Palate cleansing for the brain

October 29, 2013

Lemon and Lavender Intermezzo

A study ‘intermezzo’ could be just what you need to move from task to task

We do a lot of cooking and entertaining at our house, mainly because I just cannot help myself. Cooking is fun and relaxing for me and always has been.  I went to culinary school to help manage that particular problem, though the experience and all the years as a restaurateur only reinforced my habit.  There is a lot to learn from the daily challenge that comes with facing one hundred or so people all wanting something different to eat at just about the same time.  Let’s sum it up by saying it is an intense and quickly changing few hours that demand concentration. Besides the sybaritic pleasure intermezzos offer, you quickly learn to appreciate how a little intermezzo can go a long way for the chef as well as the diners.  Once a foodie always a foodie I think, so, for me, it is quite natural to think of my daily tasks in the metaphor of a multicourse meal.  As my responsibilities and academic work become more demanding, I started looking for an ‘intermezzo’ to help me move from task to task.

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Start Studying From Scratch With These Study Resources

October 21, 2013

308px-Ellen_Terry_as_Lady_Macbeth‘Screw your courage to the sticking place, and we’ll not fail’ might be the most famous piece of advice given to someone with chilly feet in the face of an overwhelming task. While Lady Macbeth might not be everyone’s first choice for a motivational speaker or life coach her famous line is a great rallying cry for digging into our studies, even if you are not an English major.

It is a little daunting to start our new courses from scratch. The big questions on everybody’s mind right now in our VLE and social forums are how to begin the study process, how to locate answers to the questions in the study guides’ learning outcomes, how to find the balance between working with primary and secondary texts, and how to apply critical theory to primary material we read. Studying at degree level is not as easy as looking up answers. We need some special skills to read and analyze the material we are studying and to begin developing our responses. While none of those big questions has a simple answer, for me, it comes down to focus on study methods and resources. We have to start where we are and make the most of our unique perspective, experience, and the tools at our command. Read the rest of this entry »

Study Plan Point 3: Location and Other Themes

August 21, 2013

Here we are, enjoying another beautiful day in the semi-wilderness. The menfolk are off to Denali and some mountain climbing. Although I am a ‘Fourteener,’ Jelly Bean and I not going along on this trip. We’re staying home to enjoy the peace and quiet.  I think we can underestimate how much a location influences and effects how we think and feel, or how important it can be in the texts we read for pleasure or study.  No matter the sense of isolation here I am working remotely on both academic and professional projects, and thinking about themes like location for my study plan.

Caowrites' local library and treasured reference desk.

Caowrites’ local library and treasured reference desk.

Even here an important professional project required a lot of my time and attention. To stay on track now I reviewed my preliminary goals. My three goals to refine my focus for this term were: 1 – plan my academic calendar for the next 28 weeks, 2 – locate tools to improve my organization and outcomes, and 3 – to identify courses, texts and secondary reading.  Two of three are complete. I have a calendar planned, and I found Scrivener as well as a few research tools like my local library’s digital database of texts and articles.  My library’s system is the perfect complement to our Online Library which is available to students studying in the University of London’s International Programmes.  For my third point, I have selected courses and now am focused on texts and secondary reading. Those decisions are centered on what I will study, like themes and areas of special interest, like how Austen uses location.

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Here’s How I Make My Study Plan…

August 13, 2013

A meadow in the Chugach Mountains in Alaska

A meadow in the Chugach Mountains in Alaska

Here we are at the edge of the wilderness putting together my study plan for my new courses. Jelly Bean and I like to sit on the screened in porch to read and study. She can watch the meadow while the breeze tickles her nose and I muster my digital resources.  So far we have only seen several doe with their fawns ambling by. The fawns are quite small, only about Jelly Bean’s size. Surprisingly the deer and my collie dog are mutually disinterested. The meadow grass must be too sweet and my dog is to comfortable snuggled up beside me while I work.

I have been working on my strategic and tactical study plan for these next four courses.  What does that mean, exactly? Well, I want to be sure to accomplish personal and professional goals and also pass my courses with higher marks than my 2013 results. That’s the strategic part. I also want monitor weekly and monthly progress through each module, and be certain to master things like jargon and details specific to individual courses. That’s the tactical component.

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Exam Results Are Here!

July 15, 2013

The results are inWhat do exam results really mean to me?  First, I have to remind you that I am an ETNJ on the Myers Briggs scale which means I need to see relationships between things, analyze them, and make lists for lists.  Exam results, the time between exams and getting the results, and even taking exams, is ENTJ heaven.  While thinking about it today it occurred to me that exam results mean something different to everybody whether we are pleased or disappointed, are planning next term carefully, or just want to forget all about it until it is time to get on with the next set of courses.

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Studying Road Warrior

April 22, 2013

Alligator in Florida

Alligator encounter: A rather unusual challenge faced Caowrites on her business trip to Florida.

