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The Four Levels of Reading, Summarized for High School

how to read a book

Besides the Bible, How to Read a Book  by Adler and Van Doren (link is to my review) has been the foundational book of our high school at home program. It is an intense volume that teaches readers how get the most out of any book they read, as well as how to decide which few of the millions of available books are worth the effort.

As both a homeschooler and a reviewer, I dip into this book regularly, and recently I took some notes on the levels of reading most relevant to high school students.

The First Level of Reading: Elementary Reading

– the reading normally learned in elementary school, and also the level that remedial college reading classes often address. This is foundational, and any student who does not read fluently should focus on mastering this skill.

The Second Level of Reading: Inspectional Reading

-the art of skimming systematically to get as much as possible out of a book in a given amount of time, to learn everything that the surface alone can teach you. Most people do not realize the value of such inspectional reading, and “are thus faced with the task of achieving a superficial knowledge of the book at the same time that they are trying to understand it.” p 19

-two aspects:

Inspectional Reading 1: Systematic Skimming or Pre-reading, in which you have a limited time to decide if you want to read the book

  1. Look at the title page and the preface.
  2. Study the table of contents.
  3. Check the index to see crucial terms and look up passages containing them.
  4. Read the publisher’s blurb on the dust jacket.
  5. Look at the chapters that seem to be pivotal to the argument.
  6. Turn the pages, dipping in here and there, reading a paragraph or two, sometimes several pages in sequence, never more than that.

Note: When I’m deciding whether or not to read or assign a book, I usually first check out online reviews (GoodReads, Amazon, specific reviewers).  If I have the book already, I usually start with the conclusion, and then move to the Table of Contents and the introductions to sections of chapters if there are any. If, before trusting the author’s judgement, I want to see what kind of research he or she has done, I begin with the bibliography, acknowledgements, and footnotes. Because of decades of practice, I usually know before steps 5 and 6 above whether or not I will want to read the book.

Inspectional Reading 2: Superficial Reading

“In tackling a difficult book for the first time, read it through without ever stopping to look up or ponder the things you do not understand right away.” If you go to the dictionary or other secondary sources prematurely, you will only be impeding your reading instead of helping it along. In fact, in your effort to master the fine points prematurely, you will miss the big points that the author is making (miss the forest for the trees) p 38.

Note: This is especially relevant when studying something like Shakespeare: first read an outline of the play, then watch it, and only after that begin the detailed study, as discussed here and in the comments here.

The Third Level of Reading: Analytical Reading

-thorough reading, the best you can do; an intensely active process that is complex, systematic, and, I would say, deliberate. “Reading a book analytically is chewing and digesting it… and is preeminently for the sake of understanding.” p19

Note: Most books are not worth this much effort, so choose carefully.

Stage 1, Rules for Finding What a Book is About:

  1. Classify the book according to kind and subject matter
  2. State what the whole book is about with the utmost brevity.
  3. Enumerate its major parts in their order and relation, and outline these parts as you have outlined the whole.
  4. Define the problem or problems the author is trying to solve. p 95

Stage 2, Rules for Finding What a Book Says (Interpreting its Contents)

  1. Come to terms with the author by interpreting his key words
  2. Grasp the author’s leading propositions by dealing with his most important sentences.
  3. Know the author’s arguments, by finding them in, or constructing them out of, sequences of sentences.
  4. Determine which of his problems the author has solved, and which he has not; and as to the latter, decide which the author knew he had failed to solve.

Stage 3, Rules for Criticizing a Book as a Communication of Knowledge

A.General Maxims of Intellectual Etiquette

  1. Do not begin criticism until you have completed your outline and your interpretation of the book. (Do not say you agree, disagree, or suspend judgement, until you can say, “I understand.”
  2. Do not disagree disputatiously or contentiously.
  3. Demonstrate you recognize the difference between knowledge and mere personal opinion by presenting good reasons for any critical judgement you make.

