My professor in graduate school told the class to pick a subject in the field of human resource management. “Go read all the books you can find on the subject and write a 10- to 20-page report on what you learn.”
I found 12 books. Using the PhotoReading whole mind system I finished all the books and completed a mind map of my report—all in one afternoon. I wrote the report from the mind map and turned it in.
When the paper was returned to me it had only two marks on it: “100%” and “Excellent!” Never before in my undergraduate or graduate work had such a project ever been so easy.
My colleague Patricia Danielson, whose early contributions to PhotoReading led me to call her co-developer, refined the idea into an exercise called “syntopic reading.” She originally tested it in Europe, and it proved wildly successful.
The syntopic reading exercise enriches the learning of PhotoReading. To syntopically read, you must draw upon all the skills you have developed and go to the next level of mastery.
Imagine reading three to five books on a subject in just one afternoon. You can with the basic steps of syntopic reading described in this chapter.
How it works
Let us say you have an interest in a subject and find a book you really want to read. By PhotoReading and activating three additional books on the same subject, you can know the one book better. But here is the best news: it takes less time to apply our system to all four books than it takes to read one using your old reading techniques.
Think of reading as a path of lifelong exploration. As we follow this path, we soon discover there are opposing viewpoints on every significant topic. For the skilled reader, differing views create a tension that invites the next level of resolution. Syntopic reading provides a new vantage point and an easy route to the synthesis of existing viewpoints.
People who read well understand many sides of a topic and come to their own conclusions. Syntopic reading ensures that more of your ideas are based on your own thinking. This is done by exposing yourself to various viewpoints and choosing or constructing one that ultimately rings true for you. Your truth comes from your reasoning, overall knowledge, and reflection on experience—and not just from the last book you read. Often, in fact, you must read several books on the same subject to gain a deeper understanding.
The experience of one PhotoReading student demonstrated how easily she gained the advantages of reading multiple books on a subject. She had returned to school 25 years after high school to get her college degree in a local community college. Prior to taking an essay exam in her history class, she PhotoRead seven books relating to the subject she was studying.
She beamed as she described to me how the words flowed during the exam. She had never felt so relaxed and confident during an essay exam, and she proudly added, “I got an A on the exam!” She had naturally found the transition from PhotoReading to syntopic reading.
Syntopic reading was first described fifty years ago in Mortimer Adler and Charles Van Doren’s classic text How to Read a Book. Adler considered the thinking skills used in syntopic reading to be the ultimate goal of a well-read person. We added the skills of the PhotoReading whole mind system to syntopic reading to help synthesize ideas more efficiently.
One man in a class of mine was in a university doctoral program in education. Writing papers had always been a time-consuming problem for him. He would have to read several books, distill the information, generate his own ideas, and write the paper. After learning syntopic reading, he applied his skills to writing papers. He called me several months later. “This is unbelievable!” he exclaimed. “I cannot tell you how easy PhotoReading has made it for me. I can finish, in one afternoon, a paper that used to take me two or three days.”
How can it be? It is all in the basic steps of whole mind syntopic reading, which I will post next week.
- Paul Scheele