Friday, March 20, 2009

Stages of Study

Stages of Study refers to how far into your current particular item of study, essay, article, textbook chapter, classroom lecture you have gotten or intend to get.

Initial Study

First stage of study - acquiring the information that you intend to make your own. At the completeion of initial study you will have acquired recognition depth of knowledge. The other three depths of knowledge are not coordinated with the stages of study.

There are two types of pre-reading: skimming and scanning. Skimming is for well organized material, such as textbooks; read section headings and the study questions for chapter and study vocabulary list before reading the text. Scanning is for less well organized material, such as essays, and is similar to speed reading, where you go through the material quickly looking for general structure and organization and for keywords, basically, you're trying to pick-out of the text the sort of things, section headings and vocabulary lists that are explicitly presented in textbooks.

Outlining provides brief record of information gained by skimming. A good outline condenses the material, organizes it for learning, helps you to separate what you already know with what still requires work, and helps you to avoid the mistake of thinking you know something to the recall or understanding level when you are actually at the recognition level. The most common error when outlining is to write down too much.

Read through the text noticing arguments and supporting information for the points you made note of in the pre-reading and outlining. Mark after you read, not while reading. Mark only the important points - never whole sentences. Use the same mark or symbol for the same purpose throughout the text. Try to use consistent marking throughout all of your studying, it will make reviewing your studies in the future easier.

Notetaking: where possible take notes in text as a complement to underlining. If you can't take notes in the book, you need to copy or summarize enough of the context that your notes will make sense when you come back to them. Summarizing the context is important - there is little that is more irritating than coming back to your notes a year or more later only to discover you can't remember what, specifically, they are refering to.

Attending Class is an essential step in reception involving classes. Always do the required reading; in class look for added insights and information. It's a waste to take class notes on what's in the text. For new material you need to take detailed class notes, for example, if the class isn't using a text, the instructor is developing a new approach, or there is a lot of new material expanding on or updating the text. Rework your class notes as soon as possible after class to fix the information in your mind.

Organizing Information

Putting the material you gathered in Initial Study into shape for learning it in Internalization. The most important factor in internalization is repeated exposure to and paying attention to the material. Many forget the "paying attention" part. When organizing the material for study, you need to keep it in mind, and build the organization of the materials to be reviewed so that it will help hold your interest.

Vocabulary building is extremely important. You need to notice new words, organize them for study, and learn them. Almost all fields have distinct vocabularies, including words that look like common words but have distinctive meanings within that field.

Diagramming visually organizes facts, helping you to fit them into a framework for remembering and understanding them:

a) Hierarchal or Family trees

b) Time or Life Line - historical or functional (for example, biographical or laying out an experiment)

c) Concentric Circles - diagrams of software and operating systems commonly use concentric circles

d) Geometric Shapes - triangles, squares, cubes, etc - phase diagrams in chemistry and thermodynamics are an example using triangles.

e) Symbolic Representations - maps, graphs, figures, et cetera

Lists of facts can be treated similarly to vocabulary when individual items are more important or as one-dimensional diagrams when the relationship between items in list is more important.

Internalizing Information or Acquiring Knowledge

Internalization is the step of making the information yours. Converting information from books and lectures into your knowledge.

Methods of internalizing information depend on the depth of knowledge you want to acquire. Recognizing is a lot easier than remembering; which is easier than explaining or using.

The most important factor in internalization is repeated exposure to and paying attention to the material. As in organization many forget the "paying attention" part. The deeper the knowledge you need of your subject, the more important "PAYING ATTENTION" becomes. I have a good memory and can usually reach basic recognition level simply by reading through the material once. Being able to use information, to make it my knowledge takes a LOT more work. For a long time I deluded myself that I could understand the material because I could follow along with the explanation easily enough as I read it. But you do not truly understand something until you can explain it in your own words from memory.

Summarizing the material in your own words or by diagramming the material or discussing it with others who have also been studying, or have studied, it also helps you to make it yours.

Trying to come up with questions about the material is probably the best way of internalizing the information.

Aphorisms are useful and important, not as a "substitute for thinking" which is what many disdain them as (and some people actually do use them as), but as reminders and prods. For getting things done, aphorisms are even more useful than most of the other techniques people have developed, because they are more likely to be recalled when you are ready to flake than more complicated systems and formulas. You can also come up with mnemonics, acronyms, or visualizations to help internalize your studies.

Demonstrating Knowledge

Demonstrating your knowledge by transmitting it (teaching or writing) to others or by using it to construct a working device. Taking tests works when nothing else is available. Sometimes even when you can use other means of demonstrating your knowledge testing is useful, for example, standard tests more easily let employers compare you to other applicants.

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