I read, not to learn anything, but from the pure love of it.

Howard Pollack on Aaron Copland (famous American composer): The Life and Work of an Uncommon Man, p. 14


Find the Central Idea

Reading has almost become a lost art, along with letter writing. People do not like to read anymore, especially boring college textbooks. Yet, we are told that sales of best sellers and how-to books have increased in bookstores nationwide.

Most students do not read well, because they do not understand how to summarize vast material. They are confronted with two-three textbooks for each class and feel overwhelmed. In many cases, the solution is grabbing the highlighter pen and marking whole paragraphs.

By this action, a reader is forgetting the purpose of reading. You have to find the central idea. Just underline that sentence or phrase in the paragraph, not highlight everything. What is important if you highlight everything? I usually bracket something I want to remember. That bracketing is not as important as the underlining. Still, the bracketing shows a degree of significance. Often, I will write the word, "use," in the margin to indicate further need for the author's good thoughts.

Use the Author's Aids

Always use the author's aids throughout a chapter. If the author(s) has a list of questions at the end of the chapter, read those questions first before you attempt to read the chapter. If the author(s)has a summary at the end of the chapter, read that section before attempting the whole chapter. Read the purposes at the beginning of the chapter of what the author(s) expect you to get from the chapter. I always try to read the foreword of a book, because the author needs to tell me why the book was written. Then, I have a better idea of the importance of reading the book.

John Simon Reminds Us to Fluently Read with Participation

You may not have heard the name, John Simon. John Simon many years ago wrote a book called Paradigms Lost about the state of literacy in America. Simon, as I understand it, has been a playwright and a critic of the arts. He believes we need to read with fluency. The words need to have meaning for us. Mr. Simon believes we should read with participation. I think that means you are willing to ponder the author's message. I usually write notes in the margins of books about important points to be remembered. That forms another participation. In a textbook you should write questions about a particular paragraph and points you want to ponder. You participate.

Adler and Van Doren Knew about Reading

Do you remember the name Charles Van Doren? It became infamous in the 1960s when the quiz show scandals broke, especially 21 and The $64,000 Question. A major film was even made about the one of the scandals called Quiz Show. In that film Charles Van Doren admitted the show producers provided him answers to questions he would have to contemplate in the closed, soundproof booth. That was then; we need to deal with Charles Van Doren's good ideas about How to Read a Book.

Mortimer Adler, who co-wrote How to Read a Book, served for many years at the University of Chicago, known as a hotbed for the Great Ideas. Adler authored many philosophy books, including books on Aristotle. He helped edit the Great Books published by Encyclopedia Britanica. He always encouraged his lay readers to stretch themselves and learn more about the exciting world of philosophy.

Adler and Van Doren created four different ways a book should be read: elementary, inspectional, analytical, and syntopical. Most of us have easily experienced the first level, elementary. Whenever you begin any book or textbook, you have the beginnings of literacy. At the elementary level, you ask: What does the sentence say?

When reaching the inspectional level, you place emphasis on your time to read. You set a time to accomplish your reading. You skim systematically. You ask this pertinent question: What is the book about? It is a kind of textbook reconnaissance.

Analytical reading or the third level involves thorough reading, complete reading, and good reading. Adler and Van Doren phrase this level of reading as a permanency: "Analytical reading is preeminently for the sake of understanding."

Syntopical reading places heavy demands on the reading. It includes comparative reading. You construct an analysis of whatever of a particular subject appears in several books. You need to go through a five-step pattern for effective syntopical reading:

  1. Find relevant passages in the book.
  2. Bring the author to the subject's terms. Force the author to use your language.
  3. Get the questions clearly in mind.
  4. Define the issues.
  5. Analyze the discussion. Look at all sides and take no sides.
In all these levels of reading you should ask questions while you read.

A few closing comments on reading a book are certainly in order. Marking a book is desirable. It shows you are totally absorbed in the reading. It keeps you awake. You want to remember certain points. In any reading you should always look for the key sentences and the keywords. Adler and Van Doren summarize their comprehension of reading by saying: "Every book should be read no more slowly than it deserves, and no more quickly than you can read it with satisfaction and comprehension."

Ellis Proposes POQRUA--RRR for Reading Prowess

A business communication student said to me a few weeks ago he might like to check about his reading habits. He mentioned he had never heard of POQRUA--RRR before.

Readily, I must admit until a few years I had called, when attending college, POQRUA--RRR by different names. I remembered the Read-Recite-Review concept. POQRUA--RRR simply means a way to master reading a textbook or any serious literature:
Now, you have the secret to good reading called by Dave Ellis, Muscle Reading. You exercise every muscle of your brain and your will to improve your reading habits. For further information on this useful technique, look at BAMS, better known as Becoming a Master Student, now in the 12th edition.

You Read, and, Then, You Actively Read

When I think of my own method of reading, I realize it needs improvement. Now I am pouring through a History of World War II text, and it is extremely close reading and excruciatingly intense. I should think of the advice of Sherrie Nist-Olejinik, Ph.D., and Jodi Patrick Holschuh, Ph.D. from the University of Georgia, Athens, in College Rules!, 2d ed. They recommend you do a textbook reconnaissance of what you need to read with the following symbols:
As you think of Nist-Olejinik and Holschuh's hierarchy, you realize this reconnaissance can work. In reading a text or a non-fiction book I usually underline the most important part of what I want to remember. Then, I bracket the next most important part that seems worthwhile in the passage. Finally, I may use a checkmark to site something in the margin that seems worthwhile for organization of the work. All these bracketings and underlinings serve to help in review. I don't have to read the whole page over again. I simply spot my markings. What are the ways that you like to highlight what you are reading?

The previously mentioned authors talk at considerable lengths about active reading. They believe that highlighting a page is passive or inactive reading. When you have to think about thoughtful questions and pause in reading, you are taking a more active part. They use a penetrating phrase to describe this reading: "You are clicking with the material." Can you picture clicking on your iPod or your iTunes? The same principle applies in reading. You review and rehearse the material.

(c)copyright G. Jay Christensen, All Rights Reserved

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Last updated Wednesday, September 18, 2008