The Philosophy of Reading:
The Context Mining Approach
By By S.M. Zakir Hussain
The Philosophy of
By S.M. Zakir Hussain
the most scientific, most effective, and
For GRE, GMAT, SAT, TOEFL, IELTS, JOB TESTS, and Reading for Advanced Academic Purposes
I. Effective Reading Can Help One Live Longer!
Here is how. Asking a few questions without even having to answer them will instill the necessary in sight into the reader.
How long did it take one to go to the remotest country from one’s own country say one hundred years ago?
How long does it take now?
How long did it take one to send a message to a person in that place at that time?
And how long does it take now?
Obviously, as far as learning is concerned, development has not taken place in us humans as much as in machines. We are, no doubt, learning new things, but seldom in new ways. Although the ways of presentation of learning material have been revolutionized, the process of learning has not – not definitely to the extent as could be expected. The ability to read effectively will help us enjoy a longer knowledgeable life by reducing waste of time and efforts.
II. What Is Reading, Really?
Rather than entering into a tedious lecture, let us present the essence in a comparative way.
1. Traditional Approach: Reading is the process of discovering the context and then arriving at the level of meaning related to the context.
The Context Mining Approach: Reading is the process of seeing the words in their right places.
2. Traditional Approach: We read by words, at best by what is called meaning units.
The Context Mining Approach: The unity of the context allows only a single meaning unit, not two or more. So the term ‘meaning unit’ may apply only to the syntactic level of the text, not to the context.
3. Traditional Approach: While reading, we accumulate bits of information and go on reconstructing the ‘totality’.
The Context Mining Approach: The process of accumulation of symbols creates an unwanted process of search mechanism according to an expectation and redefining the search in light of the finding. Reading, as opposed to that approach, is filling in the blanks in the schema (background knowledge of the reader).
4. Traditional Approach: Reading involves searching for meanings of words.
The Context Mining Approach: Reading involves searching for words that may fill in the blanks in the schema.
5. Traditional Approach: We read texts.
The Context Mining Approach: No text can exist without a context.
6. Traditional Approach: Reading techniques are mainly used in exams.
7. Traditional Approach: Reading involves written text.
8. Traditional Approach: Reading involves identifying key-words.
9. Traditional Approach: Reading is an inductive process - a search from text to context.
10. Traditional Approach: We know what a text is about after reading it.
III. Reading as an Overall Approach to Learning:
From a certain point of view, learning, especially in the perspective of knowledge development and understanding, not necessarily of skill development, starts with the habituated ability to read – read textbooks, situations, events, action and reaction, and so on. We would, therefore, like to go so far as to hold the view that nothing, in the context of the modern age, can contribute to human development as much as effective reading can.
IV. Problems Faced in Reading Difficult Texts, Especially in Timed Settings:
The fact that reading is a difficult task is not generally felt except in exams. In exams or exam-like settings, reading experiences of examinees are usually expressed in words like the following:
i. Words are difficult, so the meaning can hardly be seen through fog of abstruse words.
ii. Convoluted sentences make it difficult for me to have a told perception of an instance of meaning.
iii. It is common to forget what I read a few minutes ago, for which the context seems to be untouchable.
iv. The time allowed for the reading session is too inadequate for me to cope.
v. A number of unsuccessful attempts forces me to believe that reading at standard levels such as the IELTS, GMAT, GRE, SAT, TOEFL, Job etc. is for those who know a lot.
There is no denying that the problems stated above are too real to be ignored. However, they can and need be solved in such a way that they will not be felt at all, so to say; rather, they will be a challenge liked by the intellectually bold ones.
V. The Context-Mining Approach
The series of techniques that make up the method called Context-Mining can not only solve the above-mentioned problems, but also make reading one of the most challenging and enjoyable experiences of intellectual life, is presented below. In fact, the effective reader can learn more than the author has provided in the text.
1. Schema-Building: Your schema regarding something is your knowledge in the form of information, experience, attitude etc. that you already have in your mind. When we learn something, we simply add to the existing schema (plural schemata). In the context of reading, the process of schema-building involves the following processes.
i. Pre-reading: This means reading before reading. The underlying theory is that you cannot read something about which you have no knowledge or about which you cannot ask questions to collect information. That is in fact why poor readers begin to feel that they have begun to read only after they have made some superficial reading attempts, when an ideas has already been formed about the context.
Here goes the process.
v Read the topic, if any. Quickly go through the first and last lines (approximately) of each paragraph, with full concentration on what the context may be, not on the meanings of individual words. Spend only a few seconds – a minute or two at best. Then ask yourself these questions:
What would I write if I myself wrote an article on this topic?
This process will instantly arouse the related schema in you. Even if you do not know much about the topic, the awareness of what you do not know, or in other words, need to know, will work as a good enough schema.
