It’s Not So Bad: Chunking Writing Assignments to Improve Managability

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Sometimes writing a big essay can seem daunting and overwhelming, making it hard to figure out where to start. A great strategy for this scenario is to break the assignment down into smaller, more manageable sections.

In her writing strategies book “Bird by Bird,” Anne Lamott outlines three strategies that can be used to help kick-start the writing process:

  1. Outlining
  2. Sub-Goaling
  3. Fragmenting

Outlining is often a familiar strategy that many students use to manage and understand a large writing project (Lamott, 15). Section headings of scholarly journal articles are usually structured around this method (abstract, introduction, literature review, methodology, findings, and conclusion).

When creating an effective outline, it should be refined for at least three levels of specificity.

For example:

  • Literature Review
    • Research on the factors that affect student success during the first year of post-secondary studies
      • School management and leadership
      • Instructional strategies
      • School climate
      • Guidance and counselling
      • Parental support
      • Peer support
      • Work climate and commitment

The sub points are all smaller topics of discussion that make up the larger section of the essay, making it more organized and thus more manageable. Similarly to any other form of writing, do not worry if you stray from your outline or original idea – that is the beauty of writing, it can be edited and revised along the way.

The second strategy Sub-Goaling suggests that setting goals within one’s writing is necessary to establish a sense of purpose for each task; this gives writers a feeling of satisfaction and self-efficacy once each ‘step’ is completed (Lamott, 17).

The first question you want to ask yourself about your topic is “why”, after which you should generate a couple statements of purpose (e.g.  ‘So what’), this will help provide direction for your writing.

Next, ask yourself “how” you will achieve this goal. This turns your ideas into concrete tasks and will help to guide you through your paper.

For example:

“The Why” – It is important to be aware of the many factors that affect student success in post-secondary education because students can suffer both emotionally and academically if they struggle with any of them.

“The How” – Students can be better set up for success by being aware of the factors that affect them during school such as: instructional strategies, school climate, parental support, peer support, and work climate. By studying these factors in depth, we can better understand the challenges that students face, and thus learn to better address them.

The third strategy used is Fragmenting – this can be useful if you have an idea for an essay, but aren’t sure where to go with it yet. You would pick your topic and brainstorm ideas about it that you think would be important to your reader within the context of your paper. (Lamott, 18) “What else does/should my reader know about this?”

Once you have enough ideas, begin to group them together into sections that make sense to you. Eventually, you can begin to formulate different argumentative sections of your essay. If needed, you can always rearrange the points into different sections if you decide you want to organize the paper differently. From here, you just need to come up with transitional ideas to stitch everything together!

Hopefully, you will be able to make use of these strategies to make the essay writing season a little less stressful and a little more enjoyable!

Happy Writing,

Mason Gomes

Senior Peer Mentor

 

 

Works Consulted:

Lamott A. (1995). Bird by bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life. New York: Anchor.

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The Gentleman of the Hour: Benjamin Bloom, why is he so important?

 

What is Bloom’s Taxonomy?

Have you ever heard of Bloom’s Taxonomy or Dr. Benjamin Bloom?  Some of you reading this might be thinking “Why this again?”; Some of you might be thinking “Why is this guy so special?”; and still others might accept and cherish Bloom’s thinking.  By the time you are done reading this blog post, I hope that will be able to see why Bloom’s Taxonomy is so important to your own work at university!

Bloom’s Taxonomy is a way to classify cognition or thinking: how learners know and how they think (Milman 2015).  Bloom created this taxonomy of cognition as an approach to design exam questions, prompting students to apply information in order to answer test questions (Fleet, Goodchild, and Zajchowski 1999).  The recent focus of Bloom’s Taxonomy concerns the revised version, which will be the focus of this blog.  According to Milman (2015) “The revised Bloom’s Taxonomy was developed […] in response to findings from more current research about our understanding of learning ‘emphasizing what learners know (knowledge) and how they think (cognitive processes)’” (18).  There are two different dimensions in the theory: the knowledge dimension and the cognitive process dimension, the second of which is most important for understanding the Taxonomy.  The cognitive process dimension includes a lower order of thinking moving towards a higher order of thinking: remember, understand, apply, analyze, evaluate, and create.  By using these levels of thinking, your knowledge acquisition and understanding will increase.

