Learning Strategies for Students

person holding pencil near laptop computer

All students come to us with a certain set of study skills but most don’t realize that there are a variety of ways to approach and interact with materials and learning experiences in an educational environment. When students have struggles with their learning, often they do more of the same rather than trying something new; usually because they don’t know that there is something new to try. For students with learning disabilities, Learning Strategists are the best source of new ideas.

Students with learning disabilities, in particular, benefit from explicit instruction in strategies that mitigate the challenges in the education environment that their learning disability presents. But like many enhancements in our environment that we have made for persons with disabilities like automatic doors which help persons without disabilities as well, learning strategies can help all students. Here’s a couple of examples:

Two Finger Reading: If you are reading a textbook and come across a figure or chart, use two finger reading. Before reading the full text in the chapter about the figure, read the text beneath the figure. This often is a brief summary of the material presented and can provide a quick overview of the big picture. Place one finger of one hand on the figure. Place one finger of the other hand on the text in the chapter. This will help you keep your place in the text and on the figure as you move your attention between the two. Read a chunk of the full text that describes or explains the figure. Then shift your attention to the figure and trace the area of the figure that the text described. When you have reviewed that section of the figure, return to read another chuck of the full text. For more on reading see my previous post.

3 + 3 + 3 In Class: This strategy is to help shift your focus to the class that is beginning and prepare for new information as well as close a class before you leave. It involves taking three minutes before the class begins and 3 minutes at the end of class before you leave. Before start of class, take three minutes and quickly review the material presented in the last class. Scan your notes or other materials to remind yourself of what has come before. This can help you build connections between information presented from one class to the next and it wakes up your brain so that it is ready to receive new information. At the end of class, before you pack up and leave, take three minutes to quickly review the notes you have just taken and make a list of three concepts or ideas that were most important TO YOU. A quick review, coupled with decision making and writing down your list can help make the information more meaningful to you and increase the movement of information between short-term and long term memory.

While learning strategies and study skill instruction can help all students, for students with disabilities, working with a Learning Strategist allows for the exploration of strategies tailored to their particular learning needs. It can take some trial and error to find the method that matches the student, but the effort can mean the difference between struggling needlessly and making the most of a student’s finite study time.

Featured Image: Photo by Helloquence on Unsplash

Textbook Reading: You’re doing it wrong!

Stack of books

Reading to Learn

Active reading is a planned, deliberate set of strategies to engage with text-based materials with the purpose of increasing your understanding. This is a key skill you need to master for college. Along with listening, it is the primary method for absorbing new ideas and information in college. But active reading also applies to and facilitates the other steps of the learning cycle; it is critical for preparing, capturing, and reviewing, too.

In college, most professors do not spend much time reviewing the reading assignment in class. Rather, they expect that you have done the assignment before coming to class and understand the material. The class lecture or discussion is often based on that expectation. Tests, too, are based on that expectation. This is why active reading is so important, it’s up to you to do the reading and comprehend what you read.

Note: It may not always be clear on an professor’s syllabus, but the corresponding textbook chapter for the topics listed for that week should be read before coming to class.

Person sitting at table with book and notebook open
Photo by David Iskander on Unsplash

How Do You Read to Learn?

The four steps of active reading are almost identical to the four phases of the learning cycle—and that is no coincidence! Active reading is learning through reading the written word, so the learning cycle naturally applies.

Active reading involves these steps:

  1. Preparing
  2. Reading
  3. Capturing the key ideas
  4. Reviewing

Let’s take a look at how to use each step when reading.

Preparing to Read

Your textbook as a whole – Start by thinking about why your professor has chosen this text. Look at the table of contents; how does it compare with the course syllabus?

Your chapter as a whole – Explore the chapter by scanning the pages of the chapter to get a sense of what the chapter is about. Look at the headings, illustrations and tables. Read the introduction and summary. Understanding the big picture of the chapter will help you add the details when doing close reading.

