Archive for the ‘Study Skills’ Category

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Final Exam Care Packages for Your College Student

April 16, 2008

Throughout the nation — and perhaps around the world — college students are preparing (or preparing to prepare!) for their final exams. Though I’ve been a college professor for two decades, this is the first year that I am also the parent of a college student. To help my son with this stressful time in any student’s life, I’ll be sending him a Final Exam Care Package. Here are a few of the items that he’ll find when he opens this box next week.

My plan is to put this package together myself after a trip to the store and post office today. However, if life intervenes, I may “cheat” and order a pre-packaged one from Tiger Surprise, which caters specifically to Auburn University students. Either way, my son will receive a tangible reminder that his mom and dad want him to take care of himself and do well on his first college finals.

Though I know he’ll be appreciative of the goodies in his care package, I know my son, and I bet he won’t call to tell me it arrived. This gives me the excuse to call him and see how he’s doing. I won’t grill him with tons of questions about his finals; instead, I’ll provide a listening ear and lots of encouragement. . . and a few of my best study tips.

Note: Parents can find the overall final exam schedule for most universities at the school’s website. However, you’ll probably need to check with your students to determine exactly when their finals are based on their class schedules.


Creative Commons License

Listening Matters by
Barbara B. Nixon, Ph.D. (ABD) is licensed under a
Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.

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Ten Ways NOT to Prepare for College Advising

March 13, 2008

For about a dozen hours during the last two weeks, I’ve had the honor and pleasure of advising undergraduate students who are in their first or second years of college. Though several of them came to their fifteen-minute advising appointment extremely well prepared, most did not.

Below, you will find a list of ten things NOT to do when you are being advised.

  1. Don’t show up. That’s right, several students were no shows for their appointments. (That wasn’t really a surprise, but it was disappointing.)
  2. Come in and say, “Okay, tell me what I need to take next semester.” Whatever happened to being responsible for your own learning?
  3. Make excuse after excuse why you have withdrawn from class after class — and still expect that a professor might give you an override to get into a full class. Yes, there are definitely some reasons to withdraw from classes, but when it becomes a habit, it begins to reflect poorly on your ability to manage your schedule. For every class from which you withdraw, there probably was another student who wanted to get in before the semester started, but could not because the class was full.
  4. Spend more time looking for ways to avoid taking your core classes than actually taking the classes. Everyone in the university needs to take a core of similar classes. Even you. And don’t expect that your advisor will tell you “which ones are the easy ones.”
  5. Don’t look in the college catalog to see what will be required for your major; expect your advisor to know all the details off the top of his or her head. It surprised me that several students “knew” they wanted to major in a certain subject, but did not have any idea what courses would be required for the major, or that a certain GPA was required.
  6. Don’t check out the online registration service from your college to see when your earliest registration date and time are. Find out when your registration time is, and make your advising appointment before this time, so that you can register at the earliest possible moment. Many classes fill quickly, and the earlier you can register, the more likely you can get in.
  7. Expect your advisor to be able to counsel you on which major you should choose AND help you choose classes for next semester, all during your allotted 15 minutes. Choosing a major is an important, perhaps life-changing, decision. Make an appointment with a professor or advisor in the majors you are interested in far ahead of the advisement period.
  8. Give your advisor a blank stare when he or she asks you, “So what steps are you taking to bring up your grade point average?” As the old saying goes, “If you do what you’ve always done, you’ll get what you’ve always gotten.” Many majors have minimum GPAs required for admittance to their programs; make a plan to exceed that minimum by as much as you can. Utilize the many services your university has to offer for study skills, tutoring, etc.
  9. Respond to text messages while your advisor is talking. Come on, the appointment is only 15 minutes. Couldn’t that wait? And if it couldn’t, would it be so hard to say, “Please excuse me for just a moment. There’s something urgent I need to do”?
  10. Leave your iPod earbuds in your ears so you can continue to listen to your music (and use your pencil and pen as drumsticks on the desk) while the appointment is going on. Seriously. As a 20-year career educator and parent of four, I don’t shock easily, but the rudeness of this took me aback. And it happened not once, but twice, with two different students. At least neither of them hesitated at complying when I asked them to focus on our meeting rather than their iPods.

Now, it probably sounds like I don’t ever want to advise students again. Not quite. . .

During my “dream appointment,” and I did have one of these, this is what happened:

A young woman walked up to me confidently, put out her hand to shake mine, and said, “Good morning, my name is Katey. Thanks for meeting with me today.” She and I walked back to my office, chatting about where she is from and why she chose her major. Katey sat down, reached into her backpack, and took out her planner. She turned to a page where she had marked up the core requirements sheet with classes she’d already taken and highlighted those she was considering for the next semester. Katey turned serious when she noted, “I know I need to take the second English class in the series, but I looked online, and the classes are already full.” Hmmm. This was intriguing! She had done some significant preparation for this meeting. We worked together to come up with an alternate plan that took into account what to do when Plan A wasn’t going to work. We looked ahead to required courses to her major and selected two that are prerequisites for many other courses. We briefly discussed how she could get involved on one or two campus organizations related to her major. And the whole meeting took less than ten minutes.

