Thursday, March 29, 2007

Half-Baked Study Skills

Abdul, our project driver asked me if I knew someone who could give him some study tips. He says for the amount of time he is spending studying, he doesn’t seem to be able to remember as much as he would like to recall. He is a bright, dedicated, enterprising chap and a valuable resource for our project. He often has to wait for people. His work life in fact involves a lot of hanging around waiting. He has begun studying for his O levels. (The equivalent of Grade 12 in Canada). This is done generally in the back of the van with the windows open. But in the African sun, it is very hot and stuffy, so it is no wonder he has trouble retaining what he reads.

I suggest he ask the wife of the pediatrician who is here working on the project, who is a retired school teacher. He seemed reluctant so I agreed to ask her for him. Daily over the next couple of days, Abdul asks if I have asked her. Finally, I get that having some study skills is very important to him. When Ido finally ask the retired teacher she says she has never done any study skills courses. Neither have I. When I check on the internet, I find nothing. I try a couple of different prompts but still no luck. Are study skills a recent phenomenum? Beats me.

When I relay this to him, he is crestfallen. Abdul clearly thinks some short written instruction on study skills is going to help him. So I think, how hard can it be? As a medical educator, I have a couple of ideas. So I tell him I will have a go and try to pull something together.

Finally pen in hand, I come up with a couple of tips. Five to be exact. I press the retired school teacher into service and she has a couple of good ideas and edits. The five tips we settle on are: summarize, paraphrase, repeat, study in short periods and build your vocabulary. Examples of each are provided.

For paraphrase, I lift a paragraph out of a Ruth Rendall murder mystery I am reading.

eg. “Things were getting too much for Norman Smith. He also was snowbound with a fellow being who was uncongenial to him, only the fellow being was his wife.”

Paraphrase: “Norman Smith was getting upset. Because of snow, he was stuck in the house with his wife.”

Only I fail to notice at the time that the word “snowbound” would be completely foreign to Abdul.

Regarding repetition,I give the example of 4 ways to sterilize water, a useful consideration around here.

e.g. 4 ways to sterilize water: boiling, UV radiation, use of disinfecting tablets and ionization.

A couple of days after I have given him the sheet of Study Skills, Abdul and I were out visiting one of our remote communities and he asks me what snowbound means. I am both chagrined and pleased. Chagrined, that the word had slipped by me, but pleased because I recognized immediately that he was actually reading the study skills. Later that day, he asks me where one would get disinfecting tablets. Well, my day was complete. I tell him that I have some but thankfully never had to use them but I carried them with me in case I couldn't get boiled water.

"You get these pills for water in Canada?" he inquired.

"Yah", I reply, realizing it does sound strange from his vantage point to have pills for water. 'But I think they would be available here, maybe at the pharmacy."

I think I am finally talking to someone who has, word by word, devoured what I have written. How wonderful is this? It seems as if almost daily I encounter volunteers and trainers who don't seem to know the most basic details in the manuals I wrote specifically for them. Maybe, I think, I should give up writing manuals and write study skills.

So here it is, my contribution to remedy this lack of Study Skills on the internet, the complete five tips in its entirity. Edits will be kindly and gratefully received.

Study Skills

Dedicated to Abdul

Study skills assist you in making more effective use of the time spent studying. They help you to understand what you have read or heard. New skills will take a while to master, especially in a language other than your mother tongue. So start slowly and don’t give up easily. Everyone is different in how he learn. You will need to try different skills to determine which ones work best for you.

The five skills below can assist you to ensure you have understood what has been said or written and remember it. a) Paraphrasing -- repeating in different words what something means. b) Summarizing -- picking out the main points of an idea and putting them in a shortened form. c) Repeating – saying out loud, to yourself or in writing what you want to remember. d) Study in short periods. e) Build your vocabulary

Begin by paraphrasing, or repeating in other words, what each sentence means after you have read it. As it becomes easier for you, paraphrase after two, then three sentences and finally after a whole paragraph. With practice it becomes easier. It will be easiest if you are reading something you know a bit about and more difficult with a topic that is new to you. Remember that many textbooks are written in jargon, or words specific to that topic, and may not be familiar to others. The important thing is to get the idea behind what is written and put it into simple words so you understand. In the beginning it will take time but as you get used to doing it, it becomes easier. Once you have trained your brain to do, it will happen on its own.

eg. “Things were getting too much for Norman Smith. He also was snowbound with a fellow being who was uncongenial to him, only the fellow being was his wife.”

