Ink to Wood: My Revelation About Reading and Writing

Several colleagues wrote to ask me about my revised reading strategy. That question requires an answer in two parts, why and how.  Why is just as important as how; I will begin with why.  In Bloom’s Taxonomy of Education higher order skills include the ability to analyze, evaluate and synthesize material; Bloom also advocates for ‘mastery learning.’ Bloom’s taxonomy and mastery learning models privilege learning process over course content. As I plan my next exam attempt it is necessary to manage both.

Managing both content and process is essential for academic success in any program; in the University of London International Programme I spend time considering the relationship between my exam results and my study process throughout the term. This year I am concentrating on what Bloom considers ‘lower order skills,’ terminology, and facts or conventions, along with ‘higher order skills’ like application, evaluation and analysis. Our assessment requires both lower and higher order skills. For Bloom ‘comprehension’ falls between the two ranges. Bloom defines comprehension as giving descriptions and stating main ideas. The annual Examiners’ Report published by our faculty frequently encourages students to move beyond comprehension to application of higher order skills. It sounds simple enough but getting there is the trick.For me, the trick is working ‘smart’ and hard. Application of higher order skills requires the mastery of basic material; things like memorization strategies are important. My goals include being well read, developing a working vocabulary of literary terms and criticism, and developing writing and analysis skills. Giving attention to lower and higher order skills helps me achieve my goals. This term I have equal focus on intake of information, organization and output of writing, and expression.

Achieving my goals is centered on reading skills, organization skills and writing. One phase involves managing the staggering amount of material in each syllabus. The other phase is the expression of my own creative ideas and arguments about what I have read. A process analysis tip from a business colleague is ‘ask why three times.’ For example, ‘Why is it difficult to write an essay in 1 hour?’ Because it is difficult to define what the question wants me to do, or because I can only answer in general terms so I ramble on hoping to answer the question. ‘Why can’t I determine what the question wants me to do?’ or ‘Why can I only answer in general terms?’ are good second questions. This exercise really helps me determine study objectives.

No matter what my study objectives are for the term our assessment is the essay writing process. It is a complex process involving several skills sets.  The discipline and organization writing in exams requires is a challenge even though I know improvisation is not the best approach for good performance. Good academic writing requires the edited version of my efforts from over the term; it comes from careful research, organization and analysis, focused thought and discipline. Good writing does not flow magically from the fingertips. It requires ink to wood in a focused way on a daily basis. This is why I have adopted a revised reading strategy this term; next week I will tell you how I structure my reading time.

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