How to read a book #28daysofwriting

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When I’d not long started in my current job we had a talk from the Chief Executive. He told a short anecdote¬†that still sticks with me a year later.

He said that he used to teach seminars to adults on ‘How to read a book’.

He wasn’t referring to some kind of adult literacy programme, this was to successful, well educated people. Most people, he said, remember very little of what they read. Think, for example, of the last non fiction book you read. How much do you remember? Usually it’s just the top-lines, the messages that they usually put across in the introduction anyway.

What my boss said was that in order to read a book well, you need to treat it as a conversation. You need to stop every now and then and think. You need to link it to what you know already, pausing to consider what its points concur with in your knowledge and experience and what they challenge.

I’m a pretty successful reader, and people always say I have a good memory. It struck me that this is often what I actually do, but no one ever externalised that idea before. No one ever taught me.

There is so much like this that we don’t talk about. If you ‘get it’ you just do it, if you don’t you never do.

That’s why we have such an achievement gap in the UK in educational achievement. Some of the most important things, the people competent enough in them to teach them rarely think about them.

Curricula, teacher training, CPD and working with colleagues all help with this, and many teachers are great at externalising processes and concepts that they teach.

Yet I’d been teaching children to read for years, and encouraging undergraduates to read critically for some time. I had been encouraging them to do this to an extent with questioning, yet I’d never quite thought about reading in this simple, powerful way.

Such implicit assumptions, such tacit knowledge, are always going to be a danger for those who teach. They are a danger for anyone who is trying to communicate anything. All we can do is look out for them, be open minded enough to spot them when they become visible, and listen carefully to those who have spotted them before.

Photo: CC BY Jo Naylor

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