Reading group guide for EA groups

post by Risto_Uuk · 2018-03-12T18:59:08.793Z · score: 13 (11 votes) · EA · GW · Legacy · 5 comments

Contents

  What is a reading group?
  What are the goals of a reading group?
  How to set up a reading group?
  How many members should a group have?
  Where to meet and when?
  Organizing the first and next meetings
  “Ice breakers” for the first meeting
  Leading discussions
  How to read philosophy?
  How to evaluate the impact of a reading group?
  What are the best practices for taking and using notes?
  Guidelines for being benevolent and charitable in discussions
  Sample discussion guide for Doing Good Better
    Introduction and chapter 1:
    Chapter 2:
    Chapter 3:
    Chapter 4:
    Chapter 5:
    Chapter 6: 
    Chapter 7:
    Chapter 8:
    Chapter 9:
    Chapter 10:
  References:
None
4 comments

Hi, 

I'm Risto Uuk and I run EA Estonia. We started organizing reading groups last semester. We tried to find relevant guides for that, but weren't able to find anything comprehensive in the EA community. Because of the need, we started to create a guide ourselves. It's a draft and would benefit from all kinds of comments. Here's the link to Google Docs: http://bit.ly/2p9kLgj. Everybody is welcome to make suggestions. Thank you for your time in advance!

What is a reading group?

Reading groups range from a few friends who meet regularly to talk about particular books that they have all read, often sharing a few bottles of wine to ease the discussion along, to more formal meetings, perhaps led by an academic, which explore literature in a more structured manner, rather like a seminar.

Many reading group members find their reading becomes more rewarding, more focused, and that exchange of ideas with others can provide a whole new slant on a book. Readers in a rut will be introduced to books they would never have thought of reading, thanks to the recommendations of other group members.

What are the goals of a reading group?

The goals of effective altruism groups generally are to find and foster the development of people who are highly dedicated to, have a sophisticated understanding of, and have skills relevant to ‘doing the most good’, and to integrate these people into the broader effective altruism community.

Along these general lines, there can be a variety of different goals for a reading group such as to have intellectual entertainment, improve philosophical or scientific understanding, and inspire actionable steps in readers' lives to make the world a better place.

How to set up a reading group?

The easiest way is to start is with friends, family, colleagues and acquaintances. EA groups often already have done this to a lower or higher degree and therefore have a list of people to invite to these events. That is a better option, because these people are probably already interested in effective altruism. But by attracting people you don’t know, you are likely to be introduced to books, authors, and ideas that are new to you as well reach new people to promote EA to.

How many members should a group have?

The average reading group has 6 to 10 members. This allows for a really good discussion, from several different points of view, and should allow for everyone to be able to make a contribution. Also the size won’t inhibit shyer members.

Where to meet and when?

Some groups meet in local bookshops, in each other’s homes, village halls, pubs, or university rooms. It has to be a venue that will be comfortable, accessible and relaxing for all members. If it is in people’s homes, make sure there is enough room to accommodate everyone, and that everyone takes a turn with the hosting where possible, so that no one person has to cope with the catering and clearing up afterwards. Getting everyone together for an initial meeting is always difficult, but try and gauge what time of day, and day of the week suits the majority. Use that time for the first meeting, and then when you have that initial gathering you can discuss future dates and times.

Organizing the first and next meetings

Try to make the first meeting really relaxing and informal. You could use the ice breaker questions below, to get discussion flowing. It might be an idea to ask people to bring along their all time favorite book, or a book that they really can’t get into to start of the conversation.

“Ice breakers” for the first meeting

Leading discussions

There should be a moderator who leads discussions. He/she should be well-prepared with notes, open-ended questions, comments, etc. He/she can focus on definitions/concepts, arguments, evidence, examples, and main claims. He/she may also summarize what has been said and make conclusions based on that.

