A peek ahead doesn¿t have to be a bad thing

July 08, 2011|Lisa Prejean

I have started to develop a reading habit that goes against my natural inclination.

Perhaps it is a case of curiosity increasing with age. Maybe I'm too busy to pay attention to all the details. Or, I could be rushing to get to the next task.

Whatever the reason, I can't seem to help myself.

OK, true confession time — I have been "peeking ahead" in the articles and books I read.

I never used to do this. I'd read every chapter, every page, every paragraph, every sentence, every word.

It was a matter of discipline, of patiently waiting for the "reward" of knowing how the story ends. I've never been one to peek in boxes or bags for Christmas presents. I like waiting for surprises.

Are my impetuous teenage students rubbing off on me? Many of them have confessed to reading the last page of a story first. (I thought their answers to my preliminary questions were rather insightful ....)

Is it a shame to treat good literature this way? Doesn't that spoil the process? Oh, I used to think so. Now I'm not sure.

I've learned one important lesson. When a passage is skimmed, the true meaning isn't always conveyed. When I simply glance through the words, they tell only part of the story.

When I go back and re-read carefully, the story seems to take life. It becomes fuller and richer. This aids comprehension.

If skimming is followed by a careful read, then skimming is not necessarily a bad technique. Skimming can be a negative thing when people take away a meaning far from the original intent.

Ironically, skimming the text is the very technique I want students to employ with nonfiction. It takes them a while to understand this, and understandably so. ( "Didn't she just tell us in lit class not to skim the text?")

Oh, but there is a difference.

When I assign a research paper, the task seems overwhelming to many students.

"I don't have time to read this whole book," a student will bemoan.

"Who said you have to read the whole book?" I'll respond.

Blank stare.

"Here's how you will use this library book on your topic: You will look in the table of contents and the index to identify sections that you might use in your paper. You will turn to those sections. Skim the text to see if anything stands out. If it does, re-read that passage carefully, take notes on it, and make a mental note of its potential use in your paper."

In this case, peeking ahead is beneficial. Otherwise, the student would never get a paper done.

Perhaps I could employ this same reasoning. If I don't look ahead, I won't want to put the book or article down. My work won't get done.

Hmmm ... something tells me the excuse would need to be greater than that.

Lisa Tedrick Prejean writes a weekly column for The Herald-Mail's Family page. Send email to her at

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