Writing In Books is Vital to Real Learning

“Are you kidding me?” I asked in amazement. “Are you serious?”

The girl must have been surprised by my intensity, because she asked carefully, “Is something wrong?”

“Are you seriously telling me that your parents don’t want you to write in your own books as you read?” This time I questioned her in a more relaxed tone.

“Yes. They got very upset. I told them you taught the whole class to write in our books, and you told everyone to buy their own copies of each book specifically so we can write in them. I even told them that you said without writing in books we won’t learn nearly as much. But they were still mad at me.”

I couldn’t believe it. “But I know your parents,” I said, “and they’ve attended TJEd seminars and trainings for a long time. How did they never get the message that writing in books is vital to real learning?”

“I don’t know,” she replied. I could tell she was starting to get annoyed that I seemed frustrated with her instead of her parents, so I just smiled and said, “Well, I have a recommendation for you, if you’re willing. Would you please tell your parents that they absolutely must read the book Turn the Page and that it’s one of the best books they’ll ever read?”

She agreed, and I felt better. But this isn’t the only time this has happened, so I just had to write about it again.

Seriously, writing in your books is hugely beneficial to a good education.

Please consider ways to stitch this and frame it, or maybe carve it in marble and hang it on your wall for others to read. Or just blanket your email lists with this article. Whatever it takes. We’ve got to get the word out: Writing in your books really improves learning!

The Wrong Rule

I don’t think most people can actually get a the most out of their education without writing in their books. It adds so many dimensions and layers to their thinking—not only the first time you read a book, but every time you read it thereafter.

I’ve written so many articles and given so many speeches on this topic, and I’m excited to keep doing it. For some reason, many people have been taught that writing in our books is a bad idea. But it is an essential tool of quality learning, and it has been so for generations!

Scholars and leaders from time immemorial have participated in the Great Conversation by dialoguing with authors and readers in the margins and endleafs of their books. Of course, for the most part, these were elites who could afford a personal library.

Since the advent of lending libraries and widespread book sales, we of the “common” folk now have access to books – but we haven’t really given ourselves permission to “own” them, as great thinkers in the past did. Somehow we aren’t good enough, our thoughts aren’t great enough, to be worthy of recording.

I disagree!

We are not a subspecies, a separate race from these “supermen”, and the demands of free people to think and know are no less now than in times past. In fact, they are perhaps even greater!

A Great Discovery

TurnthePageAnd now, finally, I’ve found a book that really teaches this principle, and teaches it well. Turn the Page is a must-read for anyone who wants a great education. You’ll want to read and reread it, and you’ll want to pass it on to every one of your children, friends and students—anyone who loves reading. For example, here is just one quote from Turn the Page:

“[W]rite in your books! Don’t write in other people’s books, but do write in yours. Write in the margins. Write things like “Wow!,” “I disagree,” “!,” “?,” “So true!,” etc. Write out sentences or just a word or two in the margins. Underline key sentences and circle great passages.

“Also take notes in the blank pages at the front and back of the book…. ‘As you read, use notations, stars, smiles, exclamation points, etc. When you finish a book, go back and read your own highlights and underlines before putting the book on the shelf. Discuss what you’ve read with someone soon after reading it, and apply what you’ve read to something in your life immediately….’ [C]reate an outline of the book in the pages at the back of the book, and keep a list of new vocabulary words in the front….

“[M]ark the most important pages by leaving sticky notes, or folding down the corners. This allows you to really own your book, and your learning process.”

Have a Conversation

Guess what I wrote in my copy of this book, next to these quotes? “Right on! Exactly! Perfect! We’ve got to help people learn this message. It will have such a huge impact on quality education. Teaching people to read the classics is good, but without writing in the classics, they’ll never get a truly great education!”

I just wish the book had wider margins so I could write a lot more.

So, seriously, write in your books! This will have a huge impact on the depth and quality of your learning. It’s also really fun, and helps you retain what you’ve learned so much better.

In short: Follow the three rules! Let’s increase great education far and wide…

Mentor Summary:

Rule 1- If you don’t write in your books when you read, start.

Rule 2- If you do write in your books when you read them, do more of it.

Rule 3- Teach others to do the same.


For help in engaging your education, and mentoring others in their learning, join us for Mentoring in the Classics >>


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