If only there were more Kateys! Maybe there can be if students can know what to expect of the advising appointment.

For another “what NOT to do,” see How to Fail a Class Without Really Trying.

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How to Fail a Class (Without Really Trying)

January 19, 2008

Now that winter semester is well on its way, I took some time to reminisce about all the ways that students can do well in my classes. But instead of sharing those with you today, I’ll instead offer the flip-side: what you should do if your goal is to FAIL a class. I promise you that I’ve had a student at one time or another who has done every one of these things. Luckily, there is no one student who has done all of them . . . yet. (Please don’t take this as a challenge ) )

Assignments

  1. Think of the assignment guidelines provided by your professor as mere suggestions, not requirements for success.
  2. Consider each assignment as discrete entities. Don’t apply the constructive criticism you’ve received from your previous assignment to your next one.
  3. Since Microsoft Word will catch all your mistakes (grammar, APA style, Associated Press style, etc.), there’s no need to proofread your assignments before turning them in.
  4. Plagiarize often and flagrantly. After all, your professor won’t think to check the Internet (or other sources) to see if you’ve copied anything.
  5. Reading homework assignments before the class when they will be discussed? Why bother?

Grades

  1. Don’t bother to check your grades in WebCT Vista, even though they’re posted in there throughout the semester. And don’t bother to keep your graded papers to doublecheck the grade’s accuracy.
  2. If you have a concern about your grade, wait until the last week of class to ask your professor for ideas on how to raise it.
  3. Ask in class every day, “Can we get extra credit for this?” Or, when or if extra credit is offered, turn it down. It won’t make that much difference in your final grade anyway.
  4. If you’re pretty sure you won’t pass the class (or get the grade you’re hoping for) before the Withdraw Date, go ahead and stay in the class anyway, but just don’t bother showing up anymore.

WebCT Vista

  1. Wait until five minutes before an assignment is due on WebCT Vista before trying to log in to submit it.
  2. When there’s a discussion question posted on WebCT Vista, don’t answer it. Or answer it superficially with one or two sentences. Or say, “I totally agree with what Kyle said in his response.”

Classroom Decorum

  1. When in a class in a PC lab, check your Facebook or e-mail, or surf the web, while class is in session, even if your professor has said that it’s time to turn all monitors off.
  2. Wait until you get to your classroom to consider printing something that is needed for class that day.
  3. Be the first one to answer every question in class, every time. (I will tend to call this student Horshack, either behind or in front of his or her back.)
  4. Attend class only when you feel like it, and be sure that others know you have better things you could be doing with your time.

Communication

  1. Don’t check your e-mail for messages from your professor. Or mark your professor’s e-mail as that of a known spammer, so his or her messages automatically are delivered into your bulk mail or spam folder.
  2. When you’re confused, assume that you’re the only one, so don’t ask for clarification or explanation.
  3. Avoid your professor’s office at all costs.
  4. Only discuss grade-related information with your professor. Or even better, only talk to your professor to ask, “Did we talk about anything important in class the last time we met? I wasn’t here.”
  5. Don’t listen, and that means don’t listen to your professor, your classmates, your advisor . . . What you think and feel is way more important.

Creative Commons License
How to Fail a Class by Barbara Nixon is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 United States License.

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Listening to Pandora

January 12, 2008

While working on my dissertation (and preparing to teach classes at Georgia Southern U), I’ve spent countless hours at the computer. Sometimes, I need silence in order to work effectively. But other times, I want – no, need – to listen to music. I dislike regular radio because I find the ads disruptive to the creative process. I get tired of my own music collection that I’ve imported into iTunes. Yes, even with 4400+ songs, or 175 days worth of music with no repeats, I get tired of it. I tend to fall into the trap that many people do, listening to the same playlists over and over.

Just before the Christmas break, my colleague across the hall at work introduced me to Pandora, where you can listen to free – and commercial-free – Internet radio and discover artists similar to your favorites.

Tim Westergren, founder of The Music Genome Project®, describes Pandora this way:

Since we started back in 2000, we have been hard at work on the Music Genome Project. It’s the most comprehensive analysis of music ever undertaken. Together our team of fifty musician-analysts has been listening to music, one song at a time, studying and collecting literally hundreds of musical details on every song. It takes 20-30 minutes per song to capture all of the little details that give each recording its magical sound – melody, harmony, instrumentation, rhythm, vocals, lyrics … and more – close to 400 attributes! We continue this work every day to keep up with the incredible flow of great new music coming from studios, stadiums and garages around the country.

With Pandora you can explore this vast trove of music to your heart’s content. Just drop the name of one of your favorite songs or artists into Pandora and let the Genome Project go. It will quickly scan its entire world of analyzed music, almost a century of popular recordings – new and old, well known and completely obscure – to find songs with interesting musical similarities to your choice. Then sit back and enjoy as it creates a listening experience full of current and soon-to-be favorite songs for you.

So, depending on my mood at the time, you can find me listening to various and sundry Pandora radio stations. In the last 24 hours, it was

  • Billy Joel Radio
  • Goo Goo Dolls Radio
  • Michael Bublé Radio
  • Carole King Radio
  • Patricia Barber Radio, and
  • Disco Mix (slightly embarrassing, but true)

Listening to music while studying or working does have positive benefits on productivity. “According to a report in the journal Neuroscience of Behavior and Physiology, the Russian Academy of Sciences discovered that a person’s ability to recognize visual images, including letters and numbers, is faster when either rock or classical music is playing in the background,” as noted in an article by Kutchka. Sharon Stajda, RN, notes that listening to music also helps decrease stress levels.

Try listening to Pandora. I hope you like it as much as I do.

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On Listening & Learning, part deux

November 30, 2007

My classes are done for the semester at Georgia Southern. My students are deep in their preparation for final exams. Let’s take some more time to remember how much our listening affects our learning.

Education is the ability to listen to almost anything without losing your temper or your self-confidence. — Robert Frost

I like to listen. I have learned a great deal from listening carefully. Most people never listen. — Ernest Hemingway

In order that all men may be taught to speak the truth, it is necessary that all likewise should learn to hear it. — Samuel Johnson

I learned to write by listening to people talk. I still feel that the best of my writing comes from having heard rather than having read. — Gayl Jones

I make progress by having people around me who are smarter than I am and listening to them. And I assume that everyone is smarter about something than I am. — Henry J. Kaiser

I feel like a terribly slow learner in acknowledging that only in recent years have I come to learn that listening is a primary way by which I can become a significant person in my own eyes and in the eyes of others. And I must continually relearn it. — Earl Koile

We should never pretend to know what we don’t know, we should not feel ashamed to ask and learn from people below, and we should listen carefully to the views of the cadres at the lowest levels. Be a pupil before you become a teacher; learn from the cadres at the lower levels before you issue orders. — Mao Tse-Tung

Talk less—you will automatically learn more, hear more, see more—and make fewer blunders. — Mark McCormack

Let the wise listen and add to their learning and let the discerning get guidance. — Proverbs 1:5

A little-recognized value of listening and inquiring relates to the realization that in human relationships, it is frequently not what the I’ve learned … that it is best to give advice in only two circumstances: when it is requested and when it is a life-threatening situation. — Andy Rooney

When you stop learning, stop listening, stop looking and asking questions, always new questions, then it is time to die. — Lillian Smith

When you talk, you repeat what you already know; when you listen, you often learn something. — Jared Sparks

[T]he seeds of [the Argument Culture] can be found our classrooms, where a teacher will introduce an article or an idea . . . setting up debates where people learn not to listen to each other because they’re so busy trying to win the debate. — Deborah Tannen

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On Listening & Learning

November 27, 2007

As we approach final exam time around the country, perhaps it’s time to think about how listening and learning are intertwined. Let’s “hear” from several people:

The most basic of all human needs is the need to understand and be understood. The best way to understand people is to listen to them. — Ralph Nichols

It seems that we shall eventually come to believe that the responsibility for effective oral communication must be equally shared by speakers and listeners. When this transpires, we shall have taken a long stride toward greater economy in learning, accelerated personal growth, and significantly deepened human understanding. — Ralph Nichols

I think I’ll learn more from listening. Anything I would say I already know. — Anonymous student explaining while she did not wish to participate in a discussion, quoted in Christian Science Monitor

A little-recognized value of listening and inquiring relates to the realization that in human relationships, it is frequently not what the facts are, but what people think the facts are, which is truly important. There is benefit in learning what someone else’s concept of the reality of the situation is, no matter how wrong it might be. — Bryan Bell

Education commences at the mother’s knee, and every word spoken within the hearing of little children tends towards the formation of character. — Hosea Ballou

An intelligent person is someone who listens with understanding. — M. Bradley

Oh, listen a lot and talk less. You can’t learn anything when you’re talking. — Bing Crosby

We listen in order to learn and retain information. If we are speaking, we are not listening or learning anything to add to our sum of knowledge. This is why the first step to effective listening is to stop talking! — Ken Fracaro

Stay tuned . . . I’ll post more quotations on listening and learning later this week.

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The Best Advice in Stress Relief

November 12, 2007

Since it hasn’t been so long since I was a student myself, I can definitely relate to the stress involved during finals week. My best advice? Not “take a deep breath.” It’s exhale.

According to the International Breath Institute, “‘Take a deep breath’ can [actually] be very bad advice to someone who is feeling anxious or is agitated.” To balance your CO2 levels, inhale, then make your exhale last twice as long. You’ll definitely feel a difference.

I keep a framed kanji of the word “exhale” on my wall. When I’m feeling out of sorts, a quick glance at the kanji reminds me to do what’s best for me, to exhale.

In closing, here’s a wonderful quote by Koichi Tohei: “Breathe out so your breath travels to heaven.” Keep this in mind the next time you are feeling stressed.

Exhale.