Give yourself direction by creating a purpose or quest for your reading. This will help you become more actively engaged in your reading. Create questions to find the answers to in your reading using the headings of each section. You may also have learning objectives listed at the front of each chapter which could be turned into questions or you may have chapter review questions prepared for you at the end of the chapter.

Reading

Take the first question you have prepared and think about what you already know about this question. Jot the question down on paper. Begin to read the chapter and stop when you have found the answer.

Write down the answer in short form. Leave some space for additional notes you may want to add later and add the next questions. Continue reading this way until you are done the chapter or are done studying for this session.

Capture the key ideas

Before you put away your textbook and notes at the end of a reading session, go back through the questions you answered and pull out key ideas and words. You can highlight these, jot them in the space you left below your first answer or note them in the margins.

Reviewing what you read

For each question, cover up the answer and key ideas you have written. Can you still answer the question? Check your mental review against what you have written.

An open notebook on a wooden surface in front of a laptop
Photo by Nick Morrison on Unsplash

Additional Reading Tips:

The four steps to active reading provide a proven approach to effective learning from texts. Following are some tips you can use to enhance your reading even further:

  • Pace yourself. Figure out how much time you have to complete the assignment. Divide the assignment into smaller blocks rather than trying to read the entire assignment in one sitting.
  • Schedule your reading. Set aside blocks of time, preferably at the time of the day when you are most alert, to do your reading assignments.
  • Read your most difficult assignments early in your reading time, when you are freshest.
  • Get yourself in the right space. Choose to read in a quiet, well-lit space. Your chair should be comfortable but provide good support.
  • Avoid distractions. Active reading takes place in your short-term memory. Every time you move from task to task, you have to “reboot” your short-term memory and you lose the continuity of active reading.
  • Avoid reading fatigue. Work for about fifty minutes, and then give yourself a break for five to ten minutes. Put down the book, walk around, get a snack, stretch, or do some deep knee bends. Short physical activity will do wonders to help you feel refreshed.
  • Make your reading interesting. Try connecting the material you are reading with your class lectures or with other chapters. Ask yourself where you disagree with the author. Approach finding answers to your questions like an investigative reporter. Carry on a mental conversation with the author.

Adapted from College Success, University of Minnesota Libraries Publishing edition, 2015. Original licensed as Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike.

Featured Image: Adapted from Photo by Kimberly Farmer on Unsplash

Note: This post was prepared in part for OntarioExtend Daily Extend #oext264 Crank out a Viral Edubait Robot Image.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

One minute video

The Ontario Extend‘s Daily Extend #oext247 asks us to make an One Minute Video about an aspect of our practice. Mine is a bit more tell than show but I created a one minute video on what to do when you realize that you have a test tomorrow. I love the Emergency Test Preparation Strategy on the Study Guides and Strategies which is based on George Miller’s 1956 The Magical Number Seven, Plus or Minus Two.

The strategy asks students to first scan their notes and materials and create a list of important topics. Then, to choose five and start with writing down everything that they know about the topic. After accessing that prior knowledge, the student then checks their understanding against their notes and update their study sheets. If there is time, the student can add two more for seven topics and if needed two more for nine but is advised to stop there.

I used PowerPoint to create some slides and recorded a voice over. I exported the slide deck and recordings to a video and then uploaded to YouTube. I added some music in the background and YouTube adds automatic closed captioning. I released it under a Creative Commons Attribution license.

If I was do this for a specific purpose for students, I would re-record the audio as it is a bit low but for today’s purpose, I am considering it good enough because it is Saturday and I have other home things to do! This is also my first official post on my new blog here on my own domain!

OER Remix Prototype – Academic Integrity

Overview of hands on a desk working on plan on paper.

This is a prototype for a unit on Academic Integrity I am creating for my students and in response to both the Technologist Module for Ontario Extend and Day 12 of Making Sense of Open Education.

Here is my plan.

  • I want to adapt two excerpts from an OER textbook.
  • Add original video of my own.
  • Use CC licensed video and images from Unsplash.
  • Link to additional resources
  • Add self-test questions that I create.

