DMin, Leadership and Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Active Reading is Like Active Listening

Written by: on September 20, 2018


While I acknowledge my sociological designation as a Baby Boomer, I would say that reading is fundamental to all learning. Adler admonishes us towards active reading, where we “catch” more of the author’s material in direct correlation to the amount of effort (or activity) we invest in the process.[1] Of course, as Adler has inferred, good reading skills tend to provoke critical thinking and thoughtful reflection leading towards the fulfillment of reading and learning, understanding.  That is, reading skills plus God’s gift of our magnificent brains elevates us progressively from a state of less to one of more understanding.[2]

Reading must be an educational skill that is commonly accepted and expected across many fields and many levels of learning. I say this because I am now starting my fourth post-secondary degree and this is the first book on reading I have encountered since elementary school. My undergraduate degree was a technical degree that was primarily mathematics and engineering focused. The reading volume was less and focused on factual information. Not surprisingly, not much emphasis on reading beyond the core requirements of history and English. My first master’s degree was in business where I read many case studies and wrote many analytical papers. While the volume of reading and writing increased tremendously over my undergraduate studies, reading skills were never addressed while analytical, and synthesis skills were of paramount importance. When I segued into vocational pastoral ministry, I spent thirty-five years reading to develop materials to be preached and taught. While much reading was happening, little of the art and skill of reading was addressed.

I then realized a dream to finally attend a seminary where I am working to complete an MA in Theology by December. Again, while reading huge volumes of material and much writing, I acquired the first inklings of reading both as an art as well as ongoing developmental skill. I was taught to consider context, the author, the reader, whose voice is being heard and whose voice is not. That is, not only reading what is before me but was is behind and between the lines of the text as well as what is not included in the text. How I wish I would have had Adler and Turabian’s books in beginning my seminary studies as my reading and writing skills, have stumbled along simply trying to mimic my peers and reflect my professors’ graded comments. Initially, I was a bit dubious about the inclusion of these texts. However, as I work my way through these texts, I am now so grateful they have been included in our first-semester coursework. I feel my reading, understanding, and therefore my writing will measurably improve and hopefully culminate in my dissertation research.

I began this post by declaring that active reading is similar or like active listening. Much like reading, listening is expected (and sometimes demanded) and therefore communication is assumed (of course, right?). Along with my pastoral role for our local congregation, I have become trained as a national mentor coach for our Association of Vineyard Churches. That is, I coach church planters, pastors, and other coaches for the Vineyard. As a side note, I hope the journey of my doctoral studies will open relationships and doors to establish coaching networks globally. In a nutshell, coaching is active listening and asking powerful questions. Inevitably, new coaches will tend to fixate on asking the perfect question at the perfect moment to assist the one being coached (the coachee) towards transformative personal growth. My five years and almost three hundred hours of coaching have taught me the more foundational, more critical skill is active listening. That is because active listening is not “natural,” easy, or convenient. Active listening must be incredibly intentional and demands an exhausting amount of energy of the coach.

While every analogy breaks down at some point, I will try to mine some nuggets from the analogy of active reading and active listening (as a coaching skill). The first level of active reading is elementary and focuses on what was said (or perhaps stated in the text). Even at this level, misunderstanding can take place if we are reading to refute or endorse a source according to one’s working theory (or perhaps listening to respond). The second level of active reading is inspectional or skimming systematically. I liken this to stepping back from the trees to observe and examine the forest. Active listening requires one to hear both the details presented as well as an objective sense of the metanarrative of the given story. The third level of reading is analytical or ruminating on the material. Active listening requires reflecting upon what has been heard by checking in with the coachee periodically and often restating what the active listener (coach) thought they heard (here the analogy weakens because we as active readers are unable to check in with the author about their intent). As active readers, our focus at this level is striving to gain understanding from the text (as active listening coaches, we would be trying to assist the coachee towards finding clarity). Finally, we have the fourth level of reading which is syntopical where we place the books we have read concerning a common subject in relation to one another.[3] In an active listening coaching context, I would compare this to gaining understanding from coaching (actively listening) to multiple coachees and trying to draw some helpful observations concerning a common challenge (e.g., life and work balance). The foremost discovery from the different levels of reading is each requires considerably more effort to become proficient in the progressive skill set of reading. With this in mind, let us renew our active reading efforts.

[1] Adler, Mortimer J. and Charles Van Doren, How To Read a Book: The Classic Guide To Intelligent Reading, rev.ed., (New York, NY: Simon & Schuster, 2014) 6.

[2]Adler and Van Doren, How to Read a Book, 7.

[3] Adler and Van Doren, How to Read a Book, 17-20.

