teaching students to critically analyze the news, including determining which news sources are credible. In an online world, it’s hard to imagine how that can be done without being taught to skim and scan.
And with some predicting that news-literacy programs will proliferate under the common standards (because they focus on nonfiction and critical thinking), again it may prove even more crucial to teach skimming and scanning outright.
A version of this news article first appeared in the Curriculum Matters blog.