Reading assignments serve many purposes. Understanding these purposes is vital to getting the most out of the assignments you are given. Many professors use reading assignments to reinforce or expand on material presented in lectures. Other assignments provide exposure to material which was not presented in lectures but is necessary in order for students to have a thorough understanding of the subject matter. Other assignments are intended to motivate students to keep up and attend classes regularly. Professors often inform students of the relationship between
lectures and reading assignments at the beginning of a semester. Below are some suggestions for handling problems presented by these three types of reading assignments as well as general suggestions for handling reading assignments as a student who is blind or visually impaired.
Reading assignments which are intended to reinforce material which has been or will
be presented in lectures are problematic for some people because they can seem redundant and cause the reader to lose interest. If this is a problem for you, refer to your lecture notes as you read and make notes from your reading about details which were not provided during the lecture. Details not presented in lectures may or may not be important. Your professor will be able to provide guidance regarding the importance of this material and passages which may be omitted. If you are unsure of the importance of a passage, ask.
Reading Assignments Which Provide Additional Information
Reading assignments which cover material not presented in lectures can seem confusing for some students. Being unfamiliar with the material and finding it necessary to study with time constraints presented by a delay in obtaining assignments in an accessible format may also cause increased stress. The types of information emphasized in lectures will serve as a good guide for what to look for in the reading assignment. Professors often emphasize important names, titles, or events; relationships between theories or concepts; elements of an important person’s theory or philosophy;
definitions; and examples of how theories or concepts can be applied to real-life
situations. Take notes as you read, and if you are unsure of whether you are focusing on the right kinds of information, ask your professor or compare notes with a classmate.
Assignments Which Motivate Attendance and Attention
If your professor gives daily quizzes, it is likely that in addition to one or both of the purposes discussed above, assignments may be intended to motivate students to read regularly and attend class. Lack of readers and delays in obtaining books in an accessible format are the most problematic aspects of these assignments. Hiring a classmate as a reader may be a good solution to this problem. Many students are motivated to study the material themselves when they work as
readers. Getting paid for studying is also a good motivator. The examples of what to look for in assignments discussed above will increase your chances of success in taking the daily quizzes. A future article on test-taking will provide additional tips for successful preparation for quizzes.
Most professors give a list of reading assignments at the beginning of the semester.
If this list is not provided to you in an accessible format, make a copy or some notes in your preferred format. This will enable you to stay ahead and make the best use of your time. If your professor assigns passages as the semester progresses, be sure to write down the assignments or, if you are absent, get them from a classmate.
If you will be using a scanner for reading assignments, you may find it helpful to mark the first pages of chapters with a paper clip. This will enable you to locate the chapters quickly. Also, make sure to scan some pages of the book so that you can evaluate the accuracy of the scanned copy and plan for a reader or adjust the scanning settings if necessary.
If you are working on an assignment which involves answering questions or filling out a study guide:
- Write the questions down first for your own reference. Do this in whatever medium is easiest for you to work with and retain information from later.
- Ask your reader to describe the layout of the passage to be read. If you are working with materials on tape, you may be able to get this information yourself or ask a friend to go over it before you begin studying. It may be helpful to write down some notes so that you can direct the reader or work with the recording.
- Is there a chapter outline?
- Are there headings and subheadings? What pages do they begin on? You may find that writing this information down helps to guide your study since you may be able to use the headings to estimate where in the chapter you will find certain information.
- Are there boxes with information in them that may be unnecessary to read?
- Are there charts that summarize text? If they can be described easily, these may be helpful in gaining information quickly.
- Read the questions and direct the reader to read from sections where you think you may find the answers. Ask him/her to point out to you any certain terms or ideas which are emphasized (e.g. italicized, in bold, or in a different color).
If you do not have a study guide, your notes will need to be more meticulous and you will need to use the layout of the chapter as a guide for organizing them. Boxes or sidebars with additional tidbits of information may indicate material which will be covered in a daily quiz or a single test question.