Thursday, 1 March 2007

Reading & note taking

When it comes to book lists, I'm the proverbial horse led to water. I often find that recommended texts just don't speak to me. If I find myself nodding off as I read, I usually don't force matters; I'd rather look for a different publication. But once I find one I do like, there's no tearing me away.

Lately it seems that Thursday afternoons are the right time to have a long session in the library. I sit, read for up to 20 minutes, stretch, then try to write a summary in my notebook. If I have doubts or can't understand something, I write that down, too, much as I have been doing on this blog. My aim with notes is to make them as short as possible. For me, it's the act of note-taking which has the real value; the finished notes are usually just memory aids.

One thing I've learned the hard way is to keep a list of what I've been reading and sources I'm planning to cite as I read. Even if I end up including less than half of it in the finished essay, it's always time well spent. Referencing is tedious enough already without compounding the pain.

40 comments:

susan olsburgh said...

Lynn, do you create your citation list on paper or straight into Word?

Lynn said...

Hello Susan,

I always do everything by hand on paper, only using Word for later drafts. Writing always seems easier like this.

I usually create individual references on index cards, summarising the point made and adding the details of the source.

Anonymous said...

I am exploring reading & notemaking strategies for my part in the Learn Higher CETL ... and I found your approach to reading and notes very interesting.
I agree with you that the act of making (short) notes is a learning process in itself - valuable even if you do not really use the notes again.
There is some doubt as to the efficacy of that approach 'out there' so it is interesting to find you writing of it here.
I DO very much like the way you note questions & problems as you write. It may be easier for you in that you do appear quite a self confident person. HOW would you encourage that approach in those that feel less confident in an academic environment?
ALSO - like the reading record on index cards. Do you refer back to old cards for new assignments?
Best
Sandra

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Hi Sandra,

Oh yes, old cards often prove invaluable for new assignments, sometimes those which aren't obviously related to the one which spawned the original research! It's also quite fun to shuffle through them occasionally just for the hell of it.

I really welcome your question about strategies for students who aren't academically confident. Hesitant though I am to offer any study advice to anybody, I'd encourage all students, even ones who are happy with their performance, to continually explore new study and writing techniques. Go to learning support classes, borrow books from the library, talk to friends, and basically play with the suggestions they make. Find things that work - not every study technique works for everybody by a long chalk. Don't ever feel that you're somehow doing it wrong just because you appear to be doing it differently.

Being confident in a learning environment is definitely directly proportional to involvement in the academic experience. It's important to realise, I think, that confidence is situational. It needs to be actively nurtured, and it can also be imported from areas where we have it (and I've yet to meet a person who is completely unconfident in every area of life). So, even if your statistics class turns your legs to jelly, there will probably be a different course which makes your heart sing with joy. Ask yourself why that is, and try to use your conclusions to build your confidence.

For example, I find being a student emotionally challenging because it means continually admitting to myself and others the fact that I don't (yet) know stuff, and don't (yet) have certain skills. This is obviously the shadow side of the joy of learning, and I believe it's quite key to keep the two sides in balance lest I get overwhelmed by a disproportionate sense of lack of mastery. The trick for me is to play to my strengths. I like writing, so I write down my joys and confusions and speculations. If my particular strength was organising things, or drawing, I would be inclined to use those to help me find a way to tap into my inner swot.

Finally, I'd also say that it's better to focus on your own learning experience than to compare your performance with that of others. There will always be some annoying person genuinely doing brilliantly (or exaggerating their marks), and comparison is always disheartening. Cultivate the knack of appreciating your own strengths and weaknesses and resist the temptation to compete. Despite certain appearances to the contrary, university isn't a race.

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