Video: Formatting an MLA Paper

In my second video, I offer a quick walk through of how to format a paper in MLA.

One thing I don’t mention in the video, however, is that you should always follow the advice and instructions given by your professor with regards to MLA. Some teachers require things like word counts, specific fonts, or other details. Whatever your teacher requires, do it!

The video can be found on YouTube (now with captions!) at:


Tips, Hints, & Strategies: Steps to Effective Note Taking

Taking notes in college can be done in many different ways. The traditional approach is to scrawl notes constantly in a lined-page notebook while the teacher lectures. Another method that is highly recommended is the Cornell Note Style. Still other students draw pictures or doodle and somehow do well. What is the trick to good note taking?

Good note taking in college is as easy as 1-2-3. Regardless of the style, look, or neatness of your notes, there are three steps that all good note taking strategies have in common. Once you learn these three steps, any kind of note taking you do will improve.

Step 1: Take Appropriate Notes in Class.

This may seem obvious, but knowing what to write and what not to write is important to successful note taking. First, you want to make listening your most important task while you are in lecture. Second, you want to rephrase in short, clear language what is being said. Third, write those short, clear phrases in your note book.

Be mindful of the types of information you are writing. Writing down information that will be provided to you later, or information that is already available in your textbook (or another source) is a waste of your time, paper, and ink.

How can you know what’s important? In the Lecture Note Taking Workshop, I go over the difference between facts and context. Facts can be important but facts rarely change and often can be found in your textbook or in other class resources. Context, however, is why those facts are important. Take a moment to examine the two different note pages in this picture:Slide5These two very different note pages are actually from the same class and the same lecture, however the student on the left wrote down the facts (a list of countries with the lowest population density), while the student on the right wrote down the context (why the teacher was talking about the countries with the lowest population densities and what was important). While the student on the left frantically wrote down the list and did not pay attention to context, the student on the right summarized briefly what the teacher said about population density, wrote down the formula, and even noted that the teacher put a list of the lowest countries on the board.

This is the difference between facts and context and is also why listening carefully to why a fact is important is much more important than just simply writing fact after fact in your notes.

Instead of spending time writing down facts, especially those that can be found later, it would be better to stop writing briefly, and listen to what your teacher is saying about those facts. Then, once you have some understanding of the context, then begin to write down your notes.

Step 2: Review Your Notes Immediately.

Effective note taking does not end when the lecture does. The next step to effective notes is reviewing them soon after you finish your lecture. Within 24 hours is the ideal but within 48-72 hours can work, too.

Reviewing this first time does not have to be lengthy; even a half an hour will be effective. What do you during that time, however, is important. Some things you’ll want to do include (but are not limited to):

  • Check your notes for errors and misinformation.
    While note taking, it can be hard to record everything accurately. Missing words, incorrect names, and even spelling errors can be detrimental later if you do not correct them. While the information is fresh in your mind, look over your words for anything that could be incorrect and make a point to fix it.
  • Add any information you may have skipped or missed.
    It’s impossible to write down every single thing your teacher says–even the fasted note-takers must skip some things in order to write more important things. However, if your notes are good enough, the information you did write should be a reminder of the things you did not. Again, while the information is fresh, you can go back and add that information you needed to skip.
  • Add any relevant book our other source information.
    Adding any paraphrases, notes, examples, or pictures from any other sources will help you to condense the information into one place for studying later. Sometimes the books or outside sources offer examples or explanations that make more sense than the ones provided in lecture, so having those next to your teacher’s explanation can help you later when studying.
  • Pull out key terms, create short paraphrases, or write down potential test questions.
    Remember that the whole point of taking notes is to be able to use them to study for midterms and finals exams which can be weeks or even months away. I tell my students to always keep their “eye on the prize” when doing school work and, by this, I mean that you should study in such a way to reach the goal. In this case, to do well on your exams. Trying to predict questions, anticipating terms you will need to know, and paraphrasing important information are important ways to keep your eye on the prize.
  • Write a short summary of the lecture.
    Typical of Cornell Notes, it can help to write a 2-3 sentence summary of the entire lecture. Write the summary in the same spot on the paper each time so you can refer to the summaries when you must flip through your notes later to find specific information. Cornell Notes style usually calls for writing the summary at the bottom of the page, but other places to consider are the very top of the page (in the space without lines), or even on the back of the sheet. Remember, whatever you decide, to be consistent.
  • Ask questions.
    Most teachers begin class by asking some variation of the question: “Does anyone have any questions about our last class?” Make it your goal to have at least one question that you pull from the previous lecture to help you clarify the information.

Step 3: Continue to Review.

Another seemingly-obvious step, it might seem, but reviewing your notes is one of the most important things you can do to keep the information in your long-term memory. What many students do not realize is that reviewing does not have to be a long, time-consuming process.

Here are suggestions to help you plan and maintain a reviewing schedule:

  • Integrate your review into your already-existing study plan as a way to activate schema.
    Make reviewing your notebook the first thing you do to activate your schema before you begin you study sessions. Simply flip through the previous pages of your notebook, glancing through anything you’ve highlighted, paraphrased, or any questions you’ve raised (like potential test questions) to help ready yourself to study. This can take as little as 5 minutes.
  • Review your notes briefly just prior to lecture.
    Getting to class early is always a good idea so you can get out your materials and be prepared when class begins. Another good reason to get there early is that it will provide you with a few minutes to review the material in your notes before you begin taking notes for that class session. This will not only help you keep the older material fresh in your mind, but can also help you integrate the new lecture material into the older material.
  • Review material more often at first, and less often over time.
    Begin reviewing new material every single day for a week or two. Then, review that same material only twice or three times a week for a month. Then, continue to review that material once a week for the rest of the semester. This is a basic review schedule. For material that is harder to remember, review it more often; for easy-t0-remember material, less often.

