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Monday, January 09, 2006

I'm On Someone Else's Syllabus - Woo Hoo!

John Whitehead at Appalachian State mentioned me on his syllabus. A while back, I had made a comment on his blog (Hypothetical Bias) with some study tips I give my students. Here they are (with some additional comments):
  1. When you read the text, don't highlight the things you think are important - highlight the things you DON'T understand. After all, highlighting what you already know is a waste of time (and yellow highlighter)
  2. Better yet, don't use a highlighter at all. Instead, keep a sheet of paper handy and on it, write all the questions you have (no matter how trivial) as you read. Then go back and try to answer each one.
  3. After each class, rewrite your notes. When you do this, don't just copy them from one page to another. See if you can organize them as you rewrite them (make lists of key points, etc...). In addition, keep a sheet of paper handy during the rewrite, and write down all the questions that WILL come up as you re-write your notes.
  4. Take your "questions" pages (from #1 and #3) and make sure you get answers before the next class (or, at the latest, at the beginning of the next class). Many professors start each class by asking, "any questions about the material we just covered?" At this point, everyone fumbles around in their notes to see if there's anything they have questions about. However, if you have your questions organized, you get to go to the front of the line. When we ask that question, we have a set amount of time in our heads we've budgeted for answering questions. It's like a run on a bank - you don't care if there's enough money in the bank for everyone, as long as you're in the front of the line.
Tell your students to try them - based on the two or three students of mine that actually follow my advice each semester, they work (particularly #3 - it got me through grad school). It reinforces their notes, and moves them from the "passive note taking" to the "active learning" part of their brains.

Professor Whitehead also has this little gem on the syllabus:
Here is a typical office exchange after a disappointing exam score:

Student (sincerely): What can I do to get a better grade on the next exam?
Well, how did you study for the first exam?
I went over the notes and thought that I understood them.
Did you read the textbook?
Professor (shouting):
Read the #@$%& textbook!
Student (giving me the look like I'm crazy):
I tried to read it but I didn't understand it.
Professor (calmly now, regaining his/her composure):
Right on, that's why it's called "study."
Student (excitedly): Oh. I get it! I can't wait to get started!

You've gotta love it - a syllabus that actually shows a personality and a sense of humor.

UPDATE: The link to Professor Whitehead's syllabus was incorrect - it's been fixed.

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