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

Learning to Read

Written by: on September 20, 2018

My six-year-old is learning to read and it’s fascinating. I don’t remember my own literacy journey, so it’s interesting to figure out how to shape someone else’s. It seems like Eli came out of the womb understanding and utilizing the power of communication. In fact, he started talking at 10 months, was using complete sentences that included words like “actually” and “literally” used in correct contexts by 12 months, and now, at six, will regale just about anyone who has an ear to hear with his takes about first grade and his best friend “Elle”. While he’s been quick to speak, helping him understand the power of the written word has been a challenge.


I grew up as a reader. I remember hours upon hours devouring my favorite books. I prided myself, and still do, on just how fast I can read. But as progressed on my journey through undergrad and then a Masters, I realized rather quickly there is a difference between reading quickly and retaining much. In their work on how to read a book, Adler and Van Doren aptly state, “…Given the same thing to read, one person reads it better than another, first by reading it more actively, and second, by performing each of the acts more skillfully” [1]. I have found over the course the of the last three weeks, that I drastically need to increase my active reading skills.


As I progressed through the book, I found myself matching the intensity of the reading levels to the situation around my kitchen table. Adler could have been sitting in my home with my son as he described the first level of reading, or Elementary reading. I have watched over the few weeks since starting first grade, as Eli has been moving through the process of discovering words on a page. “At one moment in the course of his development, the child, when faced with a series of symbols on a page, finds them quite meaningless. Not much later – perhaps only two or three weeks later – he has discovered meaning in them…” [2]. He goes on to state, “This discovery of meaning in symbols may be the most astounding intellectual feat that any human being ever performs – and most humans perform it before they are seven years old!” [3]


In later chapters, I was reminded of my own literary insights through graduate school. I remember sitting in my first quarter of graduate school at Fuller and a professor named Charles Van Engen explaining to a group of eager seminarians the power of skimming a book. In fact, as I read these words, it could have been Adler, not Van Engen reciting them, “Skimming, or pre-reading is first first sublevel of inspectional reading. Your main aim is to discover whether the book requires more careful reading. Secondly, skimming can tell you lots of other things about the book, even if you decide not to read it again with more care.” [4] That professor taught me much about how to survive graduate school. But having been out of it for nearly seven years, I find my reading skills to be quite rusty.


I found later chapters of this book to be very helpful and insightful as I consider the ample amounts of reading in front of me. I anticipate returning to this book often as I start this program. The tools of learning how to do analytical reading have already been dog-eared in my book. Learning what a book is about, interpreting it’s contents, and criticizing a book a communication of knowledge[5] are practical tools I can turn to when the reading feels overwhelming. I have been reminded of the power of active reading, and that activity is truly what makes a reader great.[6] As I sat and read to my son tonight at bedtime, I reminded him that reading takes time and practice. It does for me too.

“If you are reading in order to become a better reader, you cannot read just any book or article. You will not improve as a reader if all you read are books that are well within your capacity. You must tackle books that are beyond you, or, as we have said, books that are over your head. Only books of that sort will make you stretch your mind. And unless you stretch you will not learn”[7]

I think the next three weeks will stretch my son as a reader as much as the next three years will stretch me. I’m excited that he and I get to learn and re-learn to read together.


[1] Adler, Mortimer Jerome, and Charles Lincoln Van Doren. How to Read a Book. Touchstone hardcover edition. ed. 9New York: Simon & Schuster, 2014) 6.

[2] Ibid, 24.

[3] Ibid, 25.

[4] Ibid, 32.

[5] Ibid, 161-162.

[6] Ibid, 328.

[7] Ibid, 329-330.

About the Author


Karen Rouggly

Karen Rouggly is the Director for Mobilization in the Center for Student Action at Azusa Pacific University. She develops transformational experiences for students serving locally, nationally, and internationally. She completed an MA in Intercultural Studies at Fuller Theological Seminary and is passionate about community development, transformational service and helping students understand vocation and service. Karen is also an active member at the Vineyard Church Glendora where she is a small group leader and serves on the teaching team. She is also a mom to two sweet boys, wife to an amazing guy, and loves being a friend to many.

7 responses to “Learning to Read”

  1. mm Tammy Dunahoo says:


    Our grandson is six and his name is Eli too. It has been so special to watch him grow in his reading and understanding. I am amazed how quickly he has learned and how it is feeding a voracious appetite for more.

    Reading the closing remarks of this week’s text regarding the unlimited ability of the mind to grow, I am encouraged that whether 6 or 57 we can do this.

    • mm Karen Rouggly says:

      How crazy! Is his name “Eli” or is it short for something else? Ours is just Eli! This journey with two young ones has been so fun and I can’t wait to hear about your grandkids!

  2. mm Harry Fritzenschaft says:

    It must be an amazing experience to “relearn” how to read along with your Eli learning to read for the first time. Wow, I wish someone at Fuller Houston would have taught us the skill of skimming or inspectional reading of books! Thank you for reminding us that active reading requires that we read “above our heads” to stretch our minds and stretch our thinking. Blessings, H

  3. mm Rev Jacob Bolton says:

    The gift of communication is so inspiring. You and Eli are communicating in new ways as he learns to read. I can imagine him reading street signs aloud or reading things lying around the house, and both of your worlds expanding with his new found skill. Prayers for you both as you read together!

  4. Hi Karen. The last 3 weeks have definitely stretched me in my reading and writing. I hope and pray I remain flexible enough that I don’t snap. Hahaha! But yes, just like you, I love the idea of getting stretched in my reading and writing. It’s definitely one of the major reasons I decided to pursue a DMin.

    There are some authors whose ideas I absolutely love, but their writing is dense and grammatically structured in ways with which I am unfamiliar. Many times I’ll read about five pages of it and then be happy and hopeful that I get half of it. When I share those novel ideas with my learned friends, they’re impressed but they have no idea that I have not understood the rest of it. And I find that it’s totally ok, even when I admit that in conversation. At least I know my limits and it further helps me evaluate if a certain reading is worth the extra time and effort.

  5. mm Sean Dean says:

    Every week or so we get about 40 books from the library for the kids to read. Two of the kids are in 5th grade now, so the lion share of those books are at that level, but our youngest is in 2nd grade and struggling to learn how to read. In spite of this he keeps going into the pile and grabbing his brother’s books because they look more interesting to him. I think that a lot of us are like my son, desperately wanting to get into the more interesting books, but needing to get through the books at our own level first. I think this book is the step up most of us need to get to that next level. I will certainly be keeping a copy next to me as I start diving deeper into the process of absorbing information for the dissertation phase of the program. Thanks for your post.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *