Monday, 19 August 2013

Ken Robinson: How schools kill creativity

Rather than a written article this week, perhaps you will appreciate this video of Sir Ken Robinson at the Ted Conference.

Monday, 12 August 2013

Research - "Where do I start?"

For those of us who remember going to the library, checking out the old Dewey card system to help find the book we needed for that assignment...only to go to the shelf and find it gone....we might be excused for thinking that today's students have it easy.

With so much information out there - and so accessible online - how easy can it be to find what you need in the comfort of your own home...on your laptop, right in front of you? Well, it seems many students are finding it increasingly difficult to isolate exactly what they need. There is simply too much information and many students are spending way too much time scrolling through hundreds of sites to find what they need - with many giving up before they have even put pen to paper!

There is definitely an art to effective and time-managed researching. It's all about developing the right techniques. Most assignments are anything but attractive to a student, and they will delay the inevitable start for as long as possible.

Research suggests that adolescents seek both challenge and relevance in learning. No question that much of the learning is challenging - but do kids see it as relevant? Unless the subject is an elective and, as such, a subject the student obviously has some interest in pursuing then, generally, the relevance appears to be minimal. "When am I ever going to need to know this?" or "What's the point in doing this stupid assignment?" are fairly typical student laments.

The next time your son or daughter starts to whinge about the 'stupidity' of an assignment, alert them to the fact that it's not just the content of the assignment (or the required research), but also the skill of completing the assignment that is of value. Remind them at some point in the future (might seem like a long way off) they will have a boss, who will ask them to complete a task within an allotted time. It may be a job at Maccas; it may be working in an office; it may be driving a delivery van - whatever the job, there will be a time frame. If they don't make a start on planning, breaking down the task into smaller tasks, committing time frames and getting the job done on time, someone else might be doing their job on Monday!

If our kids develop the skills of breaking an assignment down into manageable 'chunks', and then use clever and targeted research skills, they are more likely to complete a better assignment...and learn some valuable life skills along the way.

Think about the following tips to help refine your search when you are looking for the right information online:
  • Brainstorm what you know about the subject, or use specific words from the assignment to narrow your search
  • Mind map these words into sub-headings or 'cluster themes' to narrow the topic
  • Include an author's name if you are looking for a particular text
  • Be specific in your search
  • Use research reading skills such as skimming, scanning and SQ3R (Survey Question Read Recite Review)
  • Keep a running record of your sources for your bibliography
  • Don't do an assignment (or the research) all in one go! Attempting to complete an assignment in one sitting will more than likely lead to a poor result - your brain can't handle focusing on one activity for hours on end
The Assignment and Research Skills Handbook*  offers more details and tips on the reading research skills mentioned here; a structured approach gives students a better chance of completing an assignment that justifies their efforts  - and overcomes the issue of "Where do I start?"

*  see Media and Publications for availability

Photo Credit: Nic's events via Compfight cc

Monday, 5 August 2013

Learning and Studying - with 'Style'!

As we approach exam time, particularly for HSC students, I wonder how many students (not just in Year 12) are studying smarter...rather than harder?

When our kids enter the world of secondary school, it becomes a necessity for them to learn how to study. Seems rather obvious, but think about it.....primary school students don't need to study or 'cram' for an exam. They are not asked to remember large amounts of content to regurgitate for an English, History, Economics or Geography exam. Yes, they do have topic tests and quizzes in Maths and Spelling; but there's no real pressure to commit lots of information to memory. So, what happens when these students hit high school? Mum and dad.....look out!

When I touch on this topic with parents I ask them, "What advice do you give your child when he or she asks HOW to study...what do you say?" I am not surprised to see blank stares and the occasional shoulder shrug. When we delve a little deeper, it becomes more obvious that the advice we pass on to our kids is what worked for us, when we were studying. Unfortunately, these methods may have been successful for us, but not necessarily so for our kids.

I am not an expert in study skill techniques and methods, but I do understand the basics of identifying what perhaps might be better study options. A lot of it comes down to 'learning styles'. How we connect to learning; how we process information; how we memorise material - all are impacted by a preferred 'style'.

Some of us are good listeners, others are visual, others like to be 'hands-on' with their learning. We all have our own style - might be a dominant style, or maybe a combination of styles. Some research suggests that we don't lock into our preferred style until mid-teens, whilst other experts provide anecdotal evidence to suggest that the earlier we recognise our 'style', the better we develop techniques to enhance our learning. Marcia L. Conner, a U.S expert in the field of learning styles, claims that many of us never really discover our true learning potential  - her book, "Learn More Now", is well worth the read!

To briefly summarise a few tips for those of you who are studying hard...but not getting the results you feel you deserve..... it may be as simple as adjusting some of your techniques. What is your 'fit'?

Auditory learners:
  • Prefer to hear the information rather than read it
  • Enjoy oral discussions (study groups work for you!)
  • Like to repeat information (even if it's simply aloud to themselves!) to help lock it in to long-term memory
  • Have trouble memorising large slabs of written material
  • Ask lots of questions - like debates
Visual learners:
  • Like to read information, directions
  • Take notes while listening
  • Relate better to illustrations, charts, graphics (visual spatial learners)
  • Like to colour-code notes
  • Memorise material in MindMap format (visual spatial learners)
Kinaesthetic (hands-on) learners:
  • Like to be on the move while learning
  • Learn by doing, rather than hearing instructions or reading them
  • 'Talk' with their hands (gestures)
  • Study 'actively' (use flip charts, colour-code notes, highlight notes, move around while memorising, type notes on laptop, iPad, etc, write notes by brainstorming what they know)
This is a very brief overview. By all means check out more information and tips online - there's a lot of really useful information out there. This is all about working smarter, not harder - makes sense doesn't it?

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photo credit: LindaH via photopin cc