Learners vary in their ability to master the written word. Let us look at how learning is affected by these skills.
Reading formal textbooks
One excellent system for reading a textbook is called the PQRST method and was first proposed by R P Robinson in 1970 (see Atkinson et al, 1993). Here are his stages:
Preview – skim through the entire chapter and read the summary at the end carefully to see which topics are covered and how the book is organized.
Question – turn the main topics into a short series of questions like, ‘What are the main ideas that the author is trying to cover in this section?’
Read – do not read more than 10 to 15 per cent of the words but fast read each section to answer the questions posed in the Q stage.
Self-recitation – after each section make yourself repeat the main points of the section, either on paper or inside your head.
Test – at the end of the section make yourself write down the main points from each section in the chapter.
There are many other techniques for reading for information but I find this a good system. For reading references a learner must master the information technology systems which are available in the library and in resource centres. There has been a massive explosion of input but the systems for information search are now much more effective and efficient than before.
Preparing for written work
Reading is only one skill used in the preparation of written work. There are sub-skills such as grammar, spelling, structure, logical presentation, word usage and general powers of expression. The writing should be planned to illustrate original thought and an overall grasp of the subject. The management of time and work effort is an important part of writing (source).
Presenting written work
Once upon a time the pressure of time limits was used as an excuse for poor written presentation in formal examinations. Recall and the marshalling of facts were seen as so important that writing and presentation skills often took second place; nowadays formal examinations I are frequently only part of the assessment process. Learners are now expected to demonstrate an ability to present clear evidence of what they have learnt, in portfolios of evidence, assignments and reports. There is a clear obligation for the student to ‘sell’ a completed assignment to the assessor or verifier. Advances in word-processing and personal computers have allowed many techniques to become widely available. Printing, layout and other techniques, which used to be the sole concern of the printer, are becoming common skills.
This change in technology and the general availability of materials have put a lot of pressure on the learner. I can’t see any limit to the need for these presentation skills; indeed, there could be an increase in the demands placed on students as multi-media technology becomes more widely available.