Tag Archives: Reading

Note taking tips – Notes matter

As I sit in business and board meetings, I notice that few people take notes.

Note taking as a path to success

I wonder if they have better memories than I do, but then,  I realize that they have been trained, like most of our society, to let content wash gently over them and pass by un-noted, un-synthesized, un-digested.

One of the most powerful differentiators I’ve found in life, both in academic and professional settings is the skill and habit of taking clear notes.

I came across an interesting piece in the Atlantic recently re: note taking with some important tips and perspective on note taking.

If civilization is based on learning from and building upon the best thinking that’s gone before, then note taking must be one of the keys to building or at least fighting entropy in our civilization.

I do not agree that the best notes are taken on a PC.  I may be old school, but I can write/draw/think much more quickly with pen and paper than I can with a computer.  If some hand-written notes turn out to benefit from digitization later, I can quickly dictate them into text using my Android phone.  Capture and synthesis the most difficult and valuable part of the process, digitization falls far down on my list of priorities.

The last point in the Atlantic article mentions note’s usefulness in court, but I find them useful in any setting where differences in recall or opinion might creep in.  The power of the scribe is a well-known and very useful phenomena, essentially, the person who creates the written record (notes, legal agreements, historical interpretations, etc.) have a special power over the written record of the event.  Harold Innis has an interesting perspective on the power of the scribe through history and in the refinement or entropy of our current civilization.

I came across a very simple implementation of the ideas from the Atlantic article in the Cornell Note Taking Method.

Duly noted!


The Bookless Library?

No longer an oxymoron at one New England private school.

See the debate in the New York Times here.

The Head of School says that the school is simply ahead of the curve in meeting student’s new research and reading habits.

Are those habits serving the students well?  Is learning simply about collecting information efficiently?  Matt Mullenweg, founding developer of WordPress (Yeah Matt!), finds that he reads more with a digital reader than he did with print books.  Read his views and those of other media luminaries here.

I, as you may have guessed, side with those who believe that the long focus, the peaceful contemplation, that the reading of a real book allows can lead to  deeper thinking.

I think of reading as having a long conversation with a mind from another time and place, and probably a much higher IQ level, than mine.  If I hurry through this conversation with a TV on in the background (links, tools, maybe even ads around digital content) what are the chances I’ll get all I could out of the exchange?

Actually, for me, the reading is only the first step.  I think the digital life-style, with it’s self-created quick-cut editing, is the real issue because of its focus on quantity and speed.  Time to reflect, to sift, store, and record your understanding of what you’ve read and it’s implications for your life are where the real work of learning takes place.

If anything, we probably read too much of the wrong stuff these days… scarfing down intellectual potato chips, while the nutritious foods and the slow chewing and  digestion they require remain untouched and undone.

With all the media we consume these days, it seems to me that we need to ask ourselves one question before taking on any reading:

Is there a good chance that I will change the way I work and live from what I learn here?

If the chances are slim, put down the media and walk outside.  If you’re looking at media, ancient or au courant, that stands a good chance of refining or elevating your personal philosophy or understanding of yourself or others in a way that will lead you to make different choices and take different actions tomorrow, read on!

Even more classes summer 2009

Reading, Thinking, and  Writing Skills

Writing Intensive: Letting ideas flow onto paper

The big questions: Why can we speak so freely but freeze before a blank page?  How can we warm up to writing freely and comfortably, pouring your heart and mind onto the page?

The content: Will be of our own creation!

The skills and activities: Walking to activate the mind and imagination, writing exercises to reconnect heart, mind, and hand.  Maybe even some drawing to heighten our observational sensitivities.

Laughing at Life

The big questions: What makes writing funny?  How can everyday occurences become hilarious stories?  What in a person lets them create a laugh riot out of what thousands of others simply endured?

The content: Mark Twain’s Roughing It (Enriched Classic Series)

The skills and activities: Deep reading, finding what makes us laugh, writing our own humorous takes on the situations and characters we meet each day.

Great People



The big questions: How did Gandhi become, well, Gandhi?  What was his personal and spiritual path to such amazing moral and political leadership?  How might we convert this knowledge into wisdom for living our own lives?  Why would an intelligent, sane man shoot one of the greatest men who’ve ever lived?

The content: Gandhi An Autobiography: The Story of My Experiments With Truth, Godse’s Deposition/Confession Essay.

The skills and activities:  Deep reading, walking, discussion, exercises in voluntary simplicity, journaling.

