Challenge Accepted: Difficulty Paper, Part 2

If you missed it, here’s Part 1 of the Difficulty Paper.

So: you read your challenging text and paid attention to what your mind was doing as you read, then wrote about what interested and/or confused you. Good job.

Here’s a well-deserved thumbs-up.

Look back at what you wrote: is there a common thread to your interest and/or confusion? What is the central question you want to explore? I usually ask my students to focus on one central question, but you do you — if you have multiple main questions you want to explore, go nuts. I’m not going to tell you how to live your life.

Now plan the reading strategies you’ll use to explore your question or questions. For example, if you’re confused about the author’s stance, you might want to do some research on the author and his or her background. If the text cites or references other texts, that also might be a good direction for research if you want to get a sense of the context in which the text was written. If you’re having trouble tracking a lot of new concepts in a dense text, you might want to develop a note-taking strategy — you could use colored highlighters to track particular threads in the text, for example, or reverse-outline the text, or write brief summaries of each paragraph…you get the idea. Your strategy should be geared toward the type of question you’re asking.

Re-reading, by the way, is not a strategy, because your strategy is the thing you do when you re-read, to get more out of the text.

Re-reading as a re-reading strategy is the Moon Moon of reading strategies.

I also want to emphasize the importance of exploring a question, rather than “answering” a question. The idea here is to gain insight and to deepen understanding. Concrete answers to specific questions can be part of this process, but, for example, knowing that Ta-Nehisi Coates was born in 1975 isn’t going to deepen my understanding of his writing in and of itself. On its own, it’s just a fact. With my students, I try to drive home the point that all questions can be explored, but not all can be definitively answered.

So that’s Part 2: Develop your question and your strategy. Write them down. Then get to work actually doing your strategy — you’ll be writing about your insights next, in Part 3.


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