Opening

Academic Integrity – The Honest Truth

View of lecture room with students listening.
Photo by John-Mark Smith on Unsplash

It is vital that students focus on the active process of learning, not just on how to get good grades. The attitude of some students that grades are the end-all in academics has led many students to resort to academic dishonesty to try to get the best possible grades or handle the pressure of an academic program. Although you may be further tempted if you’ve heard people say, “Everybody does it,” or “It’s no big deal at my school,” you should be mindful of the consequences of cheating:

  • You don’t learn as much. Cheating may get you the right answer on a particular exam question, but it won’t teach you how to apply knowledge in the world after school, nor will it give you a foundation of knowledge for learning more advanced material. When you cheat, you cheat yourself out of opportunities.
  • You risk failing the course or even expulsion from school. Each institution has its own definitions of and penalties for academic dishonesty, but most include cheating, plagiarism, and fabrication or falsification. The exact details of what is allowed or not allowed vary somewhat among different colleges and even instructors, so you should be sure to check your school’s Web site and your instructor’s guidelines to see what rules apply. Ignorance of the rules is seldom considered a valid defense.
  • Cheating causes stress. Fear of getting caught will cause you stress and anxiety; this will get in the way of performing well with the information you do know.
    You’re throwing away your money and time. Getting a college education is a big investment of money and effort. You’re simply not getting your full value when you cheat, because you don’t learn as much.
  • You are trashing your integrity. Cheating once and getting away with it makes it easier to cheat again, and the more you cheat, the more comfortable you will feel with giving up your integrity in other areas of life—with perhaps even more serious consequences.
  • Cheating lowers your self-esteem. If you cheat, you are telling yourself that you are simply not smart enough to handle learning. It also robs you of the feeling of satisfaction from genuine success.
Students gathered around a laptop
Photo by Štefan Štefančík on Unsplash

Technology has made it easier to cheat. Your credit card and an Internet connection can procure a paper for you on just about any subject and length. You can copy and paste for free from various Web sites. Students have made creative use of texting and video on their cell phones to gain unauthorized access to material for exams. But be aware that technology has also created ways for instructors to easily detect these forms of academic dishonesty. Most colleges make these tools available to their instructors. Instructors are also modifying their testing approaches to reduce potential academic misconduct by using methods that are harder to cheat at (such as in-class essays that evaluate your thinking and oral presentations).

If you feel uneasy about doing something in your college work, trust your instincts. Confirm with the instructor that your intended form of research or use of material is acceptable. Cheating just doesn’t pay.

Excerpt adapted from College Success by University of Minnesota is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.


Video – this is a rough cut of my video. I plan to clean it up and add design elements, closed captioning and a transcript.

The Value of Academic Integrity

Video by Irene Stewart, January 10, 2018


Plagiarism—and How to Avoid It

Plagiarism is the unacknowledged use of material from a source. At the most obvious level, plagiarism involves using someone else’s words and ideas as if they were your own. There’s not much to say about copying another person’s work: it’s cheating, pure and simple. But plagiarism is not always so simple. Notice that our definition of plagiarism involves “words and ideas.” Let’s break that down a little further.

Woman's hand writing with a number of papers on a desk.
Photo by Green Chameleon on Unsplash

Words. Copying the words of another is clearly wrong. If you use another’s words, those words must be in quotation marks, and you must tell your reader where those words came from. But it is not enough to make a few surface changes in wording. You can’t just change some words and call the material yours; close, extended paraphrase is not acceptable.

Ideas. Ideas are also a form of intellectual property. You may this idea in a passage that summarizes the original, that is, it states the main idea in compressed form in language that does not come from the original. But it could still be seen as plagiarism if the source is not cited. This example probably makes you wonder if you can write anything without citing a source. To help you sort out what ideas need to be cited and what not, think about these principles:

Common knowledge. There is no need to cite common knowledge. Common knowledge does not mean knowledge everyone has. It means knowledge that everyone can easily access. If the information or idea can be found in multiple sources and the information or idea remains constant from source to source, it can be considered common knowledge. This is one reason so much research is usually done for college writing—the more sources you read, the more easily you can sort out what is common knowledge: if you see an uncited idea in multiple sources, then you can feel secure that idea is common knowledge.