Paraphrase: “Norman Smith was getting upset. Because of snow, he was stuck in the house with his wife.”
b) Summarizing

Summarizing means taking out the main points or ideas in something you have read and repeating them in fewer words. Include the important parts of what you have learned. You can summarize after each paragraph to start, then after each page and then after each chapter. When you summarize a whole course, you are identifying what you think is important and therefore likely to be tested or examined. This kind of course summary can help you to focus on what you need to study. But first you need to start with each paragraph.

To summarize after you read a paragraph, close the book or your eyes and review what you think are the main ideas or points in the paragraph. When you have done that, check the paragraph to see if you got them. At first doing this will slow your reading down, but as you practice your brain is being trained to do it. With time and practice you will only have to do this when you are reading something very difficult or new.

The next two skills help you to remember or recall items. Remembering is always easier if you have understood but sometimes you need to recall a list of items. Repeating can help with this.

c) Repeating

Repeating means saying the same or similar thing many times. Many people begin repeating before they have understood what they have read. By understanding first, using paraphrasing and summarizing, you will be able to make better use of repetition. Repetition is used best when you have to recall or remember a number of specific steps or items.

E.g. 4 ways to sterilize water: boiling, UV radiation, use of disinfecting tablets and ionization.

It helps to understand what each process is. Then say them several times. Repeat them through out the day. Say them again before you go to bed and repeat them in the morning when you wake. Make a list of such items for yourself and repeat them at different times in the day. This alone is often enough to help you remember them. You can practice with a list of things you need to get at the store. It also helps with lists to put them to a tune and sing them. It can help to put them in a mnemonic. A mnemonic is a short word or phrase which reminds you of each item in a list.

E.g. New MEDICINE is a mnemonic for the 8 elements of Primary Health Care:, Maternal and child care, Education about Health, essential Drugs, Immunization, Clean water & sanitation, Injury & common disease treatment, Nutrition, and Endemic disease prevention.

d) Study in short periods

Start a new topic in small amounts. Take frequent breaks. Stretch and move around at least every 20 minutes. Memory is lodged in all our muscles, not just our brains, so if you want to learn to remember something, keep your body healthy and happy. When you are learning something new, the brain works best in short periods with small bites of information. As you become more familiar with a topic, the brain can add larger bits to what you know more easily. Break a reading assignment into smaller bites. Set do-able goals. Eg. Read this page, make that list, complete this exercise and summarize this chapter.

e) Build your vocabulary

Enlarging your vocabulary gives you an important tool in your education and in life. A large vocabulary will improve your ability to discuss new ideas. It can also help in learning, summarizing and remembering. Set a goal to learn at least one new word each day. Start with the new words you are learning in your study. Write them down. Note down their meaning. Later you can check them in a dictionary. Keep a pocket-sized dictionary handy. You want to be able to use your new words so find out how they are pronounced. Use each new word 5 times in the next couple of days. Find ways to insert it into the conversation. Powerful words are not necessarily long words. Keep the list of new words with you. Each week review all the words you have learned that week. Within a couple of months you will notice that the new words are cropping up in your conversation readily.

Good Luck!

OK so this may be an excuse to show off the Abdim's Stork I saw which is a bit out of its usual nesting grounds in the Sudan and I should consider a day job.

Photos: Abdim's stork, coffee in flower


Blogger chanpheng said...

Thanks for this list of study skills. I have a similar problem with my staff - although I teach classes, they don't review the content between classes, so the review of the previous class ends up taking up most of the subsequent class because they have to relearn the material. They tell me that their "brains are not good" because they expect that they will learn the content right away. Sigh.

Anyway, I like your lesson and I'm going to translate it into Lao.

Thanks for your comments on my LJ blog. Chanpheng Lew

9:34 PM  
Blogger Lucy said...

More help for Abdul from colleges around the world.

Check out

I put this site together for my college students, so they could have a variety of hints and tips. Students can share what works for them through the reviews and I have had a review from Kenya.

Lucy MacDonald
Online Study Skills Faculty
Sarasota, FL

7:27 PM  

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