This week I am a road warrior, not in the Mad Max or professional wrestling tag team sense of the phrase, but as a business traveler.  I doff my hat to business travelers, their stamina and sheer determination.  As Edith Wharton wrote in ‘The Age of Innocence,’ ‘…all travel has its hardships,’ like those we all know well: delays, altered routines and schedules, interesting dining choices, and time zones.  Traveling for business presents some interesting challenges for students, because of the very nature and purpose of the business trip.  Time is compressed on a business journey.

For example, I traveled to Florida this week to accomplish specific things in a limited amount of time. Colleagues have arrived from all points of the compass with the same sense of urgency.  We have a shared agenda, but everyone also brings a unique set of, well, distractions, that might be family, other projects, or inconveniences like lost luggage.  I bring the need to study this week. Since exams are now only thirty days away, I am not willing to give up 7 days of preparation time. The trick is how to study effectively while accomplishing all of my professional obligations and making the best use of time with my colleagues.

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What Revising For Exams Really Looks Like At My House

April 16, 2013

Caowrites's deskHere’s what I hope you will think is a humorous and helpful account of what revision 25 days before  my exams begin looks like at my house.  My study room and office look like something of a omnishambles right now. Books, bundles of legal size writing pads, pens and highlighters are everywhere.  They cover my desk, which is really an 87 inch dining table seconded for my higher purpose. I made a special shelf for each course in my book-case, just in reach of my ‘desk,’ where work for each course that will be needed in the days prior to exams is organized.  There is another area dedicated to three-hole punching and binding in notebooks. Lamps for reading and table trays are fitted in near every chair, except my collie dog, Jelly Bean’s. Her pink pillow and super comfy purple chair are sacrosanct, though the same cannot be said for my husband’s.

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Argumentation Boggarts and Brollachans

April 4, 2013

I told myself that, when the first day of April arrived, a significant increase in what I call my ‘study application’ will need to occur. My focus is now entirely on 2 areas of concern. The first is in-depth research on specific topics. The second is disciplining myself to develop a complete argument before beginning to write an essay. You cannot imagine how challenging the second point is for me. To be successful at it sometimes I cannot even pick up a pen until I completely think through my argument and its structure.

Over the years I have been studying and writing in this program I have often wondered why this is so challenging for me.  I have wondered why an outline, essay plan, or argument, or whatever you want to call it, is even necessary.  A paper or story can certainly be written without one, but it will surely be as haphazard an affair for the reader as it was for the writer.  If you stop to think about what an essay plan or outline does, for example, provide focus, notes specific details, engages with the topic in a spirited way, makes the writing process more efficient, and aides concentration, it seems quite impossible to write a text of any kind without a clear plan or outline.

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Worried About Writing For Exams: Can You Tell A Story In Six Words?

March 25, 2013

Urban literary legend has it that, over lunch one day, Ernest Hemingway boasted to colleagues he could write a short story in six words.  His colleagues doubted very much that even the great Hemingway could write a story in six words.  They each wagered $10, betting a $60 pot against him.  Hemingway scribbled these six words on a napkin, ‘For Sale: Baby Shoes, never worn.’  According to legend Hemingway won the pot. The phrase is often misquoted, and whether or not there is any truth to the story does not matter. It makes a vivid point about writing that is helpful as we prepare for exams.

Right now our online gathering places are buzzing with conversations about the sudden need to write in a very specific way. In the English Department our examination consists of three timed essays with no support materials allowed. You must have read, thought, and decided, and then in the exam room, respond with an argument to three out of 15 questions within the three hour time limit.  Most of our anxiety about the process focuses on the amount of time available and the challenge of saying everything we want to in just one hour.  Exams do feel like a puzzle sometimes and writing our first timed essays at home before exams can increase anxiety rather than abate it. Read the rest of this entry »

My Study Plan Is Working Just As It Should

March 15, 2013

It’s one of those wonderful weeks when everything is going exactly as it should.  All the various threads of a year-long study plan for 4 modules have come together as planned, hoped, and worked for. For me, it is important to have a trusted study plan to produce specific results when I need them, like an athlete trains for peak performance at a specific time to be at their best in competition. While studying 4 modules over 9 or 10 months it is sometimes easy to wonder if learning is on target for this complex project with a goal so far in the future.  There are a lot of primary texts to read, even more secondary reading, and then there are the writing tasks that must be addressed.  I jokingly refer to the process as ‘my personal hermeneutic circle.’

To share the joke, in a nutshell, the hermeneutic circle refers to the idea that our understanding of an entire text depends on our understanding of its individual parts, while understanding the individual parts of a text is based upon our understanding of the whole. Neither the whole nor the parts can be understood without reference to one another, and so the circle as metaphor.  My circle revolves around primary and secondary texts. Read the rest of this entry »


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