B.Special Criteria for Points of Criticism

  1. Show wherein the author is uninformed.
  2. Who wherein the author is misinformed.
  3. Show wherein the author is illogical.
  4. Show wherein the author’s analysis or account is incomplete.

The Fourth Level of Reading: Syntopical Reading

-comparative reading in which one reads many books on a topic, compares them, and constructs “…an analysis of the topic that may not be in any of the books.” p 20

Note: This level is beyond many high school students but is very worthwhile for any older teen or adult to learn.  I may write detailed notes on it later.

Of course, in its 400+ pages How to Read a Book contains an enormous amount of explanation of these points and also applies them to various different kinds of reading. I highly recommend the book for high school students and anyone else who learns from books, and  hope that these notes encourage you to study the book.

For a detailed discussion of how we use it in our homeschool, read my review .

This is linked to Saturday Reviews, Booknificent Thursdays, Literacy Musings Monday, and The Book Nook

For more encouragement, visit Finishing StrongTrivium Tuesdays, Raising Homemakers, Titus 2 TuesdayR&R Wednesdays.

Disclosure: I bought this book second hand many years ago.  I am not compensated for this post in any way and have provided my own honest opinion.

Review: Side by Side by Edward Welch

Side by Side

Each one of us is needy, and the longer we live the more we understand how deep our need is. However, we may not all realize that we are needed too; even though we may be a mess, God commands us to care for our brothers and sisters in their neediness.  In Side by Side: Walking with Others in Wisdom and Love, Edward Welch addresses these two aspects of living in God’s church.

We are needy.

We all have issues and therefore we all need spiritual encouragement. Because Satan is so powerful and subtle, we need help in our circumstances, our neediness, and our temptations. We need help turning to the Lord in each new situation, and we need help opening up our lives to others so that they can encourage us.

We are needed.

Others need our help in the same way that we need theirs. Of course, that is a scary thought and leads to two questions:

1.If that is really what God wants us to do, how are we equipped for such a delicate and important task?

God works through ordinary people with the Holy Spirit’s love and wisdom, and we ordinary people can help others. We do not need to be professionals to show Christian love and care.

2.Well then, how do we go about it practically?

The rest of the book guides Christians to developing deep, God-centered relationships with others. From simple greetings, God-centered conversations, and compassion, to prayer, facing temptation together, and dealing with sin, Welch provides detailed examples of ‘how’.

Throughout the whole book Welch reminds us that it is easy to get lost in the course of helping each other. We need to keep the gospel story in mind and let it shape our lives. Then we can, from personal experience, apply it in many different ways as we help each other and as we talk to ourselves.

In conclusion, Welch points out that we need help in helping each other. This is undoubtedly true; most problems are complex and we cannot deal with them on our own. Beyond that, we also need support ourselves as we care for others.


Welch only very tentatively points to the need for engaging skilled professional help in case of physical danger. Though the whole book is about countering our natural tendencies to leave issues to ‘the experts’ and our paralysing fear of making a mistake, he goes too far.

Since up to 20% of North Americans suffer from mental illness, we need to know when to seek professional help. Love from fellow-believers is crucial, but it is not always enough. For serious issues, including mental illness and especially when a life is in danger, we need to rely on professionals, just as we would with cancer, a broken leg, or even the common cold. And, because we may need to provide such help immediately, we should be aware of crisis phone numbers and other emergency resources.

Another caution: Sometimes our stories, temptations, or sufferings involve others; the line between being open about ourselves and inadvertently sharing things about others we are involved with can be very narrow. The other side of the coin is that confidentiality is crucial when we are walking side by side with others. As Welch mentions, often we need help in our helping, even if only to enable us to bear the load, and it is important to make decisions in advance about whom to confide in and how to go about getting permission.