About the Author


Harry Fritzenschaft

Harry is the Coordinator of Coaching for Multiply Vineyard (the church planting resource arm for Vineyard USA) and part-time pastor of business administration for the Vineyard Church of Houston. He is a certified coach with the International Coaching Federation (ICF) and is pursuing a DMin in Leadership and Global Perspective with a focus on internal coaching networks. Harry has been married to Gloria for almost forty-two years and has two grown children; Michelle, who is married to Brandon and has two sons (Caleb and Judah), and Mark, who is engaged to Cannus. He loves making new friends (living and dead) from different perspectives, watching college football with Mark, and helping global ministry leaders (especially church planters and pastors) accomplish their goals in fulfilling their call. He especially loves learning about and nurturing internal coaching networks.

10 responses to “Active Reading is Like Active Listening”

  1. mm Tammy Dunahoo says:

    I take comfort in several of us experiencing a similar response to Adler’s book, “Where was this when I started my educational journey?” I had never considered the various levels and skill sets of reading. I had been taught some speed reading techniques but was never able to utilize them as I found retention lacking when I did. I am grateful to understand that this, like personal transformation, is a life long adventure.

    • mm Harry Fritzenschaft says:

      It really is a life-long adventure isn’t it? While regretting not having access to such helpful sources, I must confess I wonder if I would have valued and utilized them when I was younger. There is something to be said for life experience enhancing the value of those things we often take for granted when we were younger in our calling. Blessings on you and yours, H

  2. Hi Harry. I’m beginning to see a pattern that’s in all of us (cohort). Why wasn’t this (Adler) material taught early on? I think that’s a good question to explore. I really don’t know. I wish I knew. The one positive thing that’s come about from my less than perfect K-12 education is knowing what not to do.

    I have two boys, one is a freshman in college and the other is a sophomore in high school. We homeschooled the first and the second is currently being homeschooled. This is their choice. I can’t blame them when one considers the bankrupt nature of the CA school system.

    So while I regretably never got exposed to the great classics of Western Civ., my boys are steeped in it and I can already tell a difference in moral and intellectual strength from their peers who come from the public school system. Of course, it’s not for everyone and there are family dynamics to consider, but I’m just thankful that through my less than perfect educational experience I can help offer a better one for my boys.

  3. mm Harry Fritzenschaft says:

    I commend your obvious persistence and drive to pursue educational excellence. Despite what you feel were deficiencies in your secondary education, you have excelled in scholarly scope and development. I applaud the sacrifices you and your wife have made to provide a superior educational environment for your boys. Peace and blessings, H

  4. Mario Hood says:

    I love the coaching and reading analogy and found myself saying Amen a lot. As a society, it seems as though the default mode is passive for everything unless it’s to confront someone. Being active takes work and therefore being passive is less demanding of a task.

    As I was reading your post, I couldn’t help but think of Syntopical reading as community engagement. What I mean is it brings in the other into the conversation and allows for feedback on the issue(s) at hand. This looks like the Biblical aspect of community to me of living in relationship with others to speak into your life and you into theirs. No wonder it is the highest level of reading because it is not a solo act but community one.

    • mm Harry Fritzenschaft says:

      Wow, what an amazing insight! Yes, I so agree and that construct is so helpful. As we assemble our “community” of sources, they are speaking into our passion and calling and we also are speaking into the community at large. Well done, Sir! I look forward to hearing more insights from you in person, H

  5. mm Karen Rouggly says:

    Hey Harry,

    Good engagement with the material. I love how well you intertwined the skills of active reading and active listening. As you mentioned, active listening is an incredibly important skill but it must be honed and developed, similarly to active reading.

    I’ve also noticed, as Harry also pointed out, that we all wish we could have interjected this material earlier in our schooling career. I’ve been thinking through that and wondering at what point it would be beneficial. At what point is a student intellectually ready to read this way and actually use it to their advantage as opposed to an excuse to never read? I have some thoughts but I am curious to hear yours.

  6. mm Harry Fritzenschaft says:

    I have had some of the same thoughts about myself and my journey through life in general and graduate studies in particular. Had I been granted access to this material, would I have valued it? Would I have recognized how needful and helpful it would be towards my ongoing academic pursuits? For me, I suspect not. While not giving a concise answer to your great question about when is a student intellectually ready to utilize active reading skills, I am sure it would depend upon the student and their ability to see how these skills will open up access to a “community” (to quote Mario) of resources. Blessings on you and see you in two days, H

  7. mm Sean Dean says:

    Harry, I am liking the idea that reading is a form of active listening. I think far to often I listen to the books I’m reading in about the same way I listen to my kids as they argue over a Lego. It’s so easy to become passive in our reading, and listening, that if we’re not deliberate about it we could be spending large amounts of time looking at words and not catching any of them. And that would be a true travesty.

  8. mm Harry Fritzenschaft says:

    You are so right, we must be deliberate about reading or we will not catch any of the words. So you are so intuitive to intend in advance to get as much out of your reading as possible. Blessings on you as you pursue your passion and research, H

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