Then you will be in a position to say to yourself:
The author, although far ahead of me in knowledge, experience, and skill, is none but a human being; so her or his way of presentation will at least cover everything that I have gathered so far in my mind. Thus, in what I am going to read, some things will match with my schema-based ideas, and hence will easily get into my understanding and memory, which I will not forget even though I will have to push through a lot of text studded with information.
On the other hand, I will also face some new information and ideas, but, this time they will also easily attract my attention because this awareness will remain active in me: I see! I didn’t think about this! How could I have been so foolish!
Reading with the schema activated will always arouse anticipation, which will not only make reading meaningful and easy, but will also ensure the search for and perception of the unity of thought throughout the text.
2. Sifting: Now that you are prepared to read as you have done some practical thinking, you can say to yourself:
Those who say that they forget what they read a few minutes ago, say so because they try to read everything. Because they read too much before knowing about the context, they happen to collect information before preparing any container (in this case the schema) to keep it in, and consequently get lost in the midst of too much information, and lose the information. They understand nothing because they try to read everything before understanding the main thing.
Therefore, I am not going to read everything here. Rather, will only have a birds eye view of the sentences, so that I can only see what seems to be meaningful to me vis-à-vis the schema and simply overlook what I am not familiar with. I will regard words as guests, not as hosts to whom I myself am a guest. I will only search for what I already have in mind – if in different wording, and I hope that that which I did not find in the schema-building session will find me. I will always have the searchlight of anticipation glaring in my head.
3. Focusing :
1. The length of the passage, the complexity of the language, and the impermeability of the layers of words clearly indicate that the passage was not prepared for those hungry readers who need to take in the entire nutrition of the information. Research has shown that even if three times more time were allowed, little progress would be seen in most readers in the level of success of their reading. Research has also shown that even if a dictionary were supplied to examinees, no further progress would also be observed in their reading success within a pre-set time. What do these observations imply?
We, especially in exams, do not discover the context by understanding the meaning of words and phrases. Rather, if we know the context, we will simply be able to attach meaning to unknown words. A simple example will help understand the point. Suppose you asked somebody a question. And in order to test whether you can recognize the question, I present it in symbols, as follows:
Can you tell what was your original question? I say ‘your’ question because after some time you will see that it might have well been a question that you had asked somebody. What is the question? You are allowed thirty seconds time.
Well, time is over. But I am not going to tell you the question. Rather, let me tell you the context – the person whom you asked the question was in the kitchen. And you were really hungry!
Look at the symbols again and tell ... Yes, you have got it:
Now you see that what otherwise seemed to be meaningless (because the meaning of such symbols cannot be looked up in a dictionary) has now attached meaning to itself from the context.
We were taking about focusing, by which we want to mean that, in exam halls, if every question has to be answered, the ambition to read everything in the text must be given up. A real analogy will support the view that we are holding – the net-throwing analogy. When somebody throws a net in a river, does he/she cover the entire water surface of the river at a certain spot? No, and never.
In the same way, the net of reading need not cover the entire river of the passage to catch the fish of information and message.
Or to present another analogy, do you want to erase the entire darkness when you hold a torch to see something in the dark?
You only need to throw light upon what you want to see.
2 After schema-building (and perhaps sifting, which can also be done after focusing), directly read the questions, disregarding the options or details. Now that you know the context, you know which areas of the context the questions refer to. Reading the questions will also make you aware of any information you may have missed while pre-reading the text and building the schema on the context. Now you, in many cases, will also be able to tell which part of the text each question is linked to.
Because even repeated readings do not sometimes prove sufficient for efficient answering, it is wise to spend more time in reading selected areas than in the entire passage. There is no meaning to the word ‘entirety’ in this case if the context is not understood. And, conversely, if the context is understood and inculcated in the mind before the sifting session of the reading, repeated reading will not be necessary to understand it ‘more’, except in tracing details or critical information.
The great Bengali poet Rabindranath Thakur (Tagore) said, in one of his songs: I’ve lost even what I had, owing to my indulgence in the pursuit of what I didn’t have. One who wants to read everything of a passage, or stumbles into the black-hole of the ‘intellectual’ desire to ‘understand’ what seems to be very unknown to him/her at certain places of the text, happens to lose the context, and gets stuck in his/her disappointment, failing to complete the task in time.
5. Telescopic Reading :
Thus, if you can identify the ten main words of a passage, not necessarily by picking from the text but even ‘looking’ at the context from a distance and using words of your own, you will see that a great portion of the reading is done. Even if the words are your own – meaningful in any language – they will definitely have their synonyms in the text.
VI. Concluding Remark
As far as exams are concerned, no more reading techniques are required. Many other techniques have been presented in a related article of my book Theory of Knowledge and Other Articles (www.Lulu.Com) and in the software Target 8+ in IELTS Reading (www.4pdigitallab.com).
Reading is a challenging task, with unimaginably high pay-offs, but not necessarily difficult. We are always reading the environment – even the vast book of the reality, where each individual life may be considered a single article richly linked to other articles. We fail to understand life when we fail to read the reality effectively.