Note: As Blind Spots (link is to my review) so clearly reminds us, we are each different, with different ways of reaching out and walking side by side with sufferers. Some people will gravitate more to providing practical help, such as soup, rides to medical appointments, and passing on job opportunities; others will tend to focus on sharing the truth of the gospel; others are more equipped to listen and provide emotional support. All of these are crucial aspects of life in the church, and a congregation where all of them are practiced will thrive.


So, would I recommend Side by Side? Absolutely, though with the above considerations. This book is an important and practical guide to life in the church. It emphasizes that we all are broken and in hard circumstances, and that we all need the gospel and each other. It points out that helping is not leading from the front, or pushing from behind, but humbly walking side by side. And it encourages us to do all this in love.

As Professor David Murray said, “This book of practical spirituality … made me feel both more needy and more needed. A rare double blessing!”  Side by Side is a blessing, indeed, and should be part of every church library.

Note:  A free Leader’s Guide for group study is available from the author.

This is yet another book in the in the 2015 52 Books in 52 Weeks Challenge and is also linked to Saturday Reviews, Booknificent Thursdays, Literacy Musings Monday, and The Book Nook

For more encouragement, visit Raising Homemakers, Titus 2 TuesdayR&R Wednesdays.

Disclosure: A review copy of this book has been provided by Crossway Books and Beyond the Page.

The First Week: A Fish Fossil!

FIsh Fossil

Last week was a short week, full of learning and happy discoveries.  Truly, if the school year continues like this, we will be blessed in many ways.


Finding a fish fossil on our first nature walk.  We were just clambering over some rocks when Miss 13 saw it.  Amazing!  And when a non-Christian acquaintance puzzled over how that fish got into the rock, I was able to plant a tiny seed,  “There must have been some huge catastrophe.”

Hearing my most anti-learning child exclaim, two days in a row, “I like this schoolwork!”

Reading aloud Journey Through the Night under the butternut trees, even when the chairs are still damp from the rain.

Listening to Miss 17’s enthusiastic stories about her university classes, what she has learned, and what she will be learning.

Background Work:

Math review for both girls.  Miss 13 is making a math notebook so she can have all the concepts she so often forgets at her fingertips for easy review and reference.

Lots of reading in many different books.

For language learning:  Duolingo, Dutch in Three Months, and a children’s book (in Dutch) about the geography, history, and culture in the Netherlands.  We’re ignoring French for now.

King Alfred’s English instead of grammar. So far we’ve been enjoying its history aspects, including a peek at Stonehenge (link to my resource list).


Preparing for a family trip.  Cooking, laundry, gardening, neatening, shopping, encouraging, giving backrubs, smiling, praying, and so much more…including slamming the car door on some precious fingers.  She’s OK, thanks be to God.


I finished Men of Iron by Howard Pyle, and am currently reading King Alfred’s English, How to Really Love Your Child, Joy at the End of the Tether, Tales of Ancient Egypt, and 2 Kings.

Reading with the family:

Journey through the Night, Ecclesiastes, the Illustrated Family Bible (link to my review), and Acts.

Recommended Links:

To ensure that this will be a successful school year, to God’s glory, I am focusing on 6 Tips for a Successful School Year and 7 Tips for Moms Who Want to Model the Joy of Learning.  Of course, the basis for both is to read the Bible regularly.  If this is a challenge for you, here are 6 Tips for Bible Reading.

If you want to see more great links, carefully curated from all over, follow me on Google Plus.

This post is linked to Kris’s Weekly Wrap Up and Finishing Strong.

Review: Show Me Thy Ways by Gertrude Hoeksema


I have just given away our well-used grade 4-6 Bible curriculum, all three years’ worth. It is another bittersweet moment marking the passage of time, and now it seems fitting to reflect on this quality resource.

Show Me Thy Ways, for grades 4-6, is an intense Bible curriculum, full of meaty ideas, Bible reading, maps, questions, and vocabulary words. Each lesson—and there are three a week—includes a Bible passage, an introduction, a detailed outline explaining many aspects of the passage and making it personal, a summarizing point to remember, and vocabulary….

