Lecture 3

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Author: Sandra Harmatiuk
Assume Responsibility for One's Own Learning

Assume Responsibility for One's Own Learning

To learn new material, you must work with it; you must give it structure. Thomas Mann has said that “Organization and simplification are the keys to mastery.” The best and most efficient learners are active learners.

Active learners

  • ask questions
  • test themselves
  • learn the material when they first encounter it
  • spread out review to support the original learning.

Active learners understand the importance of taking responsibility for their own learning. For any course that you are taking, you need to understand that, although the instructor will present the basic information and guide you to understanding, the actual learning falls on your shoulders. It is important as you begin your academic journey through the university, that you understand how the questions presented in Lesson 1 apply to the particular discipline.

Assignment: Answer the questions on the  Learning Styles Questionnaire, and after you receive your results, click the link to "Learning Styles Descriptions" for an explanation of the scales shown on your results.

Declarative Knowledge

You need to distinguish between two kinds of knowledge: declarative knowledge and procedural knowledge. Declarative knowledge is the easiest knowledge to deal with and the kind of knowledge with which you are most familiar from previous learning experiences. It involves gathering information. Such knowledge involves three things. In gathering information, you need to have:

  • Knowledge of specific facts

  • Knowledge of terminology

  • Ability to carry out algorithms (following steps to a solution).

One of the most important skills to develop here is the ability to memorize. Most of the tests you took in high school were based on this kind of knowledge.

Procedural Knowledge

College professors, although they assume you have gathered the information, also focus on procedural knowledge, which asks you to apply the information in new ways and in different situations. Whereas the fundamental question for declarative knowledge is “What do you know?, the fundamental question for procedural knowledge is “What can you do with what you know?” The skills needed at this level are more complex in nature but fall into three categories: comprehension, application, and analysis. In each of these categories a number of skills or abilities must be developed:

Comprehension Application Analysis
Knowledge of concepts Ability to solve routine problems Ability to solve non-routine problems
Knowledge of principles, rules, and generalizations Ability to make comparisons Ability to discover relationships
Knowledge of structure Ability to analyze data Ability to follow arguments
Ability to transform elements from one form to another Ability to recognize patterns Ability to criticize arguments
Ability to follow a line of reasoning   Ability to formulate and validate generalizations
Ability to read and interpret problems    

Complete Reading Exercise 1:
Some Principles of College Reading

Making the Reading and Writing Connection 

Reading is the first step in the acquisition of knowledge.

Good readers: 
  • respond to the reading--talk about it and with it.

  • activate their background--they reflect on what they know and what they don't know.

  • trust that meaning will come--they monitor their comprehension.

  • know where to go when meaning is unclear.

  • paraphrase the reading.

  • question--develop a purpose for reading.

  • summarize.

  • evaluate and synthesize the reading.

  • construct meaning based on what they have lived.

Activity: Test yourself on your reading

Basic Rules for Reading Books:

  1. Analysis of a book's structure
    • Classify the book according to kind and subject matter.
    • State what the whole book is about with the utmost brevity
    • Enumerate its major parts in their order and relation, and analyze these parts as you have analyzed the whole.
    • Define the problem or problems the author is trying to solve.
  2. Interpretation of a book's contents
    • Come to terms with the author by interpreting his basic words.
    • Grasp the author's leading propositions through dealing with his most important sentences.
    • Know the author's arguments, by finding them in, or constructing them out of, sequences of sentences.
    • Determine which of his problems the author solved, and which he did not; and of the latter, decide which the author knew he failed to solve.
  3. Criticism of a book as a communication of knowledge

    General maxims:

    • Do not begin criticism until you have completed analysis and interpretation. (Do not say you agree, disagree, or suspend judgment, until you can say, "I understand.")
    • Do not disagree disputatiously or contentiously.
    • Respect the difference between knowledge and opinion, by having reasons for any critical judgment you make.
  4. Specific criteria for points of criticism:

    • Show wherein the author is uninformed.
    • Show wherein the author is misinformed.
    • Show wherein the author is illogical.
    • Show wherein the author's analysis or account is incomplete.

    Note: Of these, the first three are criteria for disagreement. Failing in all of these, you must
    agree, in part at least, though you may suspend judgment on the whole, in the light of the
    fourth point. For more detail, read the article, A Meeting of Minds, by Mortimer Adler.

The Writing Connection

Having mastered the reading, you are now being called upon to write about the topic (in an essay, in your notes, etc.).

Listening to a Lecture 

  1. Preparation
    • Read assigned material BEFORE class.
    • Establishes important facts before hearing the lecture
    • Points to ideas to listen for.
  2. Key Questions
    • How is the lecture organized?
    • What is the main idea?
    • What details are emphasized?
  3. Clues to Organization
    • Key words and phrases (Examples)
    • Repetition of ideas (either verbatim or with slight variation)
    • Change of pace
    • Change of tone, stress.
  4. Problems to Overcome
    • Failure to listen actively
    • Ear-hand coordination
    • Failure to block out “manner” for “matter”
    • Physical condition, mood
    • Failure to prepare in advance
    • Physical distractions.
  5. Format of Notes
    • Be brief
    • Be consistent
    • Avoid complete sentences
    • Use recognizable titles and sub-titles
    • Devise a method of shorthand
    • Create a shorthand glossary
    • Leave space for comments, reactions, questions
    • Do not try to get every word
    • Be alert for relation of material in lecture to facts already covered
    • Be legible
    • Label notes properly
    • Concentrate
    • Review notes as soon as possible after class (within 24 hours)
    • Compare notes with someone else
    • Use your own words (where possible): don't just memorize and parrot back.
  6. After the Lecture

    Can you...

    • State the controlling idea of the lecture or discussion?
    • Summarize the topics covered?
    • Give sufficient detail to elaborate main points?
    • List important terms?
    • List additional works to be consulted (If given)?

Activity: Checklist for generating questions from lecture notes

A Test to Repeat for Every Subject 

Every academic field has its own logic or system of meanings. To learn the field is to learn the system. To learn the system underlying a discipline is to create it in the mind which requires thinking to be reshaped and modified. The following link has a  set of questions you should ask yourself. (Ideally, you should set aside 30 – 45 minutes per week for a weekly review. This review time is especially important for courses in which the material is spread out over several weeks or even months.)

Activity: Take the test now


Ideas abstracted from:

  • CPE/REDE. How to Study Independently
  • Downes, Efficient Study Habits
  • Morgan/Deese. How to Study
  • Simms. Improving College Study Habits


Proceed to: Lecture 4.
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