An important study skill I have continuously tried to implement into my arsenal of tools is previewing material before lecture. The idea of being exposed to material more often would obviously make me better at retaining and understanding that information. I could use this benefit to be more engaged in lecture and ask more questions. In addition, the better understanding from lecture can save me time that I would have spent trying to understand the lecture during my lecture rewrites.
From Susan Ambrose’s How Learning Works 7 Research-Based Principles for Smart Teaching, her principle “Students come into our courses with knowledge, beliefs, and attitudes…it influences how they filter and interpret what they are learning. If students’ prior knowledge is robust and accurate and activated at the appropriate time, it provides a strong foundation for building new knowledge” (4) directly contributes to the idea of developing some prior knowledge to then efficiently expand upon.
So why have I consecutively failed to keep up with this habit of previewing lecture material. By the way, this blog post is just as much for me as it is for the next person. By identifying some of my pitfalls, hopefully, I can save you the trouble of making these same mistakes. I have narrowed down the issue to two different aspects of scheduling: setting time-based goals instead of completion-based goals and creating a habit through routine. Lastly, I did not have a method for how to preview material.
Pitfall #1: Completion-Based Goals (AKA Chasing Rainbows)
What do completion-based goals have anything to do with previewing lecture material? Time after time, I find myself in some variation of this scenario, I have multiple tasks to complete including: previewing for the next lecture, reviewing for the previous lecture, and some assignment related to previous lectures. My reaction every time has been to throw previewing out the window and dedicate my time to masterfully reviewing the previous lecture, and then spend whatever little time I have left over finishing an assignment. I find myself in this situation often, and thus abandoning lecture previews becomes a habit, even though I originally set forward to make previewing a habit of mine. This is the result of spending more time than anticipated on completing tasks, otherwise known as failing to follow through with completion-based goals.
Current Solution #1: Time-based Goals
Instead of completing each assignment one-by-one whether on schedule or not, I will begin to dedicate time to each assignment, regardless of my progress on it. For example, if I had six hours to dedicate to the three tasks, I could designate time to each task like two hours for review, three hours for homework, and one hour for preview. Not only would I get exposed to all three tasks, but I could also get a better understanding of the necessary time to complete each task later.
Pitfall #2: Lack of Routine, Lack of Habit
Just like rewriting my lecture notes, previewing my lecture notes is optional. Thus, I have more often relied on motivation instead of discipline to get me to routinely preview lecture material. However, rewriting lecture material is habit I routinely follow through with, unlike previewing lectures.
Current Solution #2: Habit through Routine
One thing that can help with that is setting aside a weekly routine where I preview material at the same time every day. I can get rid of the spontaneity of previewing by treating it as a physical class, where I must routinely be physically and mentally present. I highly recommend setting aside at least an hour the night before a lecture. I personally would avoid previewing right before lecture, as I can easily exhaust and overwhelm myself right before class. But do what you must do!
Pitfall #3: Aimlessly Previewing
If you’ve ever tried to read a page out of a math textbook, I think we can both agree it’s taken us multiple rereads just to get a bit of understanding from one paragraph, and sometimes even just a sentence. Yes, that can be very demoralizing, but that is why it is important to distinguish between reading a textbook and a novel. Do not expect to read the textbook like a novel!
Current Solution #3: Strategic Method for Previewing
When previewing material, it is important to keep in mind what you expect to get from that one to two hours spent. From skimming the lesson and paying attention to bold and highlighted texts as well as examples, we should hope to deduct the following:
- What is the big picture of this lesson?
- What are the main ideas/key words in this section?
- What is being asked of in the questions?
- What is being given in the questions?
- How does this lesson relate to or expand upon previous lessons or previous courses?
- What am I confused about?
Being able to relate the lesson your previewing to previous knowledge can make covering the content afterward much easier to digest. As a learner of the material, we have concept images of how everything relates to each other. Thinking about relationships and how new information fits into our concept images is shown to be effective as explained with “researchers have also found that if students are asked to generate relevant knowledge from previous courses or their own lives, it can help to facilitate their integration of new material” (Ambrose, 17). Therefore, when spending our time previewing information, we should emphasize the context of how this new information fits into the agenda of our curriculum if possible.
Lastly, it is important to identify what confuses us, so that we can get that addressed as soon as possible. Preparing questions will also ensure that we stay engaged in lecture as we will be listening for the solutions, and we could also ask the questions when relevant. We much rather find out what we do not know before the exam instead of on the exam. So, fail early, fail often, and fail forward my friends!