Using a reading chart to show structure
On the previous page, we considered the book by Mortimer Adler and Charles Van Doren called How to Read a Book (1972), The process of creating a Reading chart was Explained. Here is a copy of my reading chart for the Book. (I learned about Reading Charts at the Ecumenical Institute in Chicago in 1964.)
This chart is awkward to read, both because it requires scrolling down the screen and because it is a vertical chart. A small, less complete version is shown before so you can see how much easier it is to interpret a horizontal chart. It is hard to read the details but the basic structure of the book is clear. The Table of Contents provided
most of this information.
Skimming a few chapter provided the rest of the information.
It took less than 30 minutes to create a clear image of the structure of the book.
Although the authors do not refer to the book as The Four Levels of Reading, that is clearly what the book is about. Distinguishing the four levels took a little searching, but the information was there in the Table of Contents. Chapter two actually says “The Levels of Reading.” That means chapter one is the introduction to the entire book and chapter two is a second introduction, this time to the idea of four levels of reading. Since chapter 20 is the fourth level of reading, chapter 21 is clearly the conclusion.
With this outline alone, the reader know a great deal about the book. The next step should be obvious. The reader needs to understand what is included in each of the four levels. We would hope the reader will also be asking which level she is on and what she should do to move up to the next level.
Reading the book with this chart as a road map, makes it easier to find and understand the main ideas.
I will, however, for those who will not make the effort to read the book, summarize the four levels.
1. Level 1 is Elementary or very basic reading. The reader tries to understand what the words say. The authors don’t identify the ages or grades, but this sounds like first and second grade. It is the time of Learning to Read.
2. Level 2 is Inspectional Reading. The reader is trying to learn what the book is about. This is what educators call “Reading to Learn.” Students focus on simple facts. More advanced readers use Inspectional Reading while skimming. They are looking for facts, not taking the time to understand ideas and concepts.
3. Level 3 is Analytical Reading. Clearly, this is the reading students should have begun to use in high school and continue to use in college. The authors divide Analytical Reading into three stages.
a. Stage 1 involves asking what kind of book you are reading and what is the book about.
b. Stage 2 involves discovering the author’s purpose and message.
c. Stage 3 involves evaluating the book, agreeing or disagreeing with the author.
They then provide a long list of chapter on how to use analytical reading in different subjects.
4. Level 4 is called Syntopical Reading. They explain that this could also be called comparative reading. It involves reading many books on a topic as you would for a serious research paper, comparing their information, conclusions, and general perspective. The student then should construct their own analysis of the topic. This seems to be intended mainly for graduate students.
Would you remember more from this book by reading it cover to cover, or by studying this chart and skimming for further details for clarity? Obviously you would learn most by creating the chart and studying it, then reading the book carefully for details.
When should you create a Reading Chart?
A Reading Chart is especially helpful with well-organized material, from a paragraph or short paper, to a complete book. It is usually NOT HELPFUL when studying a textbook. Textbooks often provide a great deal of factual information grouped into chapters but they rarely have an overarching main idea. It can sometimes be helpful to organize the sections of a chapter.
A Reading Chart is helpful when reading articles. Here, the author always has an important idea and they have structured the material much like you would in an essay. There should be an introduction, a number of main ideas, often with subpoints, and a conclusion. When you create a Reading Chart, you understand both the structure of the paper and the main ideas better. You will also find it easier to remember what you read. When you put effort into creating a visual like this, you can often picture it mentally, and thus remember the main ideas.
Never dismiss the first and last paragraphs or sections and “Just an introduction” or “Just a conclusion.” Reading the Introduction and Conclusion carefully can provide background information as well as helping you understand the organization of the complete work.
The next page will give another list of reading levels and then explain a simple, but very effective method for understanding and remembering what you read
Improve Your Reading Skills using other strategies: Integrative Reading