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Parent question: How can I teach my son to keep up with all the reading in his dual enrollment class?

Do you have any recommendations for a speed-reading class? My dual-enrolled son is struggling to keep up with the reading for one college class. Realizing we’re going to have to improve in this area if he’s going to head to college and take 5-6 classes/semester.

OK, don’t throw things when I say this, but I don’t think he should read faster, I think he should learn how to skip some of the content. Assuming there isn’t a learning challenge with his ability and this is just a case of the professor assigning a ton of reading, let me explain how to take a little off his plate.

Before I go down the spiral and you think I’m not answering your question, I DO want to answer your question, so I’m giving you a link to a free speed reading class that you can use instead of or in addition to my suggestions below. The class is taught through Brigham University Independent Study division, but is not for college credit. It has a textbook ($6) quizzes and tests. You can award 0.5 high school credit and a letter grade to her homeschool transcript if you like. Speed Reading Class

This is a true story – it’s my experience from an amazing Biology grad school class I took online through Harvard University’s Extension college- and I earned a high A!

Harvard University’s Extension courses put undergraduate and graduate students in the same class. They then assign extra reading and extra work if you’re there as a graduate student. Since I took it for graduate credit, the reading was heavy and hard. The class I took had 3 very long books (1 textbook and 2 “popular” titles) plus a number of weekly journal articles /academic papers to read. Most of the classes at Harvard have many required reading assignments and textbooks (9-12 books per course). The reading is generally expected to be done ahead of lecture each week, so you can’t fall behind without REALLY falling behind.

See a sample syllabus for a current Harvard University Extension course

Very quickly it became obvious that I couldn’t complete all the reading assignments each week – even if I devoted every free moment to this class (which I could not do). I can’t help but think that the professors know this. I suspect that they are deliberately giving you extra reading so you can learn how to sort, filter, and, prioritize the material. After all, not all information/reading should be treated equally.

My strategy was to start with low-hanging fruit. Since I had the syllabus weeks before class began, I read the two “popular” titles almost entirely before the semester started. Popular titles are books written for entertainment or enjoyment by the general public. The language is less complex and could be enjoyed by someone not in college. Scholarly books (like textbooks) are much more challenging to read. They are loaded with jargon, research, statistics, data, and citations on top of citations! In short, not light reading! When you read “popular” titles, don’t take notes. Use sticky flags in parts that were complex, contained important information, or are specifically relevant to the course.

One of the “popular” books I had to read for my class: The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer by Siddhartha Mukherjee (592 pages)

As I watched the required lectures, I took good notes. If the professor took the time to tell it to you, you can bet it’s important! If you’re fortunate enough to have live lectures, you may want to record the session on your phone (get permission). If the college loads them into your course shell as a video, you’ll be able to pause and take notes as you go.

Textbooks and journals are what I call “hard reading” because you’re probably learning new information, and it’s being given to you in a very formal tone. Textbook authors and researchers use the vocabulary of the profession, so you’re in for some big words! Furthermore, textbooks and journals are going to be exceptionally detailed. You could easily lose valuable time diving into details while missing big important foundational knowledge.

For journal articles or research papers, the academic format usually starts off with an “abstract” paragraph. This is a brief summary of the study. Since students usually access these papers digitally online, consider printing them off if they’re not terribly long. I printed all journal articles and research papers that were required reading. I 3-hole punched the pages, highlighted the abstract, and put it in a 3-ring binder. If a lecture or other class material mentioned one of these articles, I made a big star on the paper and jotted down a few notes in the margin. In that case, I made a point to read the conclusion. The conclusion is at the end of the study. Other than that, I did NOT read these pages fully. I did, however, familiarize myself with the summary and conclusion of each study and could refer to it if needed.

Spoiler: Every conclusion of every study ever done will say that “more research is needed before a definitive answer can be found.”

For my textbook, I looked up every word/example from the lectures and then read the context. So, if the lecture referenced “induced pluripotent stem cells” I made a point to read the sections about “induced pluripotent stem cells” deeply and carefully – sometimes more than once!

This “selective” reading isn’t less work, rather it’s a shift in how you read and what takes priority of your brain space. Had I read every word of every sentence in every chapter, there is a strong chance that I wouldn’t have been able to filter out the important (need to know) from the trivia (interesting to know) so I could learn well.

When you take a class, especially as a high school student, the goal can not be to learn everything that can be known! You will NOT learn everything known! General education classes are meant to expose you to a variety of subjects that you’ll never learn deeply. Depth comes from the classes you take after your general education courses. Frequently these are in our major, but it can also be other subjects that we study alongside our major. (My graduate degree is in Nutrition but to get there required many courses in Biology.) In a college class, you must be able to complete the requirements of the course so you can earn a good grade and move forward with other classes. When a professor is setting the learning pace (16 weeks or less) you won’t have the luxury of learning everything in that moment. You may have to shelve a topic and revisit it after the course ends. Setting priorities is part of the learning process, and gets easier with practice!


Executive Director of Homeschooling for College Credit

One thought on “Parent question: How can I teach my son to keep up with all the reading in his dual enrollment class?

  1. Thank you so much for this valuable advice. it is so tempting to dive into the minutia.

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