Wednesday, 2 April 2014

What Successful Students Do

Hmmm .. no problem at all !
It's no great secret !

There is no great secret to learning success. It's pretty simple really, provided you prepare yourself for the learning job ahead. This means equipping yourself with the learning know-how, tools and resources - getting yourself ready to go !

In fact, regardless of the degree of difficulty or size of the learning task you should always feel quietly confident knowing that you are well prepared to take on most anything - thinking "not a problem" I know I can handle that !

So how can you prepare for learning success ?

You are in the learning business

We are all learners
Let's consider for a moment medical professionals, builders, tradesmen or any trained or qualified person. They have the know-how, tools and resources to do the job. They're prepared and ready to tackle the job ahead !

For example, a doctor - he or she doesn't know what the problem of the next patient in the waiting room will be. But the doctor is prepared - with the know-how, instruments and resources - ready to treat the problem. Just like a builder is ready and able to build whatever is required.

They know what to do, what approach to take and so on - and, of course, it's their business to know !!
(Would you as a patient or customer expect anything less ?)

Well .. guess what ? ..  learning is no different. As a student you are in the business of learning !!

 Learning for a lifetime !

Students of the 21st century have so much more available today to help their learning effort. Internet and computing technology puts information literally at your fingertips. Communication is instant and  the breadth and depth of knowledge available to you is quite amazing.

Learning skills, methods and techniques that you gain today as a student will be highly sought-after in the future workplace. A workplace that will be exposed to increasingly rapid change. You will need to be a competent lifelong learner (team player and communicator) just to keep abreast of these rapid changes.

Materials and resources that you accumulate (and keep up to date) will also follow you into the workplace. So what you start developing today will be the foundations for tomorrow !

How do I start  my learning preparations ?

Let's pretend you are a science student taking on a Biology unit next semester. (or whatever unit that is relevant to you)

Before , yes before you start the semester begin preparing for the learning ahead.
(take a bit of holiday time - no serious student would disagree)

Step 1   Build a collection of resources

Start off by putting together a collection of science resources.

First collect more general resources that you will build upon and you carry with you from year to year. These types of resources should be as "evergreen" as possible. They should include:
  • general dictionaries, science dictionaries (eg. a biology dictionary), general basic reference texts and materials (printed books, online books, websites etc), a thesaurus and so on. They will become your good old friends - always on standby !
  • a list of where to go to find certain types of information (eg. the USDA's free online Agricultural Research magazine  - expands your knowledge on great research happenings which in turn may assist in some assignment and so on). So open your eyes and look around for handy general areas of science. (eg. the Science Daily newsletter, NASA has a lot). Over time you should become an  expert at quickly sniffing out information. Don't be afraid to ask if you can visit a place of research (eg. universities - Plant Science). Such a visit will suggest ideas of possible career paths you may take - as well as making useful contacts for the future !

Secondly, you can look over the topics to be taught this coming semester and collect more specific resources. You can add these resources to a  different folder. For example, you know that you will be learning about genetics so find resources for this specific topic:
  • Genetics (find websites of all types on genetics - such as the basics, applications, future directions - and add them to you collection). Don't go overboard !! Just a few different sources. Google it (don't forget Google scholar)

Third, and finally, prepare another folder for any projects, assignments, field trips and presentations that may have to be done in the coming semester. You know you will be taking a field trip to a freshwater environment so:
  • collect information on freshwater habitats. You could also locate some recent research findings (try USDA, university research etc.). Impress the teacher - get the extra marks !

A final word on information collection. Seek out students (good students) who have done this Biology unit before you. Ask them to show you copies of their assignments, exams, presentations etc. You might inquire about teacher style, likes and cautions. Be a Private Investigator ! But please remember this - you are not in the game of cheating !! You are gathering information that will help you do a better job. Do you own work always !

Where do I keep these resources ?

Keep any books and printed materials in your study area library. Everything else is stored on your computer and, most importantly backed up in the cloud (eg. Google Drive, iDrive, Xmarks and Zotero) where it can be accessed (and shared) at any time.

