Get on the brain train

28th September 2001 at 01:00
Study skills give you the edge on your PGCE - and help you to learn while you teach, writes Sara Bubb

Are you just starting out on a teaching course? People often assume that if you've got this far in the education system you won't need study skills training, but this is a mistake.

You are bound to be really busy on the course and improving study skills can help to boost your efficiency.

The first thing you need to do is to get organised physically, so find a space where you can be comfortable to work. Buy yourself some files, stationery and do your best to get hold of a computer - an old word processor will be enough.

Make a wall planner and draw up a timetable of everything that needs to be done. Think about when you work best and what use you can make of "dead" time - time during which you could be doing something beneficial, such as reading on the bus.

Get to the library before everyone else on the course borrows the most useful books. Concentrate on reading the recommended texts rather than every single item on the library shelves, and try to target the most up-to-date materials.

Diving into a book and working through to the end is usually unnecessary and may be wasteful. Be clear about what kind of information you want to find and why.

Look for relevant sections and make judicious use of the contents page, introduction and index. Scan headings. Skim read and focus on the most useful parts of the work.

Making notes aids absorption and concentration and helps you summarise arguments, information and ideas. Get an overview of the lecture or text structure - some lecturers and authors will do this for you. Spot and record key words or concepts. Mind maps are also very useful. We quickly forget most of what we read, so put the book down and try to jot down key ideas. But don't take masses of notes or write lots of quotations. Summarise in your own words and jot down page numbers so you can go back to the book if necessary.

Get into the habit of checking through your notes - writing a summary sentence can be useful. Regular review of what you have read stimulates understanding so that your knowledge grows and becomes integrated with other information.

Academic referencing in essays can be tiresome, especially if you haven't kept a list of everything you've read in the required format. So start a file of references that you will be able to cut and paste into an assignment at a later date.

Check on the style that your course requires - this may not be what you're used to (see box below).

All this will mean that you will be well placed for writing assignments, which will be the next stage.

Check those references - and keep them filed

Here is a standard way to reference academic books, articles in academic journals, newspapers and on websites:

Bubb, S. (2001) A Newly Qualified Teacher's Manual: How to meet the Induction Standards, London: David Fulton.

Tickett, A. (2001) 'How was it for you?', Professional Development Today, Spring 2001, pp.13-17.

Emmerson, I. (2000) 'One mistake and you're out', Times Educational Supplement Friday, November 17, pp. 30-31.

Times Educational Supplement NQT Forum, (2001) URL: www.tes.co.ukstaffroomlist_threads.asp?id=18085 (Accessed 20801).

HOW TO STAY ON COURSE

* Choose an up-to-date book

* Ask yourself precisely what you want to find out from this work

LESS THAN * Survey the contents of the book - don't read it from cover to coer but focus on the most useful-looking chapters

* Read the most useful parts in depth and make notes on the key points. Keep a record of page numbers as you're reading

* Keep a computer file of references for all materials you read

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