A Spark Station Letter – Remember what you read using commonplace books

by Mary Ann on February 26, 2011

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Kane, the reader!

Children love to receive mail. I have even sent mail to my children when they were living at home.  It is a great way to get a child’s attention when you want to share. I used this particular Spark Station Letter to help my fourteen year old grandson see what I was doing with my own education; to share my excitement and enjoyment of learning with him. He had just discovered the joy of reading and I wanted him to know how much I loved reading too. I also wanted to teach him how to remember what we read and that learning is really all about us. This is a part of what mentoring is and helps you to be a mentor to your children and grandchildren.

Dear Kane,

Do you know who George Wythe was? He signed the Declaration of Independence, and was a delegate to the

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George Wythe, Statesman and Mentor

Constitutional convention. He was the first law professor in America, a famous judge, and a Chancellor of the State of Virginia. He was a very great teacher. One of his students was Thomas Jefferson. He wasn’t a teacher in the normal way of thinking. He was a mentor to Jefferson. He actually mentored two presidents, two Supreme Court justices, over 20 senators, representatives, governors and judges. That was his greatest legacy, his ability to help people learn love to learn.

What is mentoring?  How did Wythe mentor Jefferson? He asked Jefferson what he wanted to learn and then he would help him set up a course of study. Then Jefferson would read all the classics that Wythe suggested and write about what he had read and have discussions with his mentor and others. That is how he did it. He had Jefferson read, write and then discussed what he learned with him.

Jefferson was so well educated that Pres. John Kennedy said this about him when he was hosting a group of Nobel Prize winners; this is “the most extraordinary collection of talent and human knowledge that has ever been gathered together at the White House – with the possible exception of when Thomas Jefferson dined alone.” I LOVE that quote.

Thomas Jefferson picture

Thomas Jefferson

The cool thing about Jefferson was that he didn’t have as much formal education as he did education with a mentor and reading the classics. So he basically taught himself. Of course you know that is the very best way to learn anything – to study it out for yourself and then find someone who knows more about the subject you are studying than you and then talk to them.

Jefferson was very articulate in English, and spoke Latin, Greek, Spanish, Italian, French, and more than 10 Native America dialects. He was a master in law, physics, mathematics, theology, philosophy, zoology, and chemistry. He was an accomplished farmer, attorney, businessman, and inventor. He served as United States Minister to France, Secretary of State, Vice President and finally president. He was founder and president of America’s first university. He wrote the Declaration of Independence, the Statute for Religious Freedom and other notable works. In short he was amazing, as well as  knowledgeable. That is a very short biography of Thomas Jefferson. : )

I really like Thomas Jefferson and have a wonderful painting of him hanging in my home. I have an extra if you ever want one.  Anyway, the reason that I am telling you about him is because I wanted to share something about him with you. When he was young and was trying to learn things he kept a book called a Commonplace Book. It was basically a journal of what he studied and learned each day. I was thinking about the wonderful books that you have been reading and thought you might like to keep a Common Place book. You could write a bit about what you read each day and your thoughts about it. Every time you read a new book you could write a summary of what you learned, thought and felt about what you read. This practice is what helps us really learn and remember.

This has been on my mind for a reason. I have two mentors – one is helping me learn to think more deeply and meditate. The other helps me with major projects I have at work and in life, to stay on track and make progress. They both assign me books to read. I am reading about 6 books right now, all at the same time. I try to read a few chapters out of each one every day. Whew.

When I complained to one of my mentors that I felt I just wasn’t getting enough out of the reading she flatly said that it was because I wasn’t doing any work to remember. She said that I just read, which is what most of us do. So I am keeping a Common Place book of sorts now. I write down things that I learn or that I want to remember as I go. She is right; I am learning more and remembering more. Just thought you might like the suggestion. Oh, by the way, this works whether you are reading a science book, a philosophical book or a work of fiction.

Let me know how you like the books that I sent you. I would especially like your thoughts on the Giver.



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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Jody Jarvis February 26, 2011 at 5:15 am

What a great idea. Oh, and let us know what he thinks of the Giver (we love that book).


Mary Ann March 4, 2011 at 12:39 am

I’d like to know what you think of the book. I enjoyed it too. I like reading children’s and youth books. You can learn a lot!


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