When it comes to a review schedule, it is important to remember that no one schedule will fit everyone’s needs and that the schedule may even be different from semester to semester and from class to class. Do what works for you and, if it does not work, do not hesitate to change the schedule as needed.

Here is a sample review schedule for a student with a Monday/Wednesday class schedule, for a class that is rather challenging:


Tips, Hints, & Strategies: Reviewing is Not Rereading! (And, Rereading is Not Reviewing.)

There is a myth that I hear almost every day that I’m trying hard to dispel about studying in college: that rereading and reviewing are one and the same.

Say this with me:

Reviewing is not rereading. Rereading is not reviewing. They are not the same and they are done for different reasons.

Let’s first discuss the difference between reviewing and rereading.


Rereading is an excellent reading strategy that is used when a reader does not fully grasp or understand the material that has already been read. For example, a student in an Anatomy class might read an entire chapter on the Autonomic Nervous System and realize at the end of the chapter that he/she still does not understand the chapter. In this case, rereading will help because the student will have at least some idea of the chapter (since it’s already been read once), but will need to read again for a fuller, richer understanding.

Rereading is not a good study technique. If it takes you five hours to read a chapter then it will take another five (or even more) to reread it. Rereading is not a good strategy to use if you are short on time or “cramming” before an exam. Rereading is also not very much fun, especially if it’s material that you found boring or uninteresting the first time.

To reread, you start at the first word of the chapter and read the whole of the material, in its entirety, again. Material that is especially complex or challenging may require several rereadings to be fully understood.


Reviewing is a study strategy that is best used when you have already read and understood the material and just want to “keep it fresh” in your short and long-term memory. To continue from our example above, the student who read and then reread that Anatomy chapter on the Autonomic Nervous System will want to continue to review that chapter to remember it long-term.

Reviewing, unlike rereading, is an excellent study technique. If it takes you five hours to read a chapter, it may only take 15 minutes to review it. The amount of time spent reviewing is determined by how new, challenging, or complex the material is to you.

To review, simply look over the material, briefly, to review your notes, summaries/paraphrases, and look at the key terms and main ideas you have pulled out through annotation. You can also look at the highlighted/underlined bits of text and the graphics/pictures. If you come a particularly hard section or paragraph, you may decide to reread a short section to jog your memory or refresh the ideas. Otherwise, very little, if any, rereading is done.

Reviewing is Not Rereading

Reviewing is one of the most important things a student can do to improve performance on exams. It’s not hard to do, it does not take long, and it can help just about anyone who has memory problems.

Next time you read (or even reread) your textbook, put together a review schedule for yourself so you can remember it long-term. Your review schedule might look like this:

20 minutes a day, every day, for one week.

15 minutes a day, three times a week, for two weeks.

10 minutes a day, twice a week, for two weeks.

5 minutes a day, once a week until one week before the exam.

Change your schedule as needed based on your background with the material, your comfort level, and how familiar you are/become with the material over time. Then, when it comes time to prepare for your exams, you’ll be able to create great study tools for the still-hard to learn material and not have to worry nearly as much about the material you’ve reviewed all semester!

Test Preparation Workshop

Slide 1: Test Preparation Workshop 

Introduction slide.
Introduction slide.

“There are no secrets to success. It is the result of preparation, hard work, and learning from failure.”

– General Colin Powell

When it comes to success, there is no magic potion, secret password, or innate talent that makes it possible. General Powell is very right: it is preparation, hard work, and learning from your failure that makes success possible and his advice also applies to exams.

In this workshop, I will discuss these three things: preparation, hard work, and learning from failure and how they apply to being ready for your exams.

Slide 2: Prepare, prepare, prepare!

Prepare, prepare, prepare!
Prepare, prepare, prepare!

“It’s not the will to win that matters–everyone has that. It’s the will to prepare to win that matters.”

– Paul “Bear” Bryant

The first step to doing well on exams is preparing; you must prepare! Before you begin to study, you must prepare your study space, you must prepare your mind, and you must prepare the information by having a plan of action.

Preparing your Study Space:

Organize your study space. First, find a place that will allow you to be productive. Sometimes, this space is not the most “comfortable” place in the sense that you may not be able to lounge, or relax; that is ok. You want a place to work, not a place to sleep, so bedrooms, living rooms, and porch areas are generally not good spaces to study. Kitchens, like at a kitchen table, office, or even a cafe can work.

Remember to find a place that has noise at comfortable limits. Some people cannot study with even the slightest noise; others need music or white noise to help them stay focused. If you’re a person who needs complete silence, make a point to find a place quiet enough to suit your needs: going to a cafe to study will not help you to stay focused. If you’re a person who needs noise, then make sure you have a way to listen to your music. Try to listen to your music on a device that will not distract you with social media notifications (like an iPod or MP3 player), or be sure to turn off your notifications, to keep distractions to a minimum.

