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Thinking about Thinking

September 22, 2009

To help you understand your learning processes and preferences—important for making the right choices when you’re taking notes and tests and studying—resources like learning styles tests, personality styles checklists, and questions related to multiple intelligences theory are a good starting point. You can Google these topics to find tests to get you started thinking about your preferences. Be aware, though, that most of us approach different subjects in different ways. Be aware too that it can be dangerous to label yourself. Each course requires thought about how best to approach it. You must find what works for you regardless of what experts say.

I definitely use different strategies for studying different subjects. I had elaborate flash cards for a chemistry class and relied heavily on a study group because there was LOTS of material to memorize, understand, and master. In contrast, I quickly found out—as an English major—that I can’t work with other people when I’m trying to get a beginning understanding of a piece of literature. I find their input distracting and it makes it difficult for me to formulate my own ideas. This drove my best friend at school crazy since she seldom took notes and loved to talk about what we were reading. You will find similar idiosyncrasies about your learning preferences, but not if you don’t think about them.

Here’s another example: although I’ve been trained in multiple kinds of notetaking, what works best for me—despite experts who say it isn’t good to do this—is to take almost verbatim notes, writing down just about everything the teacher says. Otherwise, I get distracted by my thoughts in class and suddenly realize that I have missed crucial information. Writing keeps me focused and I seldom have to look at my notes later. My best friend never wrote down anything. Writing distracted her from listening. Come test time, we did equally well.

As part of my work with choice related to fun in learning, I put together a list of questions that can help you get started on the journey to better understanding your preferences as a student. Here are some of them:

• How do you take notes? Or do you? Do your strategies work for you?

• What do you do if someone gives you directions or you need to remember a phone number?

• How do you approach learning something new?

• What time of day do you feel most alert?

• What’s the first thing you do if you need to research something?

• Do you have a time during the day when you have very little energy? How do you deal with it?

• Under what circumstances do you enjoy working with others?

• When do you prefer to work alone?

• When are you most creative?

• In what ways are you creative?

• What’s the maximum amount of time that you can concentrate before you have to take a break?

• Does your concentration depend on what you are doing/studying?

• When you read a non-fiction book, do you start at the beginning or do you read various parts that seem most interesting first?

• What kind(s) of books interest you?

• What do you use a computer for?

• Which things/subjects inspire you to do your best?

• What things do you want to do just well enough to get by?

• Are there things you aren’t good at doing or have trouble studying that you would like to be better at?

• Are there things you don’t care if you ever learn? What are they? Why?

• Are there things you know you ought to learn, but don’t want to learn? What are they? Why?

• What’s the most interesting thing you learned last week? Yesterday? So far today?

What are some other questions you can ask yourself to help you think about your learning, thinking, creativity, problem solving,
and other intellectual skills?

Never be afraid to sit awhile and think. • Lorraine Hansberry, A Raisin in the Sun

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