Time Management

Just a quick word to say that, as I was preparing for a writer with time management concerns, I found the exercises in Stella Cottrell’s Study Skills Handbook, pp 121-150, as well as the following matrix, to be extremely helpful.

eisenhower-box

 

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Writing Essays by Pictures

Review: Gröppel-Wegener, A. (2016). Writing Essays by Pictures. Huddersfield: Innovative Libraries.

I recently came across this book as a new addition to the Peer Mentor library and wanted to give it a read.  I found it very colourful and creative, easy to read, with some innovative techniques for approaching essay writing that would best work for a relatively new student or people with a more kinaesthetic learning method.  As a result, it might be handy to have a flick through and keep it in mind as an alternative for anyone struggling with traditional note-taking, planning, and writing techniques.

Some key examples:

  • The ‘Assembly Approach’ uses the analogy of snacking as opposed to eating Christmas dinner when writing up.
  • Connecting the dots instead of simply spider diagramming can reveal gaps in knowledge.
  • The Iceberg analogy shows that work needs to come to a point and have substantial support for one’s polar bear reader to be challenged and intrigued, and yet to remain on safe ground.
  • Seeing the writer as a Detective finding sources and then noting all evidence.
  • Making visual pictorial notes initially if accessing the right words is tricky, or a ‘poetic inquiry’ summarises texts as a poem using key phrases.
  • The analogy of the Ocean of Literature describes skimming, mapping, then diving into the literature.
  • Taking a ‘long short walk’ improves powers of observation by literally slowing down a typical walk to notice things which would otherwise have been ignored; the skill can be transferred to reading and notetaking.
  • Creating an annotated bibliography as greeting cards: with an illustration encapsulating topic, topic details and notes on the inside, and on the back any details about source bias and source details such as whether it is peer-reviewed.
  • Using index cards to make notes of points rather than notes on whole texts, as these can be easily moved around physically to create an order for the essay.
  • Seeing the first draft as spilling the beans only, a bit like free writing.

‘The’ Writing Process. One size fits all?

The’ Writing Process. Sounds rather official, doesn’t it? The time honoured method that is taught in schools and held up as the Gold Standard method of structuring writing. ‘The’ Writing Process consists of four immobile stages: Planning, Drafting, Revising and Editing, each with a set of activities belonging to it, and each expected to flow naturally into the next. And to be fair, this method does indeed work for some writers.

But writing is complex and so are writers. When researchers in the 1970s and 1980s began to look at the ways many established writers actually write, they found that things weren’t always so simple. The stages could be merged. Editing and revising can happen throughout the writing process. An author may repeat stages, redrafting or replanning as more material is found. I personally like to proofread and tidy my work as a ‘break’ task, keeping my mind in the assignment while getting over writer’s block.

Many writers research as they go along, finding that one piece of information will lead to another, which can be added into a frame of pre-written work. Others find such a chaotic approach distracting and need a well researched initial plan. The same writer may even employ multiple processes, depending on what they’re working on.  How rigidly do you yourself follow the Plan, Draft, Edit, Revise model?

The main focus for us, as writing mentors, is to use this understanding to aid our clients. You may be able to work out a writer’s process simply by engaging with them as they write.  Questions such as “How do you normally plan your assignments?” “What would you usually do when you reach this stage?” or “So this is just your initial draft, isn’t it?” probe deeper. It may be that the mentee’s struggles result from using a process which is unsuited them. Or the process may normally work, but will need adapting for new writing styles- a common problem when entering the world of academic writing!

If it seems that an unsuitable writing process is part of the issue, here are a few tips which could be handy.

 

Rethink Revision

Not only a case of which stage, but how to revise. Heavily? Touch-up-as-you-go? Get it nearly right first time? Some writers are the mad creative type, who plunge into making and tidy up afterwards. Others are more perfectionist and want to write a high quality essay in one go. On the other hand, worrying too much about getting things right can stop the writer doing any writing to start with. Editing and proofreading can also be a semi-procrastination exercise, positive or negative. Some writers find it editing a relaxing exercise, others frustrating. Where is the mentee’s comfort zone in all this?

 

Flexible planning

Forming a rigid plan at the start of an assignment can cause writers’ block, stress and poor flow, as well as prohibit the addition of new material. While some plan is generally needed, (or form part of the assignment brief), don’t get bogged down in it. Reviewing the plan midway through can be helpful. It is even possible to just ‘get everything down’ and then edit and give meaning afterwards, especially with the miracle of the word processor. The plan is there to give support and direction, but heavy editing afterwards can give a similar finished product, depending on the writer.

Encourage Metacognition

Metacognition, or ‘thinking about thinking’ is a handy tool for reflection, development and linking different parts of the writing process together. Questions such as “who is the expected reader?” “How helpful was the planning process for this piece, and how could you improve on it?” “Do you think this piece clearly covers everything it set out to?” can help with this. Basically, try to encourage the writer to think deeply and broadly about not just their writing, but how they write it. It can be so easy to get buried in an assignment, just taking a step back to assess the way you’re going about it can iron out issues.  Some of these may be obvious to the onlooker, but not to the individual themself. Hence the mentor’s role as a sounding board! Metacognition generally aids independence of both thought and study. To grow into an independent, confident writer, developing the ability to see the ‘big picture’ will aid you. Not just as a writer, either.

What Kind of Learner are You?

Every student has their own individual methods and techniques for learning new information or revising for exams. Honey and Mumford (1992) proposed that there are four definitive “learning styles” that most students can associate with. It is important to be aware of, and understand, your own learning style. This understanding makes it easier to create essay plans or work schedules, and may help you to find the best method of revision and exam preparation for you.

The proposed learning styles are as follows:

The Activist

You like to learn by doing things. You are happier with project work, and all kinds of active learning. You are less happy reading long papers, analysing data and sitting in lectures.

The Reflector

You are more cautious and like to weigh up all the issues before acting. When you make a decision, it is thought through. You are probably happy to work on a project, if you are given time to digest all the facts before making a decision. You dislike having work dumped on you and get worried by tight deadlines.

The Pragmatist

You like taking theories and putting them into practise and you need to see the benefit and relevance of what you are doing. If you are learning something you feel has no practical value, you lose interest. You may want to ask your tutor ‘why are we learning this?’ If you are a student who says ‘I don’t like this course as it is all theory’ then your learning preference is probably ‘pragmatist’ or ‘activist’.

The Theorist

You like to understand what is behind certain actions and enjoy working through issues theoretically in a well-structured way and whether you apply it or not doesn’t interest you as much. You may be the one to ask questions as to why and how something occurs. You dislike unstructured sessions and dislike it when you are asked to reflect on some activity or say what you felt about it.

The style you prefer can help you make choices about the way that you work. For example, when revising, a theorist may  read over pages and pages of notes and journals to make sure they understand all of the information. An activist, on the other hand, may benefit from making bright and creative revision posters, or creating interesting and enjoyable games to learn important information.

You may definitively fall in to one single category. You may fall into two categories, or even find that you overlap between several. Whichever learning style(s) you think describes the way you learn can be very helpful with university education, and even outside academia.

Something to keep in mind when studying!

References

Honey, P. and Mumford, A., 1992. The manual of learning styles.