Tuesday, May 5, 2015

11: Outline Your Assigned Readings; Concept Mapping

There is a science to preparing in advance of class, taking good notes while in class, and then consolidating such notes into outlines and/or concept maps. There are many different methods of outlining and note-taking; it is important for you to find a way that works for you.
First, understand again that college is not like high school. Many of your professors will not cover all of the material in the textbook, yet you will still be responsible for learning it. Class time is often not spent on understanding basic concepts and terminology, but rather on discussion of the application of those concepts.
As a result, you must undertake the readings (and any other assignments) prior to class and outline the material. During class, you will need to take notes. After each class, you should consolidate your notes into your outline. In this manner, not only will you learn more, but you will also be more engaged in class discussions and do better on exams.
The following information sets forth general guidelines for studying for any course. However, your professor may provide you, either in the syllabus, course outline, or during the first class in a course, with specific suggestions on how to best prepare for that class. Hence, be flexible in your approach.

Outline Assigned Readings
Outlining your reading assignment accomplishes a few different objectives, all at the same time. First, preparing an outline will aid you in better understanding and retaining the material. Second, your outline can serve as a summary which you can review just prior to class, thereby furthering your class interactions and your retention. (Often your outline can also be referred to, during class. This may vary with each professor’s policies.) Lastly, your outline provides you with an instant study guide for course exams.
Effective outlining requires you to be an active rather than a passive reader. You also need to approach the textbook in a methodical way.
     First, locate any learning objectives posted at the beginning of a chapter. Then look for the summary at the conclusion of the chapter. In doing this you become exposed to the core content of the chapter, which helps you structure your outline as you proceed.
    Second, read the chapter. Depending on its length, this may best be accomplished in one study period, or spread out over several study periods. As you proceed through the chapter, underline or highlight key points and write notes in your textbook.
     Third, start forming your outline. Use chapter and section headings as the initial headings for your outline. Search for the main ideas and subjects as you re-read the chapter and write your outline. Under each main heading, add subheadings that elaborate on the subject, giving additional facts and details.
a.  Your goal is to outline concepts found in the text, not just definitions of words.
b.  Use a standard outline format, such as “A” for heading titles, followed by an indented “1” for subheadings. Microsoft Word has some default outline heading/subheading schemes. Other, similar outlining techniques can be utilized.
c.  For an example of how one student outlines material, and then uses the outline for studying for quizzes and exams, view the YouTube video by xxnaivivxx, “How To; Outline Your Textbook (School & Study Tips)”, located at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jVrslRCDZSQ (9:25).
    Fourth, after completing your outline, undertake problem sets in the textbook. Academic studies have shown that when you practice retrieving and applying newfound knowledge on new problems, multiple times, your learning is significantly enhanced, especially when this practice is spaced out over time. As you practice, refer to your outline. If you find your outline does not sufficiently address a concept, add to it.
    Fifth, if the professor uses PowerPoints or lecture notes, ascertain if the slides or notes are posted in advance of the class discussion. If so, take the opportunity to review those slides or notes, and add to your outline – filling any gaps you have noticed.
Outlines can be either handwritten or typed. Each has their advantages.
Handwritten outlines are more easily remembered, especially if you use different color ink, highlighting, underlining, and boxes around related content. Because such handwriting varies more than typed text, it is simply easier to recall hand-written notes, than typed outlines, during a closed-book exam. If columns are utilized, and one column is left blank, then additional space exists for adding to the outline as the result of undertaking practice questions or adding summaries of notes taken in class.

Typed outlines permit greater flexibility in adding to the outline. It is easier to insert new knowledge, and/or re-organize outlines. In addition, working on a common outline can be undertaken in a study group (preferably with everyone in the same room), such as by using Google Docs’ share feature. If you subscribe to Microsoft’s Sharepoint, you can also share files. If you do choose to utilize typed text, take full advantage of formatting changes. For example, use different color type, highlighting, italics and bold fonts. Create three columns on a page for your content. Consider using text boxes. Then, print out your completed outlines and review them, with paper in hand, adding additional highlights.

The One-Page Handwritten Outline Alternative
Another type of outline is a one-page outline. In this type of outline, you may permit yourself just a single sheet of 8.5 x 11 paper, front-side only. It is best to first divide the page into three separate columns. Then, writing small, and often with different colored ink, you seek to consolidate all of the information contained in a chapter onto one page of notes. Often highlighting is utilized, either for terms, important concepts, or around related concepts.
So powerful is a well-prepared one-page handwritten outline that a few professors permit them to be utilized during open-book exams. This is especially true in subjects where the content changes over time, such as in reaction to changes in the law. Often professors, knowing that what you learn today will change over time, will desire to test your ability not to retain facts, but rather to apply those facts to situations (i.e., deductive reasoning). Additionally, many exams – especially as you proceed into upper-level courses – test your ability to be creative in problem-solving.