Once you find a place, organize your materials. Make sure you have everything you need to be productive: pens, pencils, sticky-notes, highlighters, your note books, textbooks, index cards, etc. Also make sure you have items that will help you stay in one place: bottles of water, a few snacks, a stress ball, or any other items to help you stay focused. While not all of these items are mandatory, the more you have at your finger-tips the less likely you are to leave and interrupt your thought processes.

Gather all your class materials for the class(es) you wish to study. This includes your textbooks, note books, handouts, study guides, CD-Roms, PowerPoint notes, etc.

Eliminate distractions. Before you begin your official study session, take a moment to keep your digital life from distracting you. Turn off your Facebook notifications and silence your phone. If your computer is not necessary to study, then you may consider turning it off altogether but, if you do need to use your computer, you want to make sure you do not let your social media browsing distract you. If you find you cannot control how often you visit these sites, you can use a site like KeepMeOut to help you control when you can visit these sites. There are also browser apps, like the StayFocusd app for Chrome, to help you block troublesome sites.

Prioritize information. Once you have an organized study space, free of distractions, then you must prepare your mind and the information you plan to study. Students will often ask themselves: Where do I begin? This is an excellent question because there really is a better and worse place to start when you begin to study.

Slide 3: Prioritizing Information

Prioritize information.
Prioritize information.

“How do I prioritize information?” you’re probably asking. It’s not nearly as hard as you’re probably imagining.

Prioritizing information means that you make a point to be conscious of how much time you have to study, and how much information you need to cover. Many students begin with the easiest material believing that it will make them “feel good” about the exam since they know everything. Or, they start with the material they are most familiar with because they worry they will forget. Neither of these approaches are ideal.

One thing to remember about studying is that you want to be a little uncomfortable. When studying, you do not want to feel like you “know it all,” or that you are “really confident.” Your goal while studying is to find the hardest, least-memorable, most confusing material and make sure you spend the most time with this material. To do this means that you do not begin with the “easy” material first. You want to begin with the hardest, least-memorable material.

To locate the hardest, forgotten material, make yourself a quick list. Take a sheet of paper (even junk paper) and draw lines to create three columns. Label one column “Things I Know,” the next column “Things I Kind-of Know,” and the final column “Things I Don’t know.” Then, go through your study guide or, if not study guide is given, create your own, and list each item on the study guide into one of the columns on your page. The material you want to begin with is in the “Things I Don’t Know” column.

Why start with the unknown material? Here’s why:

Imagine that you only have one week to study for your exam and, in that week, you have a total of ten hours to commit to studying. After completing the listing activity above with your study guide that has a total of fifty items, you find that you have a total of twenty-five items in the “Things I Know” column; twenty items in the “Things I Kind-of Know” column; and fifteen in the “Things I Don’t Know” column. Assume that your teacher will only select half (twenty-five) items from the study guide to test you: while the likely hood of the teacher selecting all fifteen items in the “Things I Don’t Know” column is quite low, those fifteen are the ones that will hurt the most if you do now know them. If all twenty-five come from the first two columns, then you’ll get at least a C on the exam–passing by most standards. The fifteen in that final column are the most problematic.

The other thing to remember is that those fifteen (in the “Things I Don’t Know” column) are most likely the hardest, too. You do not understand them for a reason: perhaps you missed reading that chapter of your textbook, or missed the class in which your teacher covered that material; or perhaps the material is so challenging that you may need to find a peer or tutor to help work with you, or reach out to your instructor for extra help. Basically, you might need all ten hours to devote to those fifteen items and, if you did start on the easier stuff–the stuff you already know–you may not realize you need that extra time until it’s too late.

Slide 4: Review & Study

Review and study.
Review and study.

Once you know where to begin, then you can start creating materials to study from. Here are three ways to learn, and retain, those problematic materials.

  1. Summarize & Paraphrase. One way to make sure you understand something is to summarize and/or paraphrase. Summarize is condensing down information to its most basic and important elements; paraphrasing is putting the information into your own words. When studying, first take the information you need and filter out anything that is unnecessary–that is summarizing. Then, take that information and rephrase it in a way that makes sense to you; that’s paraphrasing.While summarizing is an important step, you do not want to simply try to memorize your summaries. Remember that memorizing is not understanding! Trying to commit your summaries–or just chunks of the textbook word-for-word–to memory will do very little to help you understand the materials. Paraphrasing forces you to think critically about, relate to, and see the big picture of the information you must learn. Another way to think about paraphrasing is this: think about how you would explain the material to a seven-year old child. Think of the questions the child would ask you and how you would answer. If you can explain it to a seven-year old in simple, clear language, then you know that you understand it!
  2. Create Maps & Outlines. Maps and Outlines are another way to make sure you remember the material. Once you have summarized and paraphrased the material you can create an outline or map to see how it fits into the larger picture of your class. It’s important to remember that your map/outline is for your use only, which means you do not need to focus on perfect handwriting, correct spelling, or complete sentences (though spelling might be important, especially if you have to do a written final).
  3. Create a Study Grid. Study grids are my favorite! I like them because they really “kill two birds with one stone” in the sense that they give you both a place to start, and help you manage your materials. Here is how it works:
    • Take a sheet of paper (in your notebook, preferably) or use an spreadsheet program on your computer (like MS Excel or Google Sheets). Draw as many lines as you need to give yourself a column for each resource in your class: textbook, lecture notes, PowerPoint presentations, outside research, YouTube videos, etc.
    • In each row going down your page, list your study-guide term, question, or vocabulary word.
    • Look up each term, word, or question in each of the resources, listing the information given in each box.
    • When finished, you’ll have all your information in just a few pages, making it easy to review and study without having to carry, reread, re-find your materials.