Distinct contributions. One does need to cite ideas that are distinct contributions. A distinct contribution need not be a discovery from the work of one person. It need only be an insight that is not commonly expressed (not found in multiple sources) and not universally agreed upon.

Disputable figures. Always remember that numbers are only as good as the sources they come from. If you use numbers or any statistics always cite your source of those numbers. If your instructor does not know the source you used, you will not get much credit for the information you have collected.

Everything said previously about using sources applies to all forms of sources. Some students mistakenly believe that material from the Web, for example, need not be cited. Or that an idea from an instructor’s lecture is automatically common property. You must evaluate all sources in the same way and cite them as necessary.

Bulletin board with notes and pictures.
Photo by Jo Szczepanska on Unsplash

Forms of Citation

You should generally check with your instructors about their preferred form of citation when you write papers for courses. No one standard is used in all academic papers. You can learn about the three major forms or styles used in most any college writing handbook and on many Web sites for college writers:

  • The Modern Language Association (MLA) system of citation is widely used but is most commonly adopted in humanities courses, particularly literature courses.
  • The American Psychological Association (APA) system of citation is most common in the social sciences.
  • The Chicago Manual of Style is widely used but perhaps most commonly in history courses.

Many college departments have their own style guides, which may be based on one of the above. Your instructor should refer you to his or her preferred guide, but be sure to ask if you have not been given explicit direction.

Excerpt adapted from College Success by University of Minnesota is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.


Understanding and Avoiding Plagiarism: Type of Plagiarism

University of Guelph Library, 2014. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License


Resources

To learn more, check out the Learning Portal. The Learning Portal shares resources from colleges across Ontario.

Academic Integrity – http://tlp-lpa.ca/research/academic-integrity

How to Cite – http://tlp-lpa.ca/research/citation


Unit would end with self-check or self-test questions to be developed.


 

This is my prototype of materials to remix into a new unit. I am considering combining these into one container although, I am not sure what technology would be best to put this together. I am also not sure if all these resources have creative commons licensing that can be combined. Finally, I am not sure that this would represent a complete picture of Academic Integrity or if I am missing content. If you would like to provide any feedback or suggestions, your ideas would be most welcome.

WIIFM – Apprentice Exam Prep Workshop

As I mentioned in an early post, I don’t teach – at least not in the way you may think. I do not have a course that I teach to one group of students over a semester. In some ways, what I do is much harder in that I have workshops that I present to classes. I have to quickly establish both my authority to be at the front of the room and the benefit to the students of giving me their time and attention. One of these workshops is a Study Skills presentation given to Apprenticeships students who have completed all three levels of in-class training and have returned for their 30 hours of Exam Prep before they write their Certificate of Qualification Examination to be licensed in their trade.

In the past few weeks, I have given this workshop to Automotive Technician and Hairstyling apprentices and this week, I will be meeting with General Machinist and Tool and Die apprentices. While these workshops have some handouts and presentation slides that are common, some materials, activities, and handouts are tailored to the specific trade. For example, the workshop includes a practice exam with questions relevant to their trade.

I used this workshop to generate a What Is In It For Me list in response to the Teacher for Learning Extend Activity:

  • call to change focus from absorbing information to thinking strategically
  • confirm study approach/plan is appropriate
  • find out new or be reminded of studying, test taking and test anxiety techniques
  • receive Red Seal approved documents regarding exam prep as well as RC created handouts
  • practice test taking strategies with questions related to trade including opportunity to examine past test method and multiple choice questions strategies
  • opportunity to practice relaxation techniques
  • invitation to meet for individual test related concerns/access to specific contact person
  • Research confirmed benefit – in the first two years after we started presenting this workshop in exam prep week – more apprentices passed the QofC and more received higher marks.