Blooms

(Milman 2015, 19)

 Blooms2

How to use Bloom’s in your Studying

             Now that you know about Bloom’s Taxonomy and the different levels of cognitive processes, how can you use that for your classes?  Fleet, Goodchild, and Zajchowski (1999) detail “seven active learning strategies for effective information using” based on Bloom’s Taxonomy (142):

  • “Write or recite all the important details from memory”
  • “Generate your own new examples”
  • “Predict and then answer likely test questions”
  • “Rehearse the whole exam by writing an old exam in test-like conditions”
  • “Spend a lot of time doing varied problems”
  • “Rehearse by writing short essays”
  • “Make up mnemonics for difficult-to-remember information”

One of the main ways that you can use Bloom’s while studying is to rehearse for various levels of questioning that will appear on a test or exam.  What types of questions do you expect to see on a test?  Using the key words from Bloom’s Taxonomy and considering the concepts in your course will allow you to use Bloom’s Taxonomy in your studying.  For example, if I have a multiple choice exam, and I think that I will encounter mostly application questions based on the information I have, I could create questions using verbs like classify, illustrate, examine, demonstrate, interpret: “A page with three sections labelled notes, review, and summary is an example of what type of note-taking strategy?” (A: Cornell System).

You can also use Bloom’s Taxonomy to create how, why, application or explanation questions that will guide your studying or your study notes.  Using the chart of the levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy above should help you understand how to compose questions to guide your studying.  Asking yourself questions as you study will allow you to apply the information, and think about the information in a new way, therefore further solidifying it in your memory.  Creating questions or studying using Bloom’s Taxonomy will also help you connect your new learning to prior knowledge, bring experience to the situation, and prompt your thinking about your course as well as the process of learning.

Metacognition and Bloom’s Taxonomy

             Using Bloom’s Taxonomy will spark your metacognitive skills.  “What is metacognition?” you ask?  Well, it is thinking about thinking, or understanding our understanding.  Are you still confused?  Metacognition is taking time to personally reflect on your knowledge, skills, strengths, and weaknesses.  It enhances self-awareness about learning and understanding.  In order to use your metacognitive skills with Bloom’s Taxonomy, you can test yourself to know whether you have learned or understood the class material.  Using Bloom’s Taxonomy to question your learning will allow you to think about how you are learning and if you are learning.  Essentially, Bloom’s Taxonomy will enhance your metacognition.

Happy Studying!

-Rebecca Good

Senior Peer Mentor

References:

Fleet, Joan, Fiona Goodchild, and Richard Zajchowski. 2006. Learning for Success: Effective Strategies for Students: Fourth Edition. Toronto: Nelson.

Fleet, Joan, Fiona Goodchild, and Richard Zajchowski. 1999. Learning for Success: Effective Strategies for Students: Third Edition. Toronto: Nelson.

Milman, Natalie. 2015. “Discussion Questions Using the Revised Bloom’s Taxonomy as a Framework.” Distance Learning 11 (4): 17-20.

 

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WEEDing through the Challenges of Group Projects

Often times when students hear the phrase “group project”, they shudder almost immediately at the very idea of having to collaborate with their peers. Group projects tend to be attached to feelings of stress, frustration, and confusion. Besides the initial dread of organizing the logistics of when to meet and where to meet, there are many instances where problems can arise throughout the process of completing the project. At times, it can be especially difficult to motivate a group and maximize efficiency. Problems can emerge in a number of different ways. The group can have trouble determining where to get started, agreeing on ideas, staying organized, remaining on task, and so on. These are just some of the negative characteristics that seem to give group projects a bad reputation in the minds of students.

On the flip side, if group projects are completed effectively, they can fulfill their true purpose and be an exciting experience where students learn from their peers and acquire good skills, like compromise and problem solving, which are needed for working with others (Veil & Turner, 2002). Veil and Turner (2002) suggest many strategies for maximizing the efficiency in a group. The following are some of the helpful tips that they suggest (along with annotations from yours truly) to increase motivation, energy and efficiency in order to improve the group project experience.

  1. W – Watch your pace. Pay attention to the pace at which the group is working. If you find that the group is moving too quickly, slow down the pace of the group, but if you find that the work is dragging on, speed up the pace of the work (Veil & Turner, 2002). If certain members are having trouble keeping up, or particular parts of the project are not being given enough attention, this may be a sign that the pace is moving too quickly. To slow down the pace, techniques that I suggest are to have everybody go back and review the parts of the project that have been completed, or to talk about the overall goals that the group wants to achieve by the end of the meeting. These are opportunities to take a small break, and to allow the team to re-group again. On the flip-side, if you notice that the group is experiencing a lull, I recommend that you try switching the subject or moving onto a new task for the time being. This quick adjustment can be the right boost of energy that a group needs to re-establish motivation and efficiency.

