Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Tell Myself Everything I Know

As noted in my most recent weekly summary, I plan on trying two new study techniques this week: Speaking and writing out "everything I know," and imposing time limits on certain learning activities. My purpose in doing so is to improve my comprehension, learning, understanding, and to prevent myself from taking shortcuts. I'm only doing a trial run this week, so we'll have to see how it works out.

I learned of the "Tell Me Everything You Know" technique from Lisa Vandamme's video blog. She was describing a new technique one of her teachers, I think, came up for getting students to summarize their learning. She noted that one of her teachers was surprised that some of his students could only cite the subjects they studied when asked what they learned in class, neglecting to mention what it is about the subject that they learned. This indicated a superficial understanding, or at least a relaxed effort in dealing with the new cognitive material. To try and remedy the problem, the question was rephrased so as to encourage the student to exhaustively detail everything about the subject they learned, and the teacher found it led to much more detailed answers. I think this may be a valuable technique to add to my own personal studies in combination with another to prevent shortcuts.

Part of my formal procedure in handling such books as Good Calories, Bad Calories is that at the end of my notes I mark a section to reflect on my thoughts during my reading, but I've been going about it terribly. I usually only write very brief paragraphs, sometimes even mere sentences, that only comment on the quality of the chapter and whether I thought it was "good" or "uninteresting," which is so shallow as to be useless to write. Furthermore, by not imposing any rules I was mentally cheating myself by allowing myself to write these piddly sentences in order to finish my studies and say I got it "done." It hasn't been benefiting me any, and overall I'm just cheating myself. The Reflection area is simply too open-ended to be of any use except to maybe document any questions I have for further thinking, which, too, are something I seldom write.

To fix my problem, I'd like to try out Ms. Vandamme's technique. I'll omit the Reflection area in my notes and instead start an entirely separate homework assignment in which I try to write out "everything I know," the things that I've gained from my prior reading. Furthermore, to make better use of my timing methodology I'll impose a time limit for how long I must keep myself engaged in that activity, so that I don't allow myself to cheat by writing a couple sentences and calling it "done." It doesn't matter how much or what I write; my goal is to keep myself writing for at least a certain amount of time in order to make full use of the technique. By doing this I'll be keeping consistent with my own views in which precisely defined expectations lead to precisely executed actions. A precise time limit will determine a precise amount of time spent writing. I can't rationalize my way out of the alarm I set.

Since this will be new to my studies, I'll probably be awful at it and write in disconnected streams, perhaps even going so far as to simply state isolated assertions and thoughts detached from each other, but that's of no matter. The goal is to improve how I learn and how I summon and organize that learning after the teaching material is absent. My thinking about a learning subject shouldn't cease just because the book has closed; there needs to be something to help sustain my mental efforts, and I think this questioning and timing technique is it. If successful, then with further practice I hope in the future this leads to drastic changes in my mental processes, allowing me much more competent use of my knowledge, especially in relaying it to others curious about my beliefs.

But I'm also going to take this a little further. Not only will I apply this as a homework assignment for after my formal study subject readings, but also to my conceptual exercises and food tasting. I'm not having any problems with my tasting right now -- I think this technique would just be an improvement -- but I sure am cheating myself on my conceptual exercises. While using an online dictionary has definitely been helping me do a greater amount of conceptual exercises in a lesser amount of time, I think I'm going through my conceptual exercises way too fast and am not working hard enough to thoroughly establish a connection to perceptual reality. Again, the problem is that I look up and read a concept's definition, "feel" I understand it, and call it good. Sometimes a single conceptual exercise might last under ten seconds. I'll impose a time limit for how long I must dedicate myself to each concept, during which I can say however much or whatever I want about a concept, only I must keep myself talking during the imposed time limit. As for my food tasting, I'll just be employing the "Everything I Know" (that's how I'll cite this technique short-hand from now on) method without time limits, since I can only say so much about a food item and I don't like talking during a good eating experience. My goal there is to train my ability to effectively speak out my estimate of an item in as deep of details I can muster. Such skills would come in handy if I should ever need to advertise something, like if I were to write out a menu.

As of right now it's confusing as to how long of a time limit would be appropriate, so for now I'll have to settle for trial and error. A long time limit would be appropriate for my formal studies, so I'll settle for ten minutes in that realm, but given the quantity of my conceptual exercises I need to keep it short so that I don't lose motivation to sustain the practice. For my conceptual exercises I'll settle for one minute each on each concept, which will at least prevent me from doing only ten seconds of thinking. My conceptual exercises are by far the still most flawed practice in my study endeavors, so much more work needs to be done on that to maximize its effectiveness and my motivation.

We'll see how it goes. You'll be updated on Friday.

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