Copyright © 2007-2018 Russ Dewey
Why Read Chapter Zero?
This textbook evolved with the help of 20,000 students over 25 years, 1979-2004. The online version started in 2007 and continues to evolve. Chapter Zero appeared in the mid-1990s as an attempt to provide "how to study" advice at the start of the term.
We often had a mock quiz [a quiz that did not count] on the first Friday of the semester, covering information from the course syllabus and Chapter Zero. This familiarized students with the quiz format and encouraged them to review course policies and look at Chapter Zero.
As you might predict, some students elected to skip Chapter Zero. Later, some were shocked by bad quiz grades and asked for advice about how to study. At that point I referred them again to Chapter Zero.
An imaginary but typical conversation in my office:
Imaginary Student: "I can't believe my first quiz grades! This is awful! My parents will kill me!"
Dr. Dewey: "Did you ever have to 'really read' in high school? You know, slowly? Word by word? For comprehension?"
Imaginary Student: "To be honest, hardly ever. And I never got lower than a B in high school."
Dr. Dewey: "How did you study for our first few quizzes?"
Imaginary Student: "I highlighted all the answers, then I memorized them." [This was before the textbook was put online.]
Dr. Dewey: "Ah...then I can help you. Remember at the beginning of the term when I talked about Chapter Zero?"
Imaginary Student: "Oh yeah...I was too busy to read it back then."
Dr. Dewey: "This is a fine time to go back and read it! It will help you get better grades and increase your satisfaction and ease of learning. And it contains some good news, such as the fact that you don't have to memorize."
Imaginary Student: "But there are over 100 'quickchecks' in a chapter! I counted them! It took a long time just to highlight all the answers."
Dr. Dewey:"Actually, Chapter Zero recommends against highlighting or memorizing. I recommend a much simpler approach. But you must be a competent reader..."
I realize the study questions can tempt students into a superficial and ineffective way of studying. Apparently, by providing lots of quickcheck questions, I accidentally created a trap for students who do not like to read.
They thought the most efficient approach was to hunt for the answer to the study question, highlight it, then memorize minimal answers. They skimmed the rest of the material.
Students using smartphones to read this textbook do not have the highlighting option available. But if they are given quizzes based on the study questions (quickcheck questions) they still might decide memorizing answers is the best strategy. And that is wrong.
Students who relied on memorization did poorly on my exams. Like most experienced teachers, I made a point of putting new vocabulary (and random phrases from the chapter) into wrong answers, just as often as right answers, to avoid encouraging a superficial recognition strategy.
The result was predictable. Students who skimmed would recognize a familiar word or phrase and pick the wrong answer, because they did not really understand the material. A lot of students flunked the first few quizzes as a result, even though they were trying hard to memorize the answers.
I composed Chapter Zero to deliver the good news. Students could learn better if they did not try to memorize. Simple reading with comprehension is sufficient. No effort at memorization is necessary.
A leisurely reading of the whole chapter, followed by a repetition or two if necessary, accomplishes all the memorization required, without any effort. This book rewards students who simply read well and enjoy learning.
What is the "good news"?
The bad news is that some students do not know how to simply read well and enjoy learning. Chapter Zero is intended to explain how that works.
After you read Chapter Zero you will understand the right and wrong approaches to studying. It would be great if you discovered a study technique that is both more enjoyable and more effective. That could carry over to other classes (or other written works, if you are not a college student) and provide lasting benefits.
There is something called close reading or deep reading that works the best for comprehension. It can make learning enjoyable and easy. It is not necessarily fast, and some students are reluctant to do it.
But it is by far the best way to learn. Read a paragraph slowly, digest every word, and really think about the ideas.
Sometimes close reading seems like a lost art in the modern world. Sometimes textbooks make it difficult get absorbed.
You would be amazed how many students get through high school without "really reading" so do not feel bad if that happened to you. You have lots of company.
Yet deep reading is the easiest and most effective way to study. This book is designed for it.
That's why you should read Chapter Zero. Chapter Zero gives lots of hints and explicit instructions about how students can modify their study habits, get absorbed in reading, and get better grades.
Imaginary Student: "Maybe I will read Chapter Zero...[and in some cases the student will add]
Dr. Dewey: "Better late than never! I hope you will find it to be useful."