Friday, January 30, 2009

Textbook or Lectures--what do I study!?

Quite a few students have expressed some confusion about what they should be paying attention to, the textbook or the lectures? This is understandable, and I would like to try to explain my method here.

The textbook presents what I call the conventional narrative. This is the story that most scholars agree on as, more or less, the American story. It contains much of the stuff you will be expected to know about U.S. history as you move forward through your college education. Further, it provides much of the background or context for the material I present. Consider the exploration of U.S. history like a long walk. The textbook provides a nice, well groomed path that one can easily follow.

I present a somewhat different narrative. It is the story I have put together over years of study, research and teaching. I have described it as a reflection on the problems of freedom, slavery and empire. I tend to think of the classroom as a long conversation about these problems. If we continue with the metaphor of a path, this one is less travelled, wilder and meandering. The two paths—the textbook and the classroom—sometimes merge, sometimes part company and sometimes cross each other. Both paths are important. Both stories matter. But what do you study?

How to use the textbook for study: The chapter quizzes are intended to guide you through the textbook. Think of the quiz as a tour guide leading you along the conventional narrative path. Sometimes the chapter quizzes reinforce the classroom presentations, sometimes they don’t. What they do accomplish is to familiarize you with the textbook material. See my post on chapter quiz strategies. Once you have taken a chapter quiz, you are finished with that part of the textbook. Don’t study the quizzes or the chapters beyond that.

How to study the lectures: Each classroom presentation comes with a student outline published on eCollege. These outlines are intended to guide you in your note-taking by pointing out important terms and concepts and showing how they fit together in outline form. When you study for an exam, you will use your own notes that you have taken in class. Taking notes is part of the learning process. When you take notes, you actually inscribe this knowledge onto your brain. You might think you are going to forget it but it will always be there, waiting to be recalled.

How to study for an exam: Each unit comes with an exam and an accompanying study guide. The study guide lists the terms and concepts I think are important. The exam will be 25 multiple-choice questions that involve identifying a term or concept. Every term or concept on the exam is listed in this study guide. Therefore, when it is time to study for the exam, you will begin with the study guide. Go through each term and concept, and make sure you can identify them. In trying to identify these terms, first begin with your notes. The outlines will tell you where in your notes any particular term should be. If you don’t see the term in your notes, then go to the textbook. Try looking it up in the index. In any case, you should know basically where it is in the textbook (remember, some of this stuff is in the textbook, and some of it is not) because of the chapter quizzes. If you can’t find a term in either your notes or the textbook, it is time to call your study buddy. If you don’t yet have a study buddy, it’s time to get one. Two of my classes have Supplemental Instructors (SI) to lead study groups. Check it out; study groups are fun!

Achieving your academic goals: Now you have to tools you need to achieve your goals but how do you match them up? It depends on what your goals are. If your goal is to make an A, you will need to gain mastery over the material. That means you can identify all the terms and concepts on the study guide when prompted. If your goal is a B, you will want to go over all the terms and make sure you have the material to identify them. You will spend some time reviewing this material but you might not be able to answer some of the terms when prompted. If your goal is a C, you will want to go over all the terms in the study guide and make sure you have the material to identify them. Then you might want to review the study guide the night before the exam, along with your notes and the textbook just to “nail it into place.”
It is my intention that these study skills will serve you throughout your college education and beyond. Good luck!