Slide 5: Why Review?

Why review?
Why review?

“After one day an average of 46% of material is forgotten from lecture on new material; after seven days 65% is forgotten.” (Spitzer, 1939)

“Studies have shown that within two weeks you will probably forget 80% or more of what you heard…in four weeks you are lucky if 5% remains.” (Langan, 2013, p. 45)

One myth about studying that I work very hard to dispel is that reviewing and rereading are the same things: they are most definitely not.

Rereading can be a useful strategy if you did not understand material the first time (or second time) you read it. Rereading is what you do when you read material, still do not get it, and must read it again. If it took you five hours to read it the first time, it will take another five (or even more) to read it a second time. Rereading is not a good strategy for studying.

Reviewing, on the other hand, is an excellent strategy for studying. Reviewing does not have to be a long, lengthy process; if it took five hours to read a chapter, it may only take you fifteen minutes to review it, depending on how new or challenging the material is.

To review, simply look over the already-read and already-understood material briefly. You do not need to reread all of it; in fact, it is often better if you, instead, look over the notes, summaries, paraphrases, and bullet points you may have written in the margins.

Review more frequently at first and less frequently over time. I suggest reviewing material every day for a week, then three times a week for two weeks, then twice a week for two weeks, then once a week after that until the week before finals (or until you are being tested on it). Adjust this in whatever way works best for you!

Slide 6: Overcoming Test Anxiety

Overcoming test anxiety.
Overcoming test anxiety.

One of the most frequent complaints I hear from students is that they suffer from crippling test anxiety. General test anxiety is actually quite normal. Test anxiety, and anxiety in general, can be crippling to some people however it is rare. If you try all of these measures to study and still find yourself incapable of completing a test, I will suggest you reach out to your doctor and the Disabled Student Programs & Services (DSPS) program for further assistance and testing modifications.

For general testing anxiety, here are some ways to overcome it:

  • Be Prepared. Students who wait until the last minute, then cram the material the night before are going to experience anxiety. Instead, review often over the course of the term, and prioritize the material so you’re spending the most time with the hardest material and you will find that your anxiety is much less.
  • Practice Time Limits. If time limits, or the idea of the time limit, makes you anxious, then practice studying or simulating the exam with a time limit. For example, for many students having a timed writing exam is extremely stressful. One way to overcome this stress is to practice writing while timing yourself. It does not even have to be “structured” writing; you can simply set a timer for an hour (or however long you wish), then journal for that time just writing whatever you want so you have an idea of what it feels like to write for an hour. Doing this also builds up the muscles in your hand so you will be less likely to experience hand cramps.
  • Control Negative Thoughts and Emotions. Negative thoughts and emotions can greatly impact your testing. It’s important that when you find yourself saying things like “I just know I’m going to fail!” that you offset them with more positive sayings like “I’m going to do my best and I will succeed!” Ultimately, you want to avoid putting yourself down or predicting your own failure. If nothing else, just think about how even the worst grade can teach you something and will be a stepping stone to improving yourself next time.
  • Power Pose! Before the exam, take two minutes to power pose. Your body language going into the exam can lead to those negative thoughts and emotions that you want to avoid. I’ve been having students try this method and so far students who’ve tried it have found it works to help them control those negative thoughts and feel more confident during the exam.
  • Start with the Easy Questions First. When you sit down to finally take the exam you may be hit with a wave of anxiety if you see the first few questions are tough. In that case, look over the entire exam first to get an idea of just how hard (or easy) the exam is. Once you do, you may feel better and more confident. You can also answer the easier questions first and save the harder ones for the end. Keep in mind, there is no rule that you have to start with question one and end with the final question. In most cases, you can complete the exam in any order you like. Do the exam in the order that makes it easier on you!

Slide 7: Test Analysis – Look At Your Previous Exams

Test analysis.
Test analysis.

Regardless of how you did, a TEST ANALYSIS can tell you a lot about how to improve for next time. Each time you take an exam (or quiz), look over the questions you got incorrect and ask yourself “why did I make this mistake?” You can then create categories of errors that will help pinpoint you to ways to avoid those same mistakes in the future.


Langan, John. (2013). Reading and Study Skills (10th ed.). New York, NY: McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.

Spitzer, Herbert F. (1939). Studies in Retention. The Journal of Educational Psychology XXX(9). Retrieved from:

Reading & Writing Help this Summer!


Don’t worry…there’s help!

WAM is open for summer school!

Drop-in Reading & Writing help available
Mon – Thur: 8 am to 5 pm in room 850.

Get help with reading and writing for any class including:

  • Annotation, paraphrasing, & summarizing
  • Vocabulary improvement and test preparation tips & strategies
  • Essay planning, outlining, and organization assistance
  • MLA, APA, and essay structure & formatting

FREE online appointment booking available on some days/times. Ask how!

For more information contact Jolene at

jtorres [@ sign] yccd [dot] edu. and

Reflection: My first semester in grad school.

When I finally decided to apply to grad school in September of last year, I did so for several reasons. One, I was tired of working three jobs part-time all over Sacramento. Two, I desperately wanted to keep the job I already had when (if) it was finally made full time. Three, I saw myself one day wanting to teach and I needed to have my degree if/when I ever decided to pursue that avenue. Grad school was a way for me to justify not working two extra jobs, be competitive in the current job market, and to pursue my dream of one day being a teacher.

