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.

Mind Mapping unplugged – How to Mind Map from beginning to end

Another month and another MasterClass live on-line lecture, this time on “How to Mind Map” don’t worry this is the last one for a while. I have blogged before about Mind Mapping, explaining the principles and how to draw one. So this presentation was to look in more detail as to how you should do it, starting with a text book and working through the various versions until you get to the “overview map” at the end.

Below is a note of the key learning’s from this presentation.

Steps In Mind Mapping – assuming you know nothing about the subject

1. Mind map the Contents page – identify key words

Firstly take the text book that you want to study from and find the contents page. Use the headings on this page as your guide, these should form the basis of your first map.

This will be very simple summary of the key themes radiating from a central image or word. Mentally stay away from the detail and just record the words. At this stage it is little more than black and white spider diagram.

 

 

2. Redraw the Mind Map – asking what is this chapter/section/word all about, what does it mean?

Look at the completed map and redraw, this time though just flick through the chapters looking for the main headings in the book. Notice terms that may be similar, perhaps showing that they are parts of the same topic but have been split up into two or even three chapters simply because of the amount that has to be learned. Add to the detail of the map using some of the content from the book and any syllabus guidance that may be given. At this stage you need to reduce the number of branches coming from the central theme.

3. Study each chapter

You can’t get away from this part I am afraid, you now have to study each chapter or attend a course that will prepare you for the exam. But you are doing so with some understanding as to what you will be studying and how it fits together.

4. Redraw individual chapters in colour

This is when we produce out first real Mind Map. Redraw the key topics, in colour showing how they all relate, use images and of course your imagination. Key topics at this stage may be chapters or combinations of chapters. At the end of the chapters of many study manuals there will be some questions, or at least there should be! Add these to your Mind Map so that you know which topics have been tested. This will also help direct your studies, mapping out the questions you should be doing.

5. Complete the final overview map

And finally take all of these individual Mind Maps and complete an overview map, one map that links all of the individual maps together, this will help you see the BIG picture, perfect for revision.

Hope that helps let me know how you get on….

More free content- EDU You Tube  

The availability of lectures and guidance on-line just keeps coming.  You Tube are now providing free content to help you study, check out EDU You Tube.

 

 

The De Vinci code – Mind Mapping to pass exams

Leonardo de Vinci was one of the first people to link words and pictures, using their combination to help with both learning and creativity. It also left behind a permanent record of what he had been thinking that could be used as a reminder for him and others, a set of notes!

Leonardo died in 1519 and it was not until the late 1960’s when Tony Buzan refined the technique and gave it a name “Mind Mapping. “

What is a mind Map?

According to Tony Buzan, mind maps are an expression of radiant thinking and a natural function of the human mind, a powerful graphical technique which provides a universal key to unlocking the potential of the brain. A nice description but I am not sure I understand what they are just from that.

In the context of making notes, I would define a mind map as a way of recording key words that, unlike linear notes, start with a central theme that is often an image, and have content that radiates out from this central theme like branches from a tree. They should be colourful and the note maker should use their imagination in drawing the map, bringing in images and showing connections in any way they wish.

How to draw a mind map

There are and should be few rules to mind mapping as the individual should bring as much of him or herself to the process as possible. But there are some guidelines.

1. In the centre of your paper, draw a square, a circle, or an image that will help you focus on the core issue of the mind map. Inside it, write the name of the subject or topic you are studying. It is probably best to have the paper in landscape rather than portrait.

2. What are the main points or substantial topics that relate to your central theme? Draw branches from the circle, like branches from a tree, to these sub topics. Print the key words on these branches, use block capitals if your writing is not so neat. You can also use geometric shapes for these new areas, or sketch a small picture. Why not do both?

3. The structure will broadly follow the key words that you highlighted from the text. You may, however, find that some of the topics or key words lead you to make connections that at first you did not see. Make the associations and don’t be afraid to re-draw the mind map if it gets a little messy.

4. Begin branching off into smaller but related topics. Think fast! Your mind may work best in 5-7 minute intense periods. Using different coloured pens to show the relationship between separate yet related topics can be very powerful. You can use symbols as well as pictures if that seems to come more naturally.

5. Mind maps work to a great degree because of your choice of keywords and the fact that they are short and to the point. Don’t feel that you have to expand on these; you don’t.

6. Let your thoughts and imagination go wild when it comes to the images. Although a mind map is logical and so requires you to use the left side of your brain, it also requires the use of colours and images, both of which involve large amounts of right side brain activity. Don’t worry about how good at drawing you are. You don’t need to be particularly good at art; it just needs to be legible and only to you.

Check this out  it is a really helpful and practical guide to using mind maps to make and organise notes.

If you want to hear Tony Buzan talk about mind maps, just click on the link to the right of this page in the Blogroll.

I personally find mind maps one of the most effective learning and exam tools I have ever come across. A map is much more than a simple note taking technique used to record content. It presents that content in such a way that aids learning. You will recognise how topics inter-relate and so begin to understand the subject, not just remember it. It is also, as the name suggests, a map: it shows you the whole subject, not just one part of it, so that you can see where you need to go next. And, like a map, you can take many different routes to get to your destination and, in so doing, learn more about the subject. It is also ideal for revision and is much easier to review than traditional notes largely because of the pictures

Try something new today

Some people say that mind mapping does not work for them and that may be true. But I think that if you had never been to school and were trying to learn or solve a problem, as Leonardo discovered all those years ago you would more than likely draw pictures and link those pictures with words than record your thoughts in a black and white linear format, so give it a go.

An accountancy student blogs about her experience using mind maps to help her pass exams.

 A general blog about mind mapping