What does it mean to read literature like a professor? By that I mean, what makes their voices so distinct that I can actually ask that question? Along with their education level and their general knowledge of words, professors, especially in English, have read hundreds of books, texts and articles over the years that all supplement each other. So, can we, mere undergraduate or perhaps even graduate students, actually become accomplished readers like them? Absolutely. But what does that even look like? Of course, you must prepare for the hard work, dedication and practice it takes to get on the same level as your favorite professor.
Channel your inner bookworm and learn how to read literature like a professor.
How to Read Out Loud Like a Professor
Sometimes the way a professor reads aloud helps you connect so well with the book. It might even give you the chills. But when you read aloud in your dorm room, it just sounds odd. I immediately wanted to know if there’s a certain book, or set of books, that influence experienced readers’ abilities to read aloud. With millions of books and possibilities for student reading, I want to maximize my ability to read aloud. “What comes to mind is Hamlet,” University of Kentucky English Ph.D. candidate Matt Cheney said. “Reading in Iambic pentameter makes you appreciate the intentionality in Shakespeare’s stuff. Students seem to respond to the level of care once they understand it.”
After taking multiple Shakespeare classes, I can only attest to this claim, that reading Shakespeare out loud pushes students into better grasping the material. It’s also pretty dang cool. “I think anything with dialect can be good, because it creates opportunities to talk about realism and getting it right for different forms of speech,” said Cheney.
Do professors prefer students to read out loud?
So many students have no desire to read, and loathe the teachers who require them to read or speak in class. But what do professors think? Do they actually want to hear us try to read, even if the words seem complicated and alien? Does reading aloud actually help us? Why not just read everything themselves and show off to their students? In that regard, I’ve had professors who read everything themselves, and do not promote student reading, because they have lots of content to get through. But I don’t believe that this style of teaching actually gets the job done, if their goal involves enabling students to read at a professional level.
I questioned Cheney about his personal beliefs in student reading, or if he just does all the reading himself. “I do both. Sometimes, having a student read aloud in class is the only way I know they’re paying attention or even reading the text. This can be a powerful tool also, because it gives shy students a chance to speak in class with some added structure,” said Cheney. “However, if it’s a heavier themed passage, I might choose to read myself. There are also cultural things to consider, like a reading that features a character using racial slurs.”
Thankfully, Cheney understands the age-old battle about appropriate language in texts. From Mark Twain to Walt Whitman, you’ll find sensitive material for some students of certain ethnicity, religious or political belief or some other individualistic feature. Dr. Pearl James, a professor in the English department, suggested a maximum of 200 words for professors to read aloud. Much more than that, and the class will zone out and not pay attention. “I don’t practice the excerpts that I read aloud, but I should! That’s something I should work on!” said Dr. James.
It seems obvious, but the best thing to help reading out loud like a professor involves practicing. From learning new words and phrases to piecing through difficult sections slowly, the process to read aloud like a professor necessitates determination. If you want your voice, when you read in a class, to command the room and grab people’s attention, act like your quirky self. Do funny and serious voices when reading out loud, and people will remember you. But don’t take it too far.
How to Read Those Difficult Books Like a Professor
We all understand the difference between reading where your eyes slide over the words, and reading where you get a vivid picture of what you’re reading. “When it comes to reading like a professor it really comes down to how long you’ve been reading. I mean, you begin to make associations because of something you see in a book echoing something that you’ve read before. It really goes for life, not just literature,” James said. “You can’t really make a student into a professor-like reader. It just has to happen over time. It takes reading different things, whether it sparks your interest or not.”
I certainly agree with the notion that sometimes reading seems hard and feels like something you have to force yourself to do. “Reading can be a great challenge for many people, especially those who do it for a living,” said Dr. Rynetta Davis, a professor of the English department at UK. “But it is such a rewarding a experience when you see students grasping hard concepts and difficult themes.”
So what does it actually mean to read like a professor? After much consideration, I would say that the obvious answer involves reading with honesty. If you go into something new with a bad attitude, and you think you know more than the author, it won’t work out for you. But if you have genuine interest in advancing your knowledge, be it from fiction or a rigid manual, good things will happen. Reading like a professor means understanding that you won’t understand everything, and that you shouldn’t have to. You can appreciate something without realizing its full purpose. Although it takes years of practice and dedication, you can easily begin the process of becoming a professional reader.