I had all these ideas about grad school. I knew it was going to be challenging. The program I applied for is entirely online and I knew that was going to be a challenge all its own. I also knew that I have no classroom experience, which was going to make things even harder. I was excited about all these challenges and expected to take them all on.

I was not expecting to work full time. I got my acceptance letter to grad school the same day I was offered full time hours temporarily for one semester only. I did not dare to turn them down. I have been waiting for three years to pick up enough hours at this campus to not have to work other jobs and had basically given up hope that it would. Now, more hours.

While more hours was nice on the pocketbook, these hours were also me filling in temporarily for a position that was intended to be filled by the summer. I realized very late in the semester that, come the fall, there was a chance I would be unemployed, again. I was terrified of this prospect but, with all the other stress in my life, I had not even considered this until April. Once it hit me, I had trouble sleeping for several weeks and started work on my resume, intending to find something over the summer. Thankfully, I was reclassified into the position, permanently. It’s a strange feeling to be employed full-time, permanently. It’s still sinking in, to some extent.

I also had a great deal of personal challenges I had to face this semester. While I won’t go into details here, suffice it to say that I have been struggling to stay positive and forward-looking this semester. There have been many times I’ve found myself wondering if I should have waiting another year to go back to school. “No,” I would tell myself, “you’ve waited long enough already.”

I have discovered a great deal about myself this semester:
First, I have a confidence in my writing that I never experienced in my undergraduate work, despite the fact that I studied English. I have never considered myself a good writer. While I always did well in writing classes, I never “saw” myself as a writer and it has always been hard for me to allow others to read my writing. I agonize over every word I write and I have learned that I need to start writing papers early so I can feel good about my draft before I turn it in. The anxiety I get from turning in a last-minute draft is near-paralyzing. This semester, however, I’m far more confident. I think part if it is working in a writing center, reading draft after draft of student work that is borderline garbage. Having to find errors, point them out, then articulate why they are errors to a student who generally does not care and/or understand anyway has really helped me face some of my fears about my own writing head-on.

Second, that I am a far more collected person now than in my youth. While this might seem like an obvious thing, I think this is the first time in my adult life that I have truly tested the boundaries of my capabilities. I’m in my mid-thirties now and had resigned that the “best” years of my life were over: from now on it’s creaky, tired me, growing slower with each day. In fact, I feel that I’ve somehow settled into my own mind more and things that I remember being challenging–like making decisions, or forging an opinion–have become easier. It’s also easier for me to speak up when I know things are not right, and I am not as self-conscious as I used to be.

I also had to deal with a large amount of stress this semester and, though I did have my fair share of irrational bouts of crying in random places (which may or may not include under my desk at work on several occasions), I did not have the typical depressive episode that I almost always experienced in my twenties. As someone who has fought depression most of her life, I’m so proud that I’ve managed to not sink back into that hole. I think part of  overcoming depression for me is really learning how to say “no,” and learning that rejection is okay. Both of those have been so hard for me but, again, as I get older knowing my limits, saying no, and being ok with not having things happen the way I like has really helped me to move beyond my depressive nature.

Last, and this is probably the most important to me, that I feel like I’m good at what I do. I feel I have finally settled into my role as an educator, and am beginning to see myself as one. I have worked so hard for so long at reaching this goal and I’ll admit that there were times when I doubted myself. It is wonderful and refreshing to finally have reached this point in my life and to do so with a confidence that I was certain would not be here for me.

My goals for next semester are:

  • Better time management – this really was not my strong suit this semester. I need to consider what kind of planner to get because, so far, every method I’ve used has fallen short. I also want to make more use of my Google calendar, but that will be easier since I plan to get a laptop this summer.
  • Finish papers sooner – especially at the end, I put off my finals papers far too long. I still got both my final papers in early (one a week early) but I also feel I could have more time into both of them.
  • Reach out to my peers more – these are people who are going to be my colleagues in the future in the world of academic reading; I need to make friends now so I can reach out later if I need to.

Story: Working with emergent readers.

I began my Master’s program in January of this year. As I sat through the orientation I became more and more apprehensive: my desire is to work with adult learners, especially those at community college level, and the emphasis seemed to be on child-learners. One of my other classmates asked “if my goal is to work with adults, is this program really for me?” I’m glad she asked because that is exactly what I was thinking.

One of the instructors explained it this way: we have you start at the earliest readers because if you can work with the most basic, emergent readers then you can take what you know of those readers and understand better what is going on in the minds of your struggling adult learners. It will help you get perspective.”

I was not sure what to think but I have tried to keep an open mind.

One of my projects this semester is that I have to work with an emergent learner (age 4-9) who is “different” from myself, meaning they have a different educational back ground, are growing up in a different area, or are of a different culture. I asked one of my students if I could work with her daughter and she asked if I would work with both of her daughters: I agreed; after all, the more experience I have the better.

This is a good place to note that I have very little experience with children. I did no baby sitting as a teen, not even cousins or neighbor kids. My husband and I do not want children–we are happy with our furbaby

Our furbaby, Hephaestus.
Our furbaby, Hephaestus.