You can read the complete review at the Curriculum Choice.


Crazy Things, Blissful Moments, and Books

WP_20150905_004 (500x397)

The last three weeks of our summer:

Crazy Things

Whenever my husband mows the grass near the beehives, he gets chased by hordes of angry bees and is forced to leave the lawnmower behind while he flees at top speed. Obviously he no longer mows there.

One week Mr. 20 worked 80 hours in 5 days. I am so grateful he survived the driving involved!

Miss 17 and her friends spent half an hour in a torrential downpour waiting for a friend.

The vet told us one of the dogs had discolored teeth, so the next time one of us tossed away an old toothbrush, Miss 12 scooped it out of the garbage can and used it to brush his teeth.

We picked some beautiful raspberries for a friend, put them in a yoghurt container for her to take home…and then gave her a half-eaten container of yoghurt instead of the raspberries.

Blissful Moments

The above bouquet was given by one sister to another. I don’t know who enjoyed it more, the giver, the receiver, or me, watching it happen.

Miss 15 and I saw a flash of red flying above the car. It was not cardinal red and the bird was not the shape of a cardinal, so most likely it was a scarlet tanager. So beautiful!

When I walked out to the garden one morning, a hummingbird dove at me; probably I was too close to its nest. A little later, Miss 12 exclaimed that one of the hummingbirds had actually brushed her cheek! What an incredible experience!

Whenever possible we read aloud outside, under our butternut trees. During the story Miss 15 noticed a digger wasp beginning her nest, and a few hours later I watched the busy insect drag a paralysed spider into the nest and seal it up with sand.

Life is very busy and stressful these days, but for 45 blissful minutes after I finished reading an exciting chapter from Journey Through the Night to the girls, I stayed behind under the butternuts and skimmed the rest of the chapters. (Everyone should read that book once a decade.)

And there were games: cross crib, cribbage, Settlers of Catan, chess, as well as the online game, Tanki, that has finally given Miss 12 a reason to want to learn languages.

Some mornings I wander out through the dewy grass to pick an apple.


This summer we did not travel so we were, finally, able to get to some home projects. We gave away boxes of books, the gentlemen of the family went through their clothes closets, and I got rid of a few piles of homeschooling resources.

My husband rewired the stove, put in a new range hood, and moved books and bookcases around.

We bought a ‘real’ bed (the first one in 26 years of marriage) and I sewed a bedspread with fabric I bought at least seven years ago, before I became ill.

We started fermenting vegetables, part of my doctor’s urgent prescription to keep me from getting ill again.  So I’m sleeping and relaxing as much as possible, saying ‘no’ to most requests, eating as well as possible, and cutting down on anything I possibly can.

Schoolwork: Our casual holiday schoolwork these past three weeks involved Drawing Textbook, 21 Lessons for 20th Century Music Appreciation, Duolingo, and Dutch in Three Months.

Personal reading (with links to my reviews): I finished Disciplines of a Godly Woman, Minds More Awake, Drawing Textbook, Overcoming Adrenal Fatigue,  The End of Illness, Death in Florence, Flight School, and 1 Kings. Currently I’m reading King Alfred’s English, How to Really Love Your Child, and 2 Kings.

Reading with the family: Journey through the Night, Ecclesiastes (with Joy at the End of the Tether to help make sense of it), and Acts.

Recommended Link:  Although this was a speech to a graduating class of teachers, all Christian homeschoolers should read The Passion of a Reformed Teacher each year.  Even if you are not reformed, you will still benefit from this discussion of teaching.  In fact, you will probably find that point 3, which emphasizes being reformed, largely mirrors what you believe.

If you want to see all the great links I share throughout each week, follow me on Google Plus.

This post is linked to Kris’s Weekly Wrap Up and Finishing Strong.

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