Step 2    Assemble a set of Software and Apps tools

Hunt out free software and cheap Apps to add to your learning toolkit. For example:

  • Open Office Suite (excellent)
  • Comodo Internet Security (excellent)
  • Inkscape - a draw program (excellent)
  • Zotero - many featured information tool
  • Evernote, Notability App (note Apps)
  • Edmodo App, Explain Everything App
  • Xmarks -bookmark program (excellent)
  • Skype, Google Hangout, Team Viewer (communications)
  • Hosted websites /blogs (Weebly, Blogger, Wordpress)
  • Prezi (presentation)
  • Audacity -audio editor and recorder (excellent)
  • Google Docs (found on GoogleDrive)
  • Any screen capture software (I purchased Corel Video Pro but there are free ones)
  • Screencast-O-Matic (free screen capture)
  • myBrainshark (online voice-over presentation tool)
  • Kidblog (safe blog for students)
  • (free website builder - excellent)

Select and become familiar with whatever you think will be handy for you from time to time. Become as connected (and automated) as you can for your learning effort. Stay clear of small stuff - too risky - or check reviews before you download. Keep Facebook and Twitter for you social life only (I know, I know ! But ..) - with the exception of teacher-directed instructions.

Step 3      Establish a Personal Learning Network

Establish a Personal Learning Network. These are other learners (from your class) who can help support your (and their) learning effort. How to do this ?

Find serious learners for the PLN
  • First, find a good trusted and sensible friend who can be your "learning buddy". You look after each other. Together you can share notes, materials and help each other. But always study on your own ! (yes, research shows ..)
  • Second, form a Study Group for Biology - max. 4 persons. Meet at least once a week (let's for say 30 minutes in a quiet place) to discuss matters arising from class (or assignments, coming exams,  difficult concepts etc.) that need clarification and understanding or perhaps bounce project ideas around. If you use this time in a business-like way (don't be drawn off task by idle chatter) then over time you will build up a "culture of learning" within the group (developing intellectual character). Everybody becomes a winner. Academic skills and thinking that last a lifetime !
  • Warning! Avoid choosing persons for your study group who don't value learning. Even though that person may be a social friend, or good on the sporting field or perhaps the life of the party - if they are not serious about learning then give them a miss. (Yes, I will discuss relationships on another post later on).
  • Third, find a good tutor (preferably an experienced teacher). Tutors DO make a significant difference. Research studies have shown this time and again. You results will improve with the right tutor - I know this  because I (a teacher) tutored small groups myself across the academic year (both learning skills and subject matter).
  • Optional. Find a mentor. This is someone who can give you guidance and worldly advice. It could be a neighbor, a business person or a wise old aunt. Whoever you choose it should be someone that you can trust. Someone you who feel relaxed and comfortable about having the occasional chat with them.
  • Oh ! Don't forget your teacher. Most teachers love to help interested, hardworking students. I would always go the extra mile for a student who was making the effort !
Your PLN will be a great asset for you. But it must be used in a professional, business-like manner when on-task. Remember, you are in the business of learning !

Step 4     Set up a Learning Journal
Start a Learning Journal.

This is a diary of you private thoughts and reflections of how you feel your learning is going. It's for your eyes only. Anything can be written about but the learning journal is mainly a tool of reflection (as well as monitoring and evaluation. Entries need not be made every day nor do they need to be too long. Examples of reflections:
  • my biology is OK but I need to ...
  • The test result was good but if I do ....
  • my recall definitely needs improving so I will ..
  • Pleased to know my written assignment work has much improved after I ..
  • I feel uneasy about ...
  • my new revision method really helped ..
  • by next month I will master that science ..
And so on. When you have a quiet little think about things be honest with yourself. Don't kid yourself along (self-delusion). In addition, if you decide that something has to improve /change then form an action plan and stick to it (you state the action you will take as well as setting a time limit).

You may also have a Learning Plan (eg. for Biology). It's a time line of learning the new material and then revising it - ready for the exam. (research shows that the more often you cover the material the more your understanding increases and - good news - it takes less time to recheck it). I may speak more on this at a later time.

Step 5     Use a daily planner

Set up a daily diary for time management. Critical you do this !

This helps you organize yourself for schoolwork or university studies (schedule in time for pre-reading for coming lessons etc.), home life, downtime (critical you build this in) and perhaps a small part-time job.

Don't lose sight of priorities !
Try to be as detailed as possible - then you can easily identify times of high demand as well as spare time slots. I may put together a post on this later on)

Remember that you must keep your priorities right. Never forget your future hopes. Don't dash them by poor self-control !

Step 6    Be serious about learning

Check your attitude to your learning effort.

Remember you are in the business of learning. Always conduct yourself in a professional manner. What would you think if the doctor said "Oh .. I tired of treating the flu, come back tomorrow."

Step 7   Keep a business-like study area

Finally, your study area.

Study area is a place of work
Make it your learning business office. Make it look the part. Only be in the study when you are working. Clear away all other distractions. No music allowed while you work (Why ? Check my Working Memory Post - and research has shown ....)

You will become a better Student !

The more you practice these behaviours of learning preparation and management the easier they will become second nature to you - as automatic habits !

I've shown you the way. Now it's up to you !

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