(though we are considering adopting another). My brother has no children, yet, and neither does my best friend. I do not have any close friends with children and I do not have any extended family with small children or, those who do I do not have opportunities to spend time with them outside of holiday functions. I did not realize until I started looking around my life for this project how little experience I have with children.

For this project, I must work with an emergent reader a total of 5 hours minimum. I ended up working with three different children at three very different ages: 4, 9, and 11. These girls are just delightful! The nine year-old loves to read; she brought a book that the wanted to read with me, and has shown an enthusiasm about sharing her reading with me that has completely surprised me. The four year-old has a great deal of manual dexterity; she has the best handwriting I have seen in a child. She is also quite patient for only being four. I worked with both children for almost an hour before the four year-old quietly asked, “¿Podemos hacer algo más ahora?” (Can we do something else now?)

The ten year-old claims she does not like to read. Her mom looked surprised when she admitted it. I asked her why she felt that way and her response was “well, I like to read stuff I like, but I hate the stuff my teacher makes us read. It’s so boring!” When I asked her what her favorite book is, she replied that she loved A Child Called It, a book with many complex ideas. She wants to one day be a veterinarian and her favorite subject in school is math.

The nine year-old says she loves to read. When I asked her what she liked best, she giggled and said “lots of stuff.” I asked if she had a favorite author and it took her a minute but she finally settled on Barbara Park and the series of books Junie B. Jones. Her favorite subject in school is Language Arts, and when I asked her why she replied “because in Language Arts we learn about everything!” In her class currently, she is reading about volcanoes. She says she good at making bracelets to sell and someday wants to be a teacher, maybe.

The four year-old speaks little English and mostly Spanish. She loves to copy her nine year-old cousin, and will whisper questions to her in Spanish as we would talk. She has a surprisingly long attention span and excellent manual dexterity. Though she often did not “know” what she was writing, she could copy clearly what her cousin would write in clear handwriting. The first time I met her she watched me work with her cousin, patiently, for almost an hour, neatly copying what her cousin wrote on her own paper, and asking questions quietly in Spanish (her cousin translating). At one point, when I told them I had a kitty at home and showed them pictures, she exclaimed in Spanish, “¿Podemos ir a tu casa?” as her eyes lit up in excitement.

Basically, I learned so much from these kids.

All the children in this family are bright, articulate, and curious, with a thirst for learning and reading. These children love to read, are excited by the prospect of being good readers, and they understand that reading is important for their goals; the nine-year-old knows that, if she wants to be a teacher, she must read and the ten-year-old, who wants to be a veterinarian, said several times that the only thing she “needs to know how to read” are science materials—again, acknowledgement of the importance of reading to being a professional.

What I learned is that children have a great deal of fearlessness and curiosity that adult learners do not have toward reading. Adult learners who struggle with reading are often victims of the system from which they came and, in slipping through the cracks, have been instilled with a deep phobia of learning to read or, more so, of failing, again, to learn. Children, refreshingly, come with very little, if any, of these bad experiences, hesitations, or phobias and often have an open mind and an eager willingness. It is refreshing to work with students who love learning, who are unafraid to learn, and who are willing and eager to learn and try new things. If anything, this project has refreshed my own reading spirit as I remember all I love about reading, seeing it in the eyes of these young readers.

While I have definitely not changed my mind about working with adults, working with children in this way has taught me something valuable about my adult learners that I have never experienced. Since I have never worked in a child’s classroom, I never realized that much of the fear that my adult learners have is not something inherent in their personality: they were taught to be afraid; they were taught they were not smart enough; they were taught that they were failures. In order to really understand my struggling, fearful, hesitant, seemingly incurious adult learners, I must first know what experiences in education they have had to bring them to their current state. It’s not enough for me to assume that what “worked for everyone else” just “didn’t work for them.” Just like other children, they were once excited, optimistic, curious young learners and, as their teacher, I I hope to help to lead them back to that state.

The Reading Social Science Workshop

Slide 1: The Reading Social Science WorkshopSlide1

“It was books that taught me that the things that tormented me most were the very thing that connected me with all the people who were alive, or who had ever been alive.” – James Baldwin (author, playwright)

The social sciences (including anthropology, history, ethnic studies, psychology, sociology, economics, and some philosophy) study the very essence of what it is to be human. Part of what many students enjoy about the social sciences is that it gives them a feeling of connection with themselves and others; it allows one to begin to understand some of the most mysterious and universal things in existence: love, hate, violence, money, politics, culture, social status, religion, familial connections, and much more. These are topics that mankind has been trying to understand–and master–for a very long time.

Slide 2: Previewing


Previewing Before reading, get an understanding of what the material has to offer you. Spend 10-15 minutes looking over the material, prior to reading it, so you can be prepared to make the most of your reading time. While you preview, come up with questions you have, note unfamiliar words, make connections between topics, and spend a few minutes looking at pictures, charts and graphs in the material. Make mental notes of whether the material is completely new, entirely review, or a combination of new material and old material. To preview:

  • Read the title, author information, key terms, introduction, and/or the abstract or summary.
  • Reading the headings and subheadings throughout the article or chapter.
  • Read the first and/or the last sentences in each paragraph.
  • Look at the bolded, italicized, or any other emphasized terms; also look for any words you do not recognize. You may want to take a moment to look up what any words mean before you begin reading, too.
  • Examine any picture, charts, tables, and any other graphics.
  • Read the chapter summary, end-of-chapter questions, reviews, and any other information at the end of the chapter or article.

