Deliberate reading – How to read technical content

In his book Five Minds for the Future Howard Gardner identifies one mind as the Synthesising Mind. He describes this as the mind that takes informationfrom disparate sources, understands and evaluates that information objectively, and puts it together in ways that make sense to the synthesiser and also to other persons.

We live in an age where knowledge is not hard to find, just Google something and you will find no shortage of information on any subject. The skill or mind that you need to develop is to be better able to filter information focusing only on what is important and ignoring what is not. 

But there is just too much!

As a student at some point you will find yourself having to read a book that contains masses of information that you need to learn but given the volume probably not able to absorb. You will need to filter the information, reduce it down into manageable chunks that can be understood and made sense.

As Gardner suggests, this understanding is initially for your benefit but eventually you will have to explain it to others, so the understanding needs to be deeper than simply knowing.

So we need a way in which you can both read and learn at a deep level. Children read instinctively using their finger, putting it under the words they are trying to say. Of course when they go to school using your finger to learn is not encouraged, so they stop. But there is good reason that children do this, you need to focus your attention and pointing or underlining is one way of doing it. Below is a step by step guide as to how to read technical stuff or in fact anything that you need to have a far better understanding than a few random facts.

How to read with your synthesising mind

1. Find the content page in your book and very loosely mind map or write out the chapter headings; see my previous blog on mind mapping. Do this IN THE BOOK, okay you will have to write on the book and that might feel uncomfortable, but you need the information all together and the book is the best place to store it. This will help you gain an overview of what is to come. Your brain will already begin to put some shape to what you are about to learn and begin to make linkages.

2. Read each chapter, but underline the key points, try to underline key words and not huge paragraphs. This in itself will help you start to focus on what is important. Yes it will slow you down but you are not just reading you are learning. Knowing what the key points are is not easy so you will have to concentrate, however don’t spend forever, often your gut instinct is the right one.

3. Write in the margin your understanding of the key points or even just copy out what is in the book. The purpose of this is to reinforce the knowledge and to make it stand out even more. It is better if you have to think about what is said in the context of what you are trying to learn and write it out in your own words. However you don’t always have time, so never be afraid to simply copy.

4. Mind map or summarise all the key points that you have written in the margin within the chapter at the front of that chapter. This is your chance to show how it all fits together. Double check your summary with the one that is in the back of the chapter, this will make sure you don’t miss anything. Now of course what you could do is just read the summaries at the end of each chapter and if you are really short of time this can be very effective, however you will not learn from this, but it can be a better way of getting a more detailed overview than you would from the contents page.

5. Look at each of the chapter summaries and add to your initial overview of the book or simply re write the whole thing. This final summary or mind map will help consolidate your thoughts on what the really important points were, the key messages and aid your understanding.

Also in a few years if you pick this book off your shelf, or when you come to revise, it will be this summary that will bring everything flooding back.

And just in case your curious – the other four minds are

The Disciplined Mind

The disciplined mind has mastered at least one way of thinking – a distinctive mode of cognition that characterizes a specific scholarly discipline, craft or profession.

The Creating Mind

The creating mind breaks new ground. It puts forth new ideas, poses unfamiliar questions, conjures up fresh ways of thinking, arrives at unexpected answers.

The Respectful Mind

The respectful mind notes and welcomes differences between human individuals and between human groups, tries to understand these “others,” and seeks to work effectively with them.

The Ethical Mind

The ethical mind ponders the nature of one’s work and the needs and desires of the society in which he lives. This mind conceptualizes how workers can serve purposes beyond self-interest and how citizens can work unselfishly to improve the lot of all.

Not fast food – fast learning

Last week I presented a live on-line lecture to about 250 students who had registered to attend the course, the subject How to learn faster. 

So I thought it might be interesting to devote this blog to a summary of the key points from that presentation.

 

Accelerated or fast learning

Accelerated leaaning is a collective term for a series of practical approaches to learning. In many ways it is simply an explanation of the way in which you learn, the logic being that if you understand how information gets into your head you will be able to speed up individual parts of that process and so learn faster. Let’s have a look at what is involved in the accelerated learning process.

How we learn – or at least one version

Take a look at the picture on the right, focus on the information arrow. This represents what you are trying to learn, you receive that information either Visually, Auditory or Kinaesthetically (smell touch taste) see July blog.

Learning tip 1 – Use all of your senses. When learning think about the best way of processing information, if it doesn’t make sense having read it a few times, then why not draw a picture?

One of the big problems with learning is motivation and the secret to motivation is to set goals and have Outcomes. Before you start learning think what your objectives are both short and long term then write them down.

Learning tip 2 – Write down your learning goals but make them positive and within your power. It is no good writing down I want to pass an exam when you cannot control that. Better to write that you will practice 4 questions tonight, now you can do that.

Next focus on the Practice arrows – Practice is vital. You can’t get away from the fact that the more you practice the better you get, see August blog on deliberate practice.

Learning tip 3 – Practice practice, practice….and practice again

Now look at the first of the 3 pink bubbles, MIT. MIT stands for Multiple Intelligence Theory – Don’t ask how intelligent you are, ask which intelligence you have. Howard Gardner suggested that there were 8 different intelligences, ranging from musical to logical to interpersonal.

Learning tip 4 – Don’t get hung up about intelligence, it doesn’t help, chances are your average. There are lots of types of intelligences and you may not like maths/logical subjects and are better at the written/linguistic papers. If you’re not good at maths just work harder at it, but have confidence that you are good at many other things. Intelligence is not one thing that you either have or don’t, it is more complicated.

Second of the pink bubbles is – State. State is another word for frame of mind. If you are not in the right frame of mind then you won’t learn quickly.

Learning tip 5 – If you don’t feel in the right mood for learning, then change your mood. Get up walk around, make a coffee or remind yourself you have the exam in only two weeks time. That normally works! 

Memory is the third of the bubbles – Memory is not the same as intelligence, you can improve the speed at which you learn by using memory techniques.

Learning tip 6 – Learn and begin to use some simple memory techniques, mind mapping, acronyms and acrostics are a good start.

And finally in the white bubble – Reflection. No learning process is complete without thinking back over what you have learned. What might you do differently next time, can you explain what you have learned to others?

Learning tip 7 – Keep a learning log or at least take some time out of your day to think back on what you have learned.

It’s not magic but it will work

Accelerated or fast learning is not a magic built or a pill that you can take that will require no effort from you, but it is an explanation
of learning, that stops you thinking of learning as something that happens sometimes. It is just a process and the more you understand about that process the
faster you can learn.

As they say learning is not a spectator sport…..

 

I have just discovered twitter. You can follow me by clicking on the panel to the right. My initial thoughts were that it was a waste of time but I have found it very demanding to make your point in 140 characters and have picked up lots of new information from others, see everyone is learning.