I am so happy to see that some professors are talking about the importance of knowing how to read to success in law school. Law Professor Leah Christensen has written a law review article in which she describes previous studies and her own study that reveal that students who receive higher grades in law school read differently than students who receive lower grades. She uses a fascinating research method called “The Think Aloud Procedure,” which requires students to literally think aloud as they read the case. Christensen then parses the transcripts from the think aloud procedure sessions to demonstrate that students use different reading methods. There is a strong correlation between students’ grades and the reading methods they use.
The two main methods of reading that Christensen saw students using that had a correlation to their grades were problematizing strategies and default strategies. Problematizing occurs when readers “engage in strategic behavior and work to solve problems as they read . . . .” Default strategies involve linear progressions through the text, such as paraphrasing. Studies show that students who get higher law school grades employ problematizing strategies more often than students who get lower grades, while students who get lower grades employ default strategies more often than students who get higher grades.
I think a lot of people, not just law students, read completely passively, which is what I consider similar to reading using default strategies. Books like Twilight, Harry Potter, and anything on the “Beach Reads” shelf tend to encourage this kind of reading. These kinds of books are fine for entertainment, but it’s worrisome when those are the only sorts of books people read anymore. I recently purchased William Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury at a Borders, and the sales clerk told me he was happy to see someone finally buying a real book.
The tendency to read passively is especially dangerous when it comes to newspaper stories. The more people read them without asking questions or trying to solve problems they come across as they read, the more likely people will be to believe anything they read. This problem translates to television news reports and also speeches by politicians. People should always be using problematizing strategies when listening to such things. A word of caution: Trying to use such problematizing strategies while listening to Sarah Palin speak may cause severe migraines.