Slide 3: While Previewing Look For…


Each section of a text provides the reader with important information that you must pay attention to in order to make the most of your reading. For instance, if you’re writing a research paper that requires that you use statistics or quantitative information, you will want to locate that information within the paper and spend extra time interpreting it for you own research. If, on the other hand, you must read to gain background information for a class discussion, you may want to spend more time on the background, results, and author motivation areas. In any case, you should always look carefully at who funds the study, why the study is being done, and what kind of conclusions are being drawn as a result of the study.

Social Science readings, especially peer reviewed journals and articles, have specific features that can help you navigate the text more efficiently if you know what they are and the information the provide.

  • Title: Specific, usually jargon-heavy. Be prepared to look up any unknown words in the title as you know they’ll be important to the rest of the text.
  • Abstract: Short, usually one paragraph summary/overview of the study and information collected with the outcome of the study. Use this to familiarize yourself with the material.
  • Key Words: Jargon/terms used for search purposes but also terms you should know before reading. Make sure you look them up if they are unfamiliar.

Subheadings/Subtitles: these split up the article to help the reader navigate the material. Each section supplies different information and, though they can be different from article to article, there are some consistencies. Some important subheadings/subtitles include:

  • Background: gives background on the study.
    Important because: explains related studies, background information about the study, and/or the researcher(s), and the motivations of the author(s).
  • Theories & Evidence: presents the question the author hopes to answer, along with evidence they may be using as support.
    Important because: this section will usually present the hypothesis of the study as well as the preliminary evidence that may or may not support the initial hypothesis.
  • Methods or Data & Methods: describes how the study was done, how data was collected, and what was recorded and why.
    Important because: it explains the way the author(s)/researcher(s) set up the study, who was involved (patients, volunteers, etc.), the size of the study, what data was kept, and why.
  • Results: the results of the study, usually recorded quantitatively (with numbers or statistics) along with the author’s interpretations of how the support or do not support the hypothesis.
    Important because: goes into detail of the results; it’s heavy on numbers but important if you need information to support a hypothesis of your own.
  • Discussion and/or Conclusion: an in-depth look at the data, usually to eliminate any misinterpretations of the data or explain any inconsistencies that may have arisen in the course of the study.
    Important because: it talks about why the results of the study support or deny the hypothesis, including details about statistical analysis, etc.
  • Notes: Any extra information the author feels important but does not directly fall into any of the other sub-headings.
    Important because: there may be other information about the study, including extra data, related arguments, or subsequent additions or thoughts on the study or other studies that are similar.
  • References: Any outside sources, studies, data, or information the author uses to support or argue the hypothesis.
    Important because: allows the reader to check sources; evaluate the author’s previous research, and connections between ideas.
  • Acknowledgements: Usually thanking the people who took part in the study, supported the author/researcher, or assisted in some way in the course of the study.
    Important because: may give the reader more information about the motivations behind the study, the author’s background, or other research that has been conducted on the topic.
  • Funding: some studies get grants or other financial support from outside sources (such as governments, private companies, or non-profit agencies); the author may want to disclose those to the reader.
    Important because: gives insight into who is behind the study, more motivations for the study, and any outside influence that may or may not skew the the results or the interpretations of the research.

Slide 4: Preview to Plan Your Reading


Purpose could be any, all or any combination of the following things:

  • to identify arguments;
  • to weigh evidence;
  • to evaluate sources and resources;
  • to look for conflicts of interest and opinions disguised as facts;
  • to question assumptions;
  • to understand the “big picture;”
  • to add additional details to other source (such as lecture).

Once you determine your purpose for reading you can decide how you want to read your text. If your purpose involves a more comprehensive understanding of the text, such as to do well on an exam or essay, you will want to read slowly and deliberately, annotating while you read, asking questions, and critically thinking about the material. If you are reading for a class discussion, you may want to read slightly faster, focusing on only some of the most important details so you can participate and understand the discussion; you should still annotate, but you will not need to be as thorough. Use purpose to guide your style of reading and your reading speed.

Slide 5: Annotation


Annotation Once you finish previewing, you can go back and carefully read the chapter or article and annotate it as you go. Your annotation style should reflect your purpose for reading, the style you’ve decide to read, how much time you’ve decided to invest, and how familiar (or unfamiliar) you are with the subject.

There are many ways to annotate and your method of annotation should depend on your purpose for reading. Consider the following purposes and methods, and keep in mind this is not an exhaustive list:

  • Are you reading to gain a basic understanding of the subject for a quiz or an exam? 
    Consider marking main ideas, key terms, and important ideas.
  • Are you planning to write a paper or essay using the article or book as a source?
    Mark facts, figures, statistics, and other factual information relevant to your essay topic.
  • Are you reading to participate in a class discussion?
    Mark points of personal interest, ideas you agree or disagree with, questions you have, and points you want to raise to your classmates.

Slide 6: While Annotating – Ask Questions!


As you read you want to ask questions. Questioning as you go encourages you to stay involved with the text and helps to prevent boredom. More importantly, it helps you to identify main ideas, key topics, important themes, and makes your reading far more meaningful and productive. Questions you want to keep in mind include:

  • What is the structure of the text?
  • What questions is this text trying to answer?
  • What are the author’s sources?
  • Is this information opinion or fact? How do you know?
  • What evidence does the author use?
  • Is this a primary or secondary source?
  • Whose perspective(s) are we learning?
  • What information can one learn from the graphics?
  • How does this information fit into the class?

