Sunday, November 21, 2010

How to Read a Book

Asher writes (intermittently, lately) about teaching.  In a recent conversation, I asked him to do a series on how to learn, how to be a student.  Maybe it will bear fruit...

An example:  Once, and only once in my life, did I get a short class on how to read a book.  It wasn't about reading for pleasure, but about maximizing comprehension and retention.

Read the introduction and the table of contents first, then the glossary.  Read the endnotes (all, if they are organized at the end of the book; chapter at a time if they are organized that way.)  If there is a chapter summary or 'discussion questions' at the end of the chapter, read those next.  Skim each chapter noting pictures, reading captions and noticing all words in bold.  Read the sidebars.

Then you begin reading the book.

There is a classic teaching style: tell the students what they are about to learn, teach the material, then tell them what they just learned.  By telling the students what they are about to get, they have a huge head-start on internally organizing the material and identifying what is important.  This system does the same thing with a textbook.

When I was taught this, there was an immediate improvement in understanding, retention and test scores.  And it pissed me off:  Why wasn't this taught in grade school?  Why in the hell did I have to wait for college for a five minute class that improved the quality of my academic life so dramatically?

I want to go in different ways with the rest of this post:

  • What I think all students should be taught as young as possible: How money really works; advanced first aid; preventative medicine; the scientific method, experimental design and enough statistics to know when they are being manipulated... much much more.
  • Other tricks and tips for learning, such as the most basic rule: If you don't know, ask someone who does.
  • Throw away comments or short snatches of information that changed life drastically.
  • There are things like breathing and walking and living that almost everyone does and very few people do at a conscious level... very few learn to do them really well.  What goes into learning to live well?
Maybe later.  Maybe not.

Off to work on the drill manual.

I'm working on the calendar for 2011.  If you want a seminar, workshop or private lessons, contact me.  If you're on my e-mail list, expect something soon.

I did a short talk on Anti-terrorism for a local college Thursday.  Definitely not my specialty.  The good news: I actually have a huge amount of data. The bad news: Almost all of it is under confidentiality agreements and I couldn't use most of my primary sources.

Talks coming up Monday and Tuesday at another local college: one on investigative interviewing, the other on roots of conflict.

Teaching another Savvy Authors on-line course starting November 29th.  This one is on Use of Force policy.  


Mac said...

And the one area NEVER taught, or even spoken of; avoided by parent (most common family situation in America) assiduously, reacted to pharmaceutically by the medical establishment and punished by the criminal justice system - emotionality.

Kai Jones said...

Mac, what is it you mean by emotionality?

Deborah Clem said...

Rory- Have you read The Art of Learning by Joshua Waitzkin? If not, you should check it out ASAP.

Josh Kruschke said...


How to deal with disappointment and the difference between love and lust would be good places to start.


Mark H said...

Nice post. Another good book on non traditional learning is "The Buccaneer Scholar" by James Bach. It's been a huge help with my youngest daughter (18 yoa). The author is the son of Richard Bach the famous author.

Kasey said...

When I teach DARE I don't worry so much about tobacco and alcohol. I focus on personal responsibility and decision making. If those are sound avoiding drugs will take care of itself.

Scott said...

I suppose one of the reasons why societies collapse is that it is so difficult to take an institution like education or policing and change it. Institutions are founded on common dreams and language, on common mind-sets. It is far easier to simply found a new institution from the ground up and try to de-fund the old one while waiting for people to die. Changing an established institution is nearly impossible, that's why at least for the private sector bankruptcy is so should be added to the essential list of things students should learn too.
Great to see a group of people thinking about how institutions think! --Check out the book by Mary Douglas : How Institutions Think---

Anonymous said...

--It's "Secrets of a Buccaneer-Scholar:how self-education and the pursuit of passion can lead to a lifetime of success"

(almost didn't find it in my library's catalog. Just in case anyone else wanted to find it :D)

Josh Kruschke said...

I found this book very in-lighting, "The Fifth Discipline: The Art & Practice of the Learning Organization" by Peter M. Senge.

Josh Kruschke said...

FYI- I started my own blog as a way to organize my thoughts and challenge my ideas. I would welcome your comments and thoughts, not just you but everyone is welcome.


MarkH said...


Thanks for for the correction. Like I said the daughter has the book now, so I was going from memory.

Anonymous said...

How to Read a Book by Mortimer J. Adler would be a great read.