Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Helping Build Lifelong Learners by Andrew Jobson

One of my greatest struggles as a teacher is to find ways to actually impart knowledge to my students; in other words, to go from telling the students something to seeing them make new ideas their own.  Along with that is the challenge of getting them to not merely regurgitate what I’ve said, but to engage the ideas and adapt them to their own understandings—to do battle with the ideas rather than merely memorize them.

I have often used Francis Bacon’s famous essay about books: the one where he says “Some books are meant to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and some few to be chewed and digested” (or something very close to that).  I recently discovered a more recent writer who provides additional ideas for students on how to read a book actively.  Mortimer Adler was the father of the Great Books series, and I’ve been reading his 1940s classic How to Read a Book.  It’s good, but a very short essay entitled “How to Mark a Book” may be even more useful thanks to its brevity.  It’s easily located on the web.

Adler argues that “marking up a book is not an act of mutilation but of love.”  He distinguishes between those who “own” books by holding them in pristine condition on their bookshelves, and those who truly own books—whose books are all “dog-eared and dilapidated, shaken and loosened by continual use, marked and scribbled in from front to back.”

Most of my students, if they mark books, merely underline large swaths of text.  Adler provides some additional suggestions to actively read and understand (and to test one’s understanding) a challenging text.  I think I’m going to have all of my students read this essay early in the year.

You may find it useful as well. 

Do you mark up books?

An educator of 22 years, Andy Jobson has taught government, economics, and U.S. History. Currently teaching English literature at Riverside Military Academy in Gainesville, GA, he’s also been an administrator, a STAR teacher twice, and taught elementary school with Teach for America.