The Concept Map (Mind Map) Alternative
Research has demonstrated that it is easier to learn something new if you can link it to something you already know. A concept map is a diagram showing the relationships among concepts. It is a graphical tool for organizing and representing knowledge.
Concept maps, also called “mind maps,” are often utilized by students as an alternative to outlining. Concept maps are used most effectively when the hierarchical structure of information is represented well, and when new cross-links between related concepts are undertaken.
Concept maps can be created by hand, but mind-mapping software is often utilized. Mind mapping software uses visual diagrams to represent ideas, words, or other items related to and arranged around a central key concept. The appeal of mind maps lies in the way it visually captures and portrays how we think and process information. Rather than using a linear outlining approach, mind mapping involves an organically associated diagram of words, concepts, tasks, decisions, or other information, linked to individual items as their associations demand. Mind mapping software is frequently used to link to documents, web sites, images, and much more.
Here’s a simple overview of how to create a concept map:
There are many, many resources available on concept mapping. Freemind is a free downloadable software (for both PCs and Macs) which I utilize. A nice book on the subject is by Toni Krasnic, How to Study with Mind Maps: The Concise Learning Method for Students and Lifelong Learners (Expanded Edition, 2012), is available at Amazon.com for $4.99 (Kindle edition). Numerous videos on YouTube and elsewhere explore mind mapping and various mind mapping software solutions.
Concept mapping takes a bit of time to master, to obtain maximum effect. But the skills learned in concept mapping can then be utilized not just in college, but in a variety of situations in the real world in which information and concepts must be mastered or decisions undertaken. 

Taking Notes During Class, Generally
Academic studies have shown that taking notes with a pen and paper, rather than a laptop, leads to higher quality learning. Writing by hand strengthens the learning process, while typing can impair it.
Additionally, typing is more difficult than hand-writing notes. Often the focus of one’s attention shifts from the content of the notes to how they are formatted. Hence, while those who type notes during class tend to take far more notes, it often becomes “mindless processing.”
With your outline already in hand, note-taking during class can be done much more easily and productively. If you are using a hand-written outline, make a copy of it for use during class (save the original for updating, after class.) If you have saved space on each page of your outline, you can simply write down any new material or concepts covered in class. You can also underline or highlight material covered in class, as the lecture or class discussion progresses.
Rather than try to write down everything, in a well-organized manner, the key to note-taking in class is to jot down just enough information so you can recollect the information later. Make your notes brief. Never use a sentence where you can use a phrase. Never use a phrase where you can use a word.
Use abbreviations and symbols, but be consistent. While most notes should be brief and in your own words, certain content, such as formulas and specific facts, should be noted exactly.
If you miss a statement, write down a few key words and get the information later.

An Alternative: Taking “Cornell Notes” During Class.
A commonly used notetaking method is the “Cornell notetaking method.” These notes can be used as an alternative to outlining a textbook, as well as used during class lectures and discussions.
Some basic videos on notetaking during class using this method can be found at:

Many other good videos on the Cornell notetaking method exist on YouTube.

Consolidate Class Notes into Your Outline
As soon as possible after the conclusion of the lecture, obtain any PowerPoint slides utilized and/or lecture notes, if they are shared by the professor. Together with your class notes, then revise your outline.

Since material which is covered in class is usually far more commonly utilized as the source for quiz or exam questions, highlight the key concepts which were covered in class in your outline, either with a highlighter or by  using a “*” or other symbol.

Lastly, if problems were covered during the lecture, use your revised outline to go back and review the problems. Solve them yourself. If additional problem sets exist in the textbook, which you have previously not covered, test out the use of your outline on these problem sets.

Dr. Ron A. Rhoades is an Asst. Professor of Finance at Western Kentucky University's Gordon Ford College of Business, where he chairs the (B.S. Finance) Financial Planning Program. An innovative, passionate teacher, he is the author of Choose to Succeed in College and in Life: Continously Improve, Persevere, and Enjoy the Journey (2014)from which many of these blog posts are derived.

Dr. Rhoades also serves as a consultant to the Garrett Planning Network, a nationwide network of independent, Fee-Only financial planners making competent, objective financial advice accessible to all people. He is the author of several books, dozens of articles, and he is a frequent speaker at financial planning and investments conferences. He is the recipient of many awards for his advocacy on behalf of the fiduciary standard. Dr. Rhoades is also a member of The Florida Bar, and he practices estate planning and transfer taxation for select current clients.

Dr. Rhoades and his wife, Cathy, reside in Bowling Green, Kentucky.

To contact Dr. Rhoades, please e-mail: WKUBear@gmail.com.

No comments:

Post a Comment