Slide 7: Two Note Taking Strategies


Mapping is a visual note taking style that emphasizes relationships between ideas and the “big picture.” Mapping lends itself to the social sciences as it allows you to see all the details, especially those emphasized in lecture, as well as how those details fit into the larger subject. Mapping has many different ways it can be done depending on the material itself. Mapping can be used as either a lecture note taking strategy or a book note taking strategy.

When students think of “maps” they often think of bubbles and arrows that can go all over a page in a (sometimes) very disorganized way. Though this is one kind of mapping, there are many different kinds of maps, and you should make a point to be familiar with the different kinds so you can utilize them when you need them.

Timeline Map
This map is from an American history text; note that it is both a timeline (chronology) as well as cause & effect (see the arrow going from May 1773 to December 1773) (Rooney, 2010).
Stages of Adulthood Map
Done from a human services text, maps can help clear up differences (however subtle) between theories, people, or ideas.
Econ Map
This is a map of supply & demand done from an economics text. While I’m not an Econ major, I learned a great deal from just making this map to help me make sense of the material.
Bullying Map
Maps can also show processes, as this one shows the process (stages) of bullying, clearly, with use of color.

Some examples include:

  • Economics: graphs, flow charts, process graphs.
  • History: timelines, Venn diagrams, “comic strip” style pictures, cause/effect charts.
  • Behavioral Sciences: flow charts, Venn diagrams, process maps, cause/effects charts.

Slide 8: Two Note Taking Strategies

Slide8Grid Notes is another visual style of organizing information but has a structure that is “built-in” so you will find it more organized than traditional mapping. Grid Notes can be done during a lecture, while reading, or used as a way of studying information as preparation for an exam. One great thing about Grid Notes is that it makes it clear if there is any missing information.

You begin by drawing a grid on your paper (in your notebook or on a plain sheet of whit paper), or you can create a worksheet for yourself in Excel or Word. Standard Grid Notes use the “5W+H” method: Who, What, Where, When, Why, + How: write those in the very top of your grid. It should look something like this:


As you find information, white it in the corresponding box. For example, if your teacher mentions a name, write that name in one of the boxes under the “who” column; when your teacher gives you dates (like when that person was born, when they were active, etc.) write that in the “when” column. If, at the end of the lecture, you have an empty box, you may want to ask your teacher if that’s important information, or double check that you did not miss anything.

This can also be used while reading or reviewing your text. You can add to your Grid Notes from lecture, or create a grid specifically for your textbook. Either way, Grid Notes is an excellent way to organize your information!

Tips, Hints, & Strategies: Two Kinds of Math Errors

When it comes to any subject, there is nothing more frustrating than the feeling that you “just don’t get it.” I know because I felt that way many times in my math courses.

As I learned more about reading and metacognition, however, I learned that there are really two kinds of errors that are problematic in math and that the first step to success in math is figuring out what kind of errors you are most prone to making, then correcting those errors. Here are two types of errors in math that can be especially frustrating.

  1. Simple Math Errors.
    Simple Math Errors are exactly what you think they are: simple, straightforward reasons you missed an answer. It could be something like adding numbers up wrong, forgetting to carry a one, or adding an extra digit to a long number. Simple Math Errors usually mean you understand the concept of the problem (you know what formula/equation to use and how to use the equation, formula, etc.) but that you have trouble actually implementing the steps without making errors in simple addition, subtraction, multiplication, division, etc.If you have a tendency to make Simple Math Errors here are a few things you can try. Try a few and see what work best for you:
    * Slow down when writing down problems, and when solving them.
    * Double-check your numbers before you solve your equation.
    * Count the number of digits before you solve your equation.
    * Review each step before committing to your answer.
    * Use graph paper and put one digit in each box to help you line your number columns up when doing formulas/equations.
    * Use clear, neat, deliberate handwriting during tests so you can clearly see what you write; this also makes it easier to review before you submit your exam.
  2. Concept Errors.
    Concept Errors are far more problematic. If you do now know what formula to use or if your teacher writes on your paper “check your steps,” “using the wrong formula,” or “review this chapter” then you are probably making Concept Errors. Concept Errors mean you do not understand the concept of the problem; it means you do not know how to do the problem, where to start, what formula to use, or how to complete the steps.

    If you’re making Concept Errors, there are a few things you might want to try; try a few and see what works best for you:
    * Review the material in your textbook more frequently, especially spending time with the end-of-chapter and example questions.

    On the left side is the step-by-step breakdown of how to do the problem. On the right is the "translation" of the problem into English. This is one way to make sure you understand how to do a problem: Translate it into a language more familiar to you.
    On the left side is the step-by-step breakdown of how to do the problem. On the right is the “translation” of the problem into English. This is one way to make sure you understand how to do a problem: Translate it into a language more familiar to you.

    * Create Maps of problems and translate them into your “own” language so you better understand the steps (see picture).
    * Spend time with a peer tutor and work through problems together.
    * Organize a study group with other students in your class; explain problems to one another.
    * Go to your instructor’s office hours to get a more in-depth explanation of problems and how to solve them.

Math can be challenging but it is not impossible. When you get a disappointing grade on a math exam, use it as a learning experience. Spend some time with that exam, look at where you went wrong, and try not to make those same mistakes again. Learning from your mistakes is one the best things you can do to improve your scores in any class, especially math.