If you wish to move items from your surface, short-term memory to long-term storage, you must process them in some way. Each person has his unique way of going about that, but the important point is that it must be processed in the mind. Simply hearing or seeing is not enough except for certain rare individuals.
Dr. Ruth Beechick, The Language Wars and Other Writings for Homeschoolers
There are several ways to interact with the books we read and enhance our studies.
- Narrate. The simplest and most direct way to interact with literature is to tell someone what you have read. You must understand what you have read before you can explain it to someone else. In the process of narrating or explaining what you have read, you have to organize the material. In the process of organizing you are processing the material in the mind. Many times these narrations simply bubble up out of a child without any encouragement other than an open and interested expression on mom’s face. For others, a bit more encouragement might be needed. “Tell me what you read” is a rather broad suggestion and can be intimidating. Here is where it is helpful to read ahead of your children. By knowing the material yourself, you know what type of prompts might elicit an interested response. The objective is not to test that your child has read the material, but rather that he has understood and interacted with what he has read. It has been said that you can judge how much a person knows about a subject by what he can tell you about it. Likewise you can tell how much someone understands what he has read by how well he is able to narrate it to you.
- Discuss. If we are reading ahead of our children, then discussions are not only a way to process and interact with literature, but also a way to mentor our children, train them in the way they should go, pass along our worldview, and train them to question and measure everything they read in light of God’s Word. A discussion also provides an opportunity for sharing observations that one party may have missed or points of view they might not have considered.
- Mark a book as you read. There are many ways to do this, such as making simple notes in the margin reflecting thoughts of the author with which you agree or disagree and why, underlining key points as you go along, writing questions in the margin that the author has answered in the text, or writing a summary of each paragraph, section or chapter in the margin. This type of interactive reading and the processing it entails is where real learning takes place.
- Highlight. Similar to marking a book, highlighting helps us remember words of the author that stood out to us as we read. These quotes can be compiled after we have finished the book. Think of this as reviewing. If the book is borrowed, or for some other reason cannot be marked, scan with a pen scanner those words you want to keep. Another option is to use a post-it-note to mark a page you want to return to later.
- Write a Review. Wouldn’t you love to be able to hold in your hands a written record of every book you have ever read along with the thoughts you wrote down afterward? Not only would such a record be an interesting review, it would also be a reflection of growth in your life-long learning pursuit. Reviews don’t have to be the typical “why I liked/disliked this book,” but can include notes on issues taken with the author’s point of view, plot devices that worked (or didn’t), endings you would have preferred, how the pace of the book fit the topic, or a detailed, written narration. Writing down our thoughts as we read a book is a sound way to retain the information we have read. Books on which I have read and reflected after reading will stay with me much longer than those on which I have simply closed the cover.
- Keep a notebook. Maintain a notebook of your favorite authors along with comments reflecting your thoughts about each book you have read.