A short chat about active reading

I will call 2020 as my year to learn about what it takes to have a rich prayer life. I do pray often, but I don’t have a prayer routine. Sometimes I am distracted by my mind’s endless list of demands. I want to pray and not just in crisis mode and not out of simply duty, like “Okay, I’m eating. I should pray” or “I’m about to sleep and my heart is racing for some reason. I should probably pray.”

Timothy Keller’s New York Times bestseller, “Prayer: Experiencing Awe and Intimacy with God” explores the essentials to a good prayer life. I will do a separate review on what I learned from reading this book so far. I wanted to chat a bit about something I do that really helps me read a book – and in particular what has helped me stay with a difficult read.

I found a slip inside the Keller book that says I purchased this from a seller on eBay on June 20, 2017. I remember picking it up to read and can see that I highlighted in pencil up through chapter two. I evidently stopped reading.

When I started in last week, I realized that I stopped because it’s not light reading. You really need to pay attention. I’m approaching this book like I’m a student sitting in a lecture hall listening to Keller teach a master class on prayer. I am now on going into chapter 7 – Yes! But at first it was not easy going.

One of the things I do now after a year of trying to be a better book reader and reviewer is take notes as I go. When I started as a student at Kent State in 1989 — I’m dating myself I know — I had to take a reading comprehension course. We read a book and had to summarize each chapter and write out a review at the end. It’s active reading and it works for me. I used to read my textbooks this way.

For my purposes today, I buy these 5 ½” x 3 ½” college-ruled notebooks to write notes, taking down quotes, summarizing each chapter’s points, and writing down definitions of words that stumped me. I swear by active reading because I can now talk about the books I have my nose in at the moment.

Is it tedious at times? Yes. I swear this goes on in my warring brain sometimes:

Teacher Susan: “Do you really think you’re going to remember this later?”

Me: “It’s so great. Why would forget?”

Teacher Susan: “Enough to tell someone else about it and not draw a blank?”
Me: “Ugh, but my hand hurts!

Me: “Fine – I’m writing.”

OK, I probably don’t have that actual conversation. But if I try to leave a chapter without writing anything I do think that I need to at least write a summary. I can then pick up reading the summary and move ahead to the next chapter or point I left off in a book. This includes fiction. I find that I am gleaning more from the text than I ever do when I just passively read the book.

I did a quick search and found online resources of two ways to use active reading strategies. The first is this one from Princeton that talks about active reading specifically: https://mcgraw.princeton.edu/active-reading-strategies

The second is another way I’ve taken notes on reading in the past – the double entry journal approach from my alma mater: https://www.kent.edu/writingcommons/double-entry-journals-active-reading

You can also use the double-entry journal approach when listening to presentations, sermons, or lectures. The difference for note-taking in a class or during a speech/presentation is that I write the key points of the presentation on the right half of the page. I can then write questions I have about the presentation on the left side of the page. I also write in details on the left side that I missed during my hurried writing while listening.

Throwing back to Kent State, when I was in a class, I would ask around for someone to swap notes with. We would each make a copy of notes after a class lecture to swap. That left side would be where I’d add in those things I missed that my study buddy heard. Four ears and eyes are just better. A group who shared notes together would have been even better. Introverted, 20-something me could probably only handle a few people at a time. Ha!

I hope this helps students for life and leads to better recall of information as well as enhances both knowledge and enjoyment of the written word. Tell me in the comments what works for you when reading or if you have tried active reading for school work.

One thought on “A short chat about active reading

  1. I love this idea Susan !! I have a hard time keeping my head quiet. The ONLY way I can get through a book are to write down similarly as you show here! I love to read, and yet, it is a terrible curse to have my mind bouncing around when I read. Thanks for your comments!

    Liked by 1 person

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