 

  1. E – Establish a Commitment to the Groups Success. To try to make sure that all members are working towards the success of the group, it can be helpful to establish “common goals” that are reviewed throughout the duration of the project, to recognize the “progress” that is made, and to record the “achievements which are [made] due to joint effort” of everybody (Veil & Turner, 2002, p.138). During the completion of the project, I think that it can be motivating to recognize and to celebrate (perhaps by crossing a task off on a list) when goals of the group are being worked towards or are completed. Additionally, when there is a clear list of goals and tasks, jobs can be divided more easily between members which makes the project more manageable for everybody. Being accountable to others and a list of joint goals can be motivation to encourage group members to not only complete their portion efficiently but also put their best work forward.

  1. E – Ensure that All Members of the Group Have a Voice. Sometimes it can seem that the group members who talk the most have all the best ideas; so, the most “talkative group members” can seem to dominate the discussion now and again (Veil & Turner, 2002, p.139). Of course their ideas are valid, important, and encouraged; however, it is important to acknowledge the value of the quieter members’ ideas as well. Their quietness does not mean that they do not have anything to contribute. Veil and Turner (2002) say that “[looking] for body language and [distinguishing] timidity (‘I do not dare’) from inability (‘I cannot’)” can be a way to identify when to encourage quiet members’ participation (p.139). If the less talkative members are quiet because they are apprehensive to offer their ideas, try addressing them personally and asking them their opinions. However, if a group member truly looks like they do not have anything to contribute, let that go and come back to them later for an idea on a different topic. To maximize motivation and efficiency, I think that it is best to try to incorporate the ideas and strengths of all members in order to achieve the group’s full potential.

 

  1. D – Devils Advocate Be Gone. Have you ever stopped contributing to a group discussion because your ideas were continually being questioned? Establish within your group when it can be helpful to play devil’s advocate and when it is not. Some group members have a difficult time not challenging every idea that another person may share (Veil & Turner, 2002). Creating these boundaries helps those members know when to challenge and when to let that idea slide. This is especially important because constant questioning of ideas can lead to decreased motivation and willingness for people to share their ideas as they feel that there is a high risk of their ideas being attacked (Veil & Turner, 2002). In my opinion, group projects are all about sharing and learning from one another; therefore, the group work environment should be a safe place to brainstorm any and all ideas. Any idea, no matter how silly, or off-the-mark, can act as a starting point for great, innovative ideas that may shape the entire project!

These tips are just some of the ways that will help you to WEED out the negative aspects of group projects, and allow you to cultivate the motivation and efficiency of any group in hopes of achieving the group’s maximum potential.

All the best,

Kayla

Peer Mentor

Reference:

Veil, C., & Turner, J. R. (2002). Group efficiency improvement: how to liberate energy in project groups. International Journal of Project Management, 20, 137-142. Retrieved from http://www.sciencedirect.com.libproxy.wlu.ca/science/article/pii/S0263786300000363

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Achieving Work-Life Balance as a Student

Student life is most definitely not the average 9-5 office job. With different daily scheduling, squeezing in study time, and trying to have a social life, it can feel like it’s not possible to get everything done. Knowing this, you would think that a tonne of information would be available to help students wade their way through this issue. But when I began my search, I found very minimal information available for undergraduate students. This really made me think: do researchers not see our struggles to get it all done and do it well?

We have all had those moments where there is just not enough time in the day to get everything done and keep calm at the same time. However, having work-life balance is a key element of student success, so it’s an important topic to consider when you’re planning your work schedule, class schedule and extra-curricular activities (Brus, 2006). Having gone through this challenge myself (and still going through it!), I have some tips that will hopefully help you make the most of your time.

  1. Have a schedule

This might seem a bit rigid, but if you’re trying to balance all of your responsibilities and not feel overwhelmed, a simple schedule to help guide your work and personal life can make everything seem a little easier. At the Centre for Student Success, we are here to help with this. If you just need a term calendar to track a semester’s worth of assignments and tests, we can help with that. Or maybe you need a weekly schedule to divide up your time; we can do that too. I’m not saying that you have to stick to the schedule and never enjoy a spontaneous night out, but a schedule is at least a guideline to help you make room for school, work and fun.

  1. Balance your time

balance

It would be great if we could dedicate all of our time to work and studying; however, it’s just not possible or good for our health. It’s just as important to plan dedicated time for things you enjoy (Hay, Bochner, Dungey & Perret, 2012). While this may sometimes take a backseat when times are super busy, it’s a good habit to block out time for yourself and stick to it.  It will make it easier when it’s time to study because you won’t be as tempted by distractions.

  1. Use reading week to your advantage

Try using reading week to actually read. It’s not a trip to Cuba, but it will help you balance everything for the rest of the semester. Reading week has passed for this term, but keep this in mind for the semesters to come. Reading week is a great time to get ahead and minimize your workload for the rest of the semester. As a working student, this is key for me. It gives me time to reset and take on the rest of the semester.