Thomas Jefferson

The big questions: What in Thomas Jefferson’s life formed him into such an extraordinarily influential thinker, writer, and inventor? Would it be possible for Jefferson to reach the same heights in today’s world?  What would make this extraordinary outcome more likely in today’s world?  Less likely?  What can we do about this in our own lives?

The content: Selected letters and writings from the heart and mind of Thomas Jefferson.

The skills and activities: Walking, deep reading,  letter writing, journaling, drawing our own inventions or homes.

Emerson and Thoreau

The big questions: How shall we live? What can a couple of Transcendentalists from the early 1800’s tell us about our lives today?  What are Transcendentalists and what are they transcending?  What should we work on today?  How should we relate to others today?  How can we possibly relate to others who lived long ago?

The content: Selections from Emerson’s essays “Self-Reliance” and “History” and Thoreau’s “Walden”

The skills and activities: Deep reading, clear thinking, lively discussion, walking, voluntary simplicity exercises.

Moving Modern Tales

The Book Thief

The big questions: How can reading literature help us even when Death is all around us?  What if our personal values conflict with those popular around us?  Are we humans beautifully good or brutally bad?

The content: The Book Thief by Markus Zusak  A moving tale of a young girl’s life inside Nazi Germany during WWII.  We will dive deeply into this page-turner of a book written for young people but moving for any reader with a beating heart.  An amazing fictive feat!

The skills and activities: Walking, deep reading, lively discussion, inner picturing and drawing to heighten imagination and reading enjoyment.


A Time of Gifts: From London to Constantinople on Foot

The big questions: How can a young person step out into the world in a positive, life-affirming way? What happens inside us when we travel?  How do we savor every drop of joyful learning and living from our travel experiences?

The content: Patrick Leigh Fermor’s A Time of Gifts: From London to Constantinople on Foot – Walking through the Netherlands, Germany, and Austria in 1933 with the most extraordinary young man on this amazing adventure.

The skills and activities:  Deep reading, walking, journey/pilgrimage planning,  drawing, lively discussion, map reading, orienteering.

Ill Met by Moonlight

The big questions: What makes a mission impossible possible?  Is there anything in this world that can connect even sworn enemies in the depth of war?

The content: Ill Met by Moonlight by W. Stanley Moss – British operatives have kidnapped a German general. Can these gentlemen soldiers smuggle him off the island before they are captured by thousands of Nazi soldiers?  A true, completely engrossing story.  Not glorifying of killing or brutality in any way, therefore in adventure.

The skills and activities: Walking, capture the flag, deep reading, lively discussion, map reading and orienteering.

Military History

First Person Shooter: Literature from the Front Lines (WWI and II)

The big questions:  When the firefight ends, some soldiers settle into their muddy dugouts and pull out pen and paper.  What did they write?  How do these veteran writers portray warfare?  How is their portrayal different from the portrayals in today’s popular movies and games?  How do we turn this knowledge into actionable wisdom?

The content: Selected poems and novel passages from Brooke, Sassoon, Graves, Ledig.

The skills and activities: Deep reading, walking, clear thinking, capture the flag, journaling,  and some drawing.

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Deep Reading

The books that help you most are those which make you think the most. The hardest way of learning is that of easy reading; but a great book that comes from a great thinker is a ship of thought, deep freighted with truth and beauty.  – Theodore Parker

Learning to read deeply requires patience and practice.  Mortimer Adler and  Charles van Doren wrote the classic How to Read A Book to teach us how.

Students today seem to focus on speed as the ultimate reading skill.   We all bathe in huge, cresting seas of information.  But how much of it do we really process?  How much of it makes us really think?   How much is “deep freighted with truth and beauty?”  Are we avoiding reading anything we think is over our heads?

Here’s what Mortimer Adler himself has to say about that:

If you never ask yourself any questions about the meaning of a passage, you cannot expect the book to give you any insight you do not already possess.  – Mortimer Adler

See Mortimer Adler speak on this topic here (highly recommended)

My goal is to help teach students the skills to elevate their minds with what’s over their heads.

The Process

  • First, we start by slowing down and looking closely at sentences, using the Grammar tools that make up Part One of the Trivium.
  • Once we figure out the meanings of the nouns, the relationships implied by the verbs, etcetera, we move on to looking at the logic of the thoughts in sentences, paragraphs, chapters, and entire works.
  • Finally, we analyze using Part Three of the Trivium, the Rhetoric. in search of elegance and persuasive power.

Waving iron near iron won’t sharpen it.  We must bring our minds into close, friction-heated contact with greater minds to be sharpened.   This work happens with greater ease and predictability when a tutor (that’s me) is close at hand making sure no one gets cut in the sharpening process.