The moderator should moderate enough but not too much. If he/she dominates too much, then others get to share their ideas less and probably feel less motivated to continue having discussions. If the moderator doesn't participate enough, the discussion might get too broad and lose focus or turn into an unproductive one.

How to read philosophy?

  1. Approach the text with an open mind – philosophy at its best is a fair-minded and fearless search for truth. Avoid making a judgment before you fully/fairly understand ideas and arguments. Try to maintain a neutral attitude, presuming that the author is neither right nor wrong. When you make a judgment, ask yourself what reasons you have for that judgment.
  2. Read actively and critically – philosophical reading is intense, it cannot be rushed, it must be slow and deliberate. When you read philosophy, you are usually trying to follow the arguments closely. Ask yourself what key terms and passages mean, how the argument is structured, what the central thesis is, where the premises are, how key ideas are related, whether the main conclusion conflicts and compares with other propositions or philosophical writings. The whole point is to discover whether various claims are worthy of acceptance. 
  3. Identify the conclusion first, then premises – first find the main conclusion, then search for the premises that support that. There may be several arguments.
  4. Outline, paraphrase, or summarize the argument – you can test your grasp of the argument by outlining, paraphrasing, or summarizing it.
  5. Evaluate the argument and formulate a tentative judgment – understanding is the first step, the second step is to make an informed judgment. The judgment is your evaluation of the argument – whether the conclusion follows from the premises and whether the premises are true.

How to evaluate the impact of a reading group?

Use a feedback form after every session, after some sessions, or after reading an entire book. For example, these questions could be asked:

In general, the impact can be evaluated according to how much participants enjoyed the discussions, how much they learned, and how much it influenced their beliefs and life.

What are the best practices for taking and using notes?

Laptop, tablet, smartphone, and printed paper can all be used for notes during the discussion, but each has its benefits and downsides. Laptop is larger and may disturb eye contact as well as increase the chance of multitasking, while a smartphone is smaller and better for communicating but makes it difficult to take notes during the discussion. What works then is to take notes in a notebook and transfer them to a computer later. Printed paper seems least convenient.

Guidelines for being benevolent and charitable in discussions

Sample discussion guide for Doing Good Better

Introduction and chapter 1:

Quotes:

Questions:

Chapter 2:

Quotes:

Questions:

Chapter 3:

Quotes:

Questions:

Chapter 4:

Quotes:

Questions:

Chapter 5:

Quotes:

Questions:

Chapter 6:

Quotes:

Questions:

Chapter 7:

Quotes:

Questions:

Chapter 8:

Quotes:

Questions:

Chapter 9:

Quotes:

Questions:

Chapter 10:

Quotes:

Questions:

References:

5 comments

Comments sorted by top scores.

comment by Jeffhe · 2018-03-12T19:41:34.948Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

Hi Risto,

You've done such a thorough job, well done!

One tip I would add under "How to read philosophy" is to read on when something in the book isn't making sense, instead of spending a lot of time trying to make sense of things on the spot. The reason is because, oftentimes, later passages help to clarify what the writer meant by earlier passages, where these earlier passages can be hopelessly hard to understand or precise-ify without having read those later passages.

P.S. I'm new to this forum and would appreciate it if I could get some likes so that I could make a post! Thanks.

comment by Richenda · 2018-04-09T20:22:52.394Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

I've added this to the EA Groups Resource Map: https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1ATRWGcN3GLouaWJIa6Za3xbLe5nuk0CQHhwhsBLTDvA/edit#gid=0.

Thanks Risto!

comment by Risto_Uuk · 2018-04-26T05:18:28.176Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

Thanks for putting it on EA Groups Resource Map! I think it'd be better if the link was to the Google Docs document rather than to this forum post, because we might edit it in the future.

comment by cassidynelson · 2018-03-15T01:43:02.219Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

Thanks Risto,

This is great! EA Melbourne had its first reading group last weekend, and we did a Peter Singer paper for the first session. I think your questions list will come in use for our next one and I'll bring it to the group.