  1. Prioritize

Sometimes you won’t get everything done that you wanted to. This is really hard for me to grasp some days, but it can be the reality of a working student’s life. Prioritizing ensures that the most important things don’t get pushed to the side.  It can be helpful to create a task list ranked in priority order (Hay et al, 2012). This helps you to work through what is most pressing and what could be done later. I find that even just making the list is beneficial, because it helps me organize everything I need to do and plan out how I will accomplish it.

Here is a sample task list that I created:

sample task list

  1. Look out for the procrastination monster
    Procrastination can easily derail a balanced schedule. Before you know it, your dedicated study time has been spent watching YouTube or staring at the T.V. It can be really hard to avoid procrastination, but as Hay et al (2012) suggest, it might be a good idea to look a little deeper into why you’re putting an assignment off. Maybe there’s something you just don’t understand or you’re not sure where to start (Hay et al, 2012). Recognizing the reason why you’re procrastinating will help you address the root issue and get the work done. If you find that there is a recurring theme for your procrastination, it can help you to make necessary changes to keep yourself on track.

In all, it is possible to have a healthy, happy life as a working student. With a little effort into planning, you will be well on your way to achieving the balance you need to get it all done. Remember, at the centre we are here to help you with all of your studying and writing needs, so feel free to book an appointment online or drop by!

Chelsey Kerr

Peer Mentor

References

Balance Beam Clip Art, Adapted from ClipArt Hut. 2015. Retrieved from: http://www.cliparthut.com/balance-beam-clip-art-clipart-UkJFaD.html

Brus, C.P. (2006). Seeking balance in graduate school: A realistic expectation or a dangerous dilemma? New Directions for Student Services, (115), p. 31-45. doi: 10.1002/ss.214

Hay, I., Bochner, D., Dungey, C. & Perret, N. (2012). Making the grade: A guide to study and success, Canadian edition. Don Mills, Ontario: Oxford University Press.

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How to Manage Stress During Midterm Season

Hello everyone! Welcome to October! There are a few things coming around the corner like Thanksgiving, Halloween, and Midterm season. That last one is not as fun as the first two. During midterm season, I see many students stressing out over their exams and their essays that are due this month, myself included. As much as being stressed may be the only option to make it through midterm season, there are ways to reduce that amount of stress. Here are a few tips and tricks I have learned over my many midterm seasons to help reduce stress:

  1. Make a study plan. During midterm season, I am constantly looking at my calendars. It helps to show me what tests are coming up and what essays and assignments are due when. Do not get me wrong, sometimes I get the feeling of “How am I going to make it through this week?”. But fret not, as this is where the study plan comes in. By creating set times to study, I am able to sit down and focus myself for an hour or two at a time to look over my notes, do my readings, and work on my essays. If you want to have a study schedule but have no idea where to start, feel free to book an appointment for a Personalized Study Schedule at the Centre for Student Success.
  2. Do not study the same subject for too long. Sometimes after studying for the same course, I find myself reading one of the pages in my textbooks for that course and absorbing nothing from it. This is because I’ve overexposed my brain to a certain subject, and my brain likes variety. For example, if I have 5 or 6 hours of study time that day, I am not going to dedicate the entirety of that to studying for my Religion and Popular Culture class. By hour 3 I find myself daydreaming and not paying attention to the page in front of me. So I like to switch up what I am studying in order to keep me interested.
  3. Get a good night’s sleep. Most people have seen a movie where a college student pulls an all-nighter to study for the test he or she has the next day. And surprise, he or she aces the test. However, it does not necessary work like that in the real world. I have seen classmates come in after pulling an all-nighter that are groggy, overtired, and more nervous than before they tried to cram all their studying into one night. Not only are they overtired, but their brain did not have time to properly encode the information that they studied through the night. The brain needs sleep in order to do that. So not only were they tired, but they did not absorb as much as they thought they did.
  4. Take study breaks. In my first semester of my first year, I did not stop studying for my midterms. I pretty much spent all my time out of class reading, looking over notes, or writing essays, only stopping to eat and sleep. By the time midterm season had ended, I was completely burnt out. I learned from this. In my second semester, I stopped to watch videos, to hang out with my friends, etc. I found that by not spending all my time studying and by including activities I enjoyed into my plans, I was not as burnt out by the end of midterm season.

No one said midterm season was easy. However, it is possible to manage the amount of stress associated with midterm season. As always, if you would like help with study skills or want a personalized study schedule, feel free to book an appointment at the Centre for Student Success in Brantford.

Good luck during midterm season,

Nicholas

Peer Mentor

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