4 different reading levels

Do you know how to read?

At this point, since you’re reading this, I expect so. But it turns out that there are different levels of reading, depending on your ability and what you’re trying to learn. Each level builds on the previous levell

Elementary Reading

This is the simplest level of reading, when you just want to know what this sentence says. This is what you’re doing when you’re learning a foreign language.

Inspectional Reading

This is used to find out what the book/article is about. It can be done with skimming or superficial reading.

Skimming is when you read the different headings to get a gist of the structure, then go back to the beginning and read the first few sentences in each paragraph. This will give you the overall idea of the article, but nothing like real understanding.

Superficial reading is when you just read. You read every word, one after another. This is what we usually do when reading for pleasure, so it’s probably what you’re most used to doing. But again, it isn’t really about understanding.

Analytical Reading

This is where we get into really thinking about what we’re reading, but it takes more time and effort. You ask questions about what you’re reading and organize your thoughts. You take notes on what you read; perhaps have a bit of debate with the author. You’ll understand the material much better.

But we’re still not done.

Syntopic Reading

Instead of reading just one book/article, read different ones from different points of view. You actively compare the different books, evaluating the evidence and analysis provided. This is the highest level, and the most demanding of both time and effort.

When reading in school, at least in middle school, it’s best to be doing Analytical Reading. Think about what is being said. What does it imply? Are there things that are missing or that you’re confused about? Write things down in your own words summarizing what the author said.

Are your conversations going nowhere?

Sometimes it can seem that no matter what you say, you can’t get through. Many times this happens because of a framing problem. No, not carpentry framing, but conversational framing. Have you had a conversation with someone where you’ve had a bad day and you just want to complain about it, but the person you’re talking with keeps giving advice? You just need to get these things off your chest so you can move on, but it’s like the other person keeps putting up these speedbumps in the conversation that slow things down and makes the conversation kind of awkward. You’re having a framing problem. You want to complain and then be done, and your friend thinks you’re having some problems and just need some advice.

These two articles are about this. This one at lifehacker points out how it happens. It references this other blog post at lesswrong. You should really read the lifehacker one, as it is a good introduction. The lesswrong one is more in-depth.

I’ve noticed this happening at home, where my wife wants to unload and complain about something, and I want to be useful and give advice. It turns out that giving advice is something that males really like to do. But it gets in the way when the other person isn’t looking for advice. I’ve found that if I can recognize when I have that urge to give advice and then think “does the other person want the advice, or do they want to unload” helps to keep me from being the speedbump person and inadvertently making the conversation difficult for both of us.

This kind of self-reflection on something I’m about to do (give advice) and then backing off when it isn’t appropriate can really be useful in lowering the friction in a relationship.

Smarts isn’t the most important thing

Being a student is all about being smart right? If you’re smart you’ll do better in school. If you’re smart you’ll be more successful in life. Right? Right?

Well, not really. The most important thing isn’t IQ, or being smart, or learning things fast. The most important thing is grit. Grit is being determined, and able to keep going despite mistakes. It would be great if teaching how to do this were part of teaching curriculum. Please watch the TED Ed video.

Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality

Everyone knows that Harry Potter is a muggle born wizard who learns lots of magic at Hogwarts. Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality is a fanfic that redoes HP in a different universe where Harry’s adoptive parents love him, and have taught him science. Harry is already an extremely intelligent rationalist at the start, and the existence of magic throws him for quite a loop. He tries to apply the principles of science and logic to magic. I’m currently reading it (and enjoying it thoroughly), though it does get quite advanced in the philosophy of science.

Harry ends up in Ravenclaw, and (gasp) is friends with Draco.

“But let us talk of happier matters,” said the green-shadowed figure. “Let us talk of knowledge and of power. Draco Malfoy, let us talk of Science.”

… OK. Most of it is better than that. šŸ™‚

“Science isn’t for convincing anyone that the blood purists are right. That’s politics! The power of science comes from finding out the way Nature really is [and] that can’t be changed by arguing! What science can do is tell us how blood really works, how wizards really inherit their powers from their parents, and whether Muggleborns are really weaker or stronger -“

There’s also a website that has detailed information on the things Harry knows.

Politics shouldn’t get in the way of science

What does the word “theory” mean? Most of the time it means a guess, or having an opinion on something. But not in science. In science a theory is the best explanation for why and how things happen. It’s the best explanation we have so far, supported by lots of evidence. It might be wrong, and if there is evidence that it’s wrong then scientists will either change it to have it include that evidence, or throw it away for a different theory.

For example, we used to think the Earth was the center of the universe. After all, it looks that way. But it didn’t explain the motion of the planets. Copernicus proposed that the sun is at the center, with the planets orbiting in circular orbits. It explained reality better. Then Kepler proposed that the orbits are ellipses, which explained observations better. These theories were controversialĀ at the time because they went against Church doctrine that the Earth is the center of the universe. Now we accept the reality without problem because of the vast amount of evidence that we orbit the sun.

There are a number of current theories that areĀ controversial. Generally not because there is controversy among scientists, but because they are unpopular for other reasons, generally religious, political, or economic. Climate change is one of these. The amount of science supporting climate change, and the human causes for it, are enormous, and more is being found all the time. But to face climate change is to accept that our way of life is one of the causes forĀ it, and we’d have to change to try to stop it. This would involve lots of money, and changing our lifestyle. These are not things that come easily to politicians. Some people would rather stick their heads in the sand about it than actually face reality.

In Wyoming, the legislature has rejected the Next Generation Science Standards. Not because the standards are bad science, but because they don’t like the economic reality of it. The science standards were unanimously recommended by the Wyoming State Board of Education. Then the state legislature (lawyers, not scientists or educators) prohibited public spending to implement the standards. They want a new set of standards that better reflect the values andĀ economic interests of Wyoming. They’re upset that the NGSS includes climate change, and teaching it would harm Wyoming’s economy, which is the nation’s largest energy exporter, mainly in coal, natural gas, and oil. These energy sources produce CO2 and other greenhouse gases, leading to more global warming.

This kind of thinking harms science, harms the United States’ position globally in science, and hurts our children’s education. As Bill Nye said,

Science is the key to our future, and if you don’t believe in science, then you’re holding everybody back.


If you’re an adult and you choose not to believe in science, fine, but please don’t prevent your children from learning about it and letting them draw their own conclusions.