Monday, November 25, 2013

Learning to learn. A couple of tips.

Don't you hate those boring bloggers’ explanations of why they have not posted anything recently? I do…. But it is so hard having exams every damn week!!!
… So, to avoid (or reduce) the chances of looking at your paper like this

I'd like to share two study techniques I learned a couple of weeks ago and at the same we give life to this blog again.

Dr. McGuire gave a talk on metacognition and how to teach undergrad students. The talk was, obviously, for teachers. I still don't know what I was doing there. But I did learn a couple of good techniques that I thought worth sharing.

Metacognition is the ability to think about your own thinking and judge your own learning. And by developing these skills you are able to determine at what level of learning you operate. Some classes, for example, it was said ‘high school classes’, operate at the lowest level of the blooms’ taxonomy (understanding, remembering).

Actually, one of the points of this talk was to discuss the effect of the way of learning in high school on the results of some first year college students in science classes. Most of the examples were of students failing terribly or with very poor performances. The idea was to teach college teachers how to teach students to study, using metacognition. This is, teaching them the differences between the levels of the pyramid. I hope you can read some of what each level is in the picture below. Everything was explained in the talk, here isjust a brief description. But there are tons of materials on the web about bloom’s taxonomy.

After reviewing each level, Dr. McGuire explained several techniques to move higher in this taxonomy. And the best was when she actually presented results of people who use them and improved. But not improve like, ‘oh a slightly improvement’. No!!! Some were serious cases of people who got to be the top after having been on the verge of leaving university. It was very impressive.  

I know, definitely our context is different, high school and college education doesn't work same for us. But still, I think it is not difficult to understand these levels and place ourselves, according to how we usually study and learn and then possibly we could also improve, be better learners, despite the differences between the education systems. So, let’s do it then.

The first technique was aimed to improve reading comprehension. Usually we have to read several chapters before one exam or review several papers for a particular assignment. It happens to me very often that I lose track of what I’m reading after two or three paragraphs and realize I was just wandering around. Then I have to read again from the beginning, and the cycle is repeated several times until I finish all the text, but often it is necessary (at least for me) to read more than once. Especially with scientific texts where there is always a new term or a concept to remember. It turns out this is very common, while reading something new you want to learn, it may take time, and one can get easily distracted. So, to deal whit this it was suggested to create a big picture of the text before starting to read. Like when you buy a new book, you usually look at the cover, the back cover, you read the description, and you see the pictures. It is advisable to do same thing for text books and scientific papers, at least when you are learning the topic for the first time. Then, while reading, it is recommended to read by paragraphs. This is, reading ‘one paragraph at a time’, stopping after every paragraph and writing down whatever you understand; it can be a sentence, a couple of words or a paraphrase of the content.

In the end, you will have a nice summary of the text. It seems that one will take longer to read in this way, but this is not true. Because by reading paragraph by paragraph, is no longer necessary to read again. Imagine that you move through the text as if you watch a movie for a few minutes, and then play it back and watch same part again, scene by scene. By the time you finish the movie you will remember everything more clearly. Hope this make sense for you. It did for me.  

I determined to try the technique. Two weeks ago I had to read four chapters on a fairly quite boring topic (for me) and it worked. And the best was that I read the whole thing only once!

The second and last technique was about mathematical thinking. Many people is not very good at math. Usually we learn by doing a lot of examples, a lot of problems. But this is a problem when something that is not similar to the examples comes. For this, it is necessary to actually read the theory behind, whatever the math book explains before going to the examples. I know, this sounds obvious but some students jump immediately to the examples. 

I tried this technique once, and it worked. But much of this was because the teacher in charge of my math class always gave us quite difficult tests, with problems requiring more than plugging numbers into formulas. Knowing how to solve the examples in the book wasn't of much help if you didn't have an idea, at least, of what was the purpose of each equation and how to interpret the results. 

Well, that’s it. A couple of tips. Hope someone out there find this post a bit useful. 

So, even if in your school it is not required to operate at the level of analyzing information and creating solutions/ideas in order to get good grades, it doesn't hurt to try to go higher on your own. Finally, get good grades is not the ultimate purpose, right?

Ok, having said that. I'll read you all on Saturday!

The slides of Dr. McGuire are available online. I don’t own these two pictures of the blooms’ taxonomy, both are from Dr. McGuire slides. 

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