Make Friends with Your Instructors

To make the most of your learning experience, and to get the best grades possible, it is good to form a positive relationship with each of your instructors. In some cases this is easy to do: you are dazzled by the instructor’s knowledge, make opportunities to ask questions, and find encouragement to share your views. A mentor helps you make contacts in your field of interest, and coaches you in your early efforts. Continue reading “Make Friends with Your Instructors”

Strategies for Active Learning

If you are going to make a presentation to any group, it is important for you to understand the differences between a lecture format and an active learning format.

Dr. Joseph Pitts and Mr. C.R. Horton

Presented at the National Conference on the Adult Learner 2000, Atlanta, Georgia.

Active learning has been defined as providing opportunities for students to meaningfully talk and listen, write, read, and reflect on the content, ideas, issues, and concerns of an academic subject (Meyers & Jones, 1993). The structure of active learning involves three categories: elements, strategies, and resources. The elements refer to what we do during the presentation (i.e. talk, listen, read, write, or reflect. The strategies determine what we do as a group (i.e. small groups, cooperative work, case studies, simulations, problem solving, or journal writing), The resources might include readings, outside speakers, teaching technology, or commercially produced educational programs.

If you are going to make a presentation to any group, it is important for you to understand the differences between a lecture format and an active learning format. In the lecture format the presenter assumes that the listener knows what is expected, involvement of the listener is selective, and the listener is provided with no feedback until the test. Whereas, in the active learning format the presenter tells the listener exactly what is expected and how responses are to be made. Feedback is almost constant.

There are basically four steps that this presenter takes in planning an active learning lesson. First, set expectations. Since there will be some noise and movement, the students need to know just how much noise and movement is appropriate. Second, establish objectives. The students need to know just exactly what it is you want them to learn during this session. Third, plan activities. This is where an active learning lesson is very different. You as a presenter have to plan activities that will involve the students in learning. During a lecture, they are listening (if you are lucky). During an active learning lesson they are doing. Your job is to determine just what they will do to learn the material. Fourth, determine assessment. How will you determine that they have learned the material? Fun and games are nice but unless you know they have learned what it is you wanted them to learn, that is all it is, fun and games.

During the presentation the participants experienced some of the following strategies:

  • Develop a matrix
  • Create a graphic organizer
  • Write a story to show a concept
  • Make a 3-D model

Participants also learned how to implement the following strategies:

  • Global lessons
  • Discussions
  • Inquiry
  • Guided Discovery
  • Cooperative Groups

It is usually very hard for a presenter to change from a lecture format to an active learning format. But there are some things that help change to come about:

  • Start small
  • Know your teaching strengths
  • Ask for help
  • Expect some failures

The main question we as presenters need to ask ourselves is, How will we know if our active learning strategies are effective? There are two indicators: One, students will demonstrate improved mastery over the subject matter. Two, we will see an increase in attendance, more animated discussions, and better questions from students.

Posted with permission.

Quest for the Grail? Searching for Critical Thinking in Adult Education

Retention of adult learners in the distance doctoral, teaching and learning environment is an issue of concern to faculty and administrators alike.

Heather M. Boxler

Pennsylvania State University

Presented at the 2002 Adult Education Research Conference. Posted here with permission.


The concept of critical thinking is explored from the perspective of an adult education graduate student. The paper argues that critical thinking, as presently constituted, lacks both clarity and depth. These problems need to be addressed before critical thinking can become viable and useful.

Locating Myself/Locating "Critical"

Often students are expected by adult education faculty to be critical in their approach to graduate studies. "Critical" is seemingly everywhere, in article titles, papers, books, dissertation abstracts, course syllabi, and so on to the point that "critical" becomes axiomatic.

For me, the problem was that the meaning of "critical" seemed to change from syllabus to syllabus and article to article. So the question: "What does it mean to be critical?"

As I read more, the questions shifted: From what theoretical background does this author or instructor come? How does this professor intend for us to be critical? What are we supposed to do with it? Is it worth doing?

These difficulties have been haunting me since my first semester as a graduate student, three years ago, and have spurred my subsequent explorations. At first it was very much a matter of survival. I believed that to be successful in graduate school one must be critical. A second criterion for success is determining what sort of critical a given professor values and working in that mold. But how could something so important be so nebulous? How could no one really tell me what it meant to be critical or why it was necessary? Why weren’t my fellow students worried about it?

At my first Adult Education Research Conference I began to ask conference participants what critical meant, and received rolls of the eyes along with an impatient air of, "Oh, not that tired old thing. Let’s talk about something interesting." One person even told me that critical thinking could not be defined because its meaning is unique for everyone. I considered for awhile that perhaps critical thinking was a fad, that it was a concept with no real significance, a piece to play with in "buzzword bingo."

I kept plugging away, however. I came to believe that there had to be something to the concept-I couldn’t let it go. Moreover, I began to wonder if the problem with critical thinking had less to do with my lack of understanding and more to do with the incoherence of theoretical underpinnings informing its use. I valued the concept; I wanted to understand it, to give it depth, to be able to articulate a position and choose my practice based on this understanding-and thus my master’s thesis was born (along with my second child). I cannot say that the thesis was a resounding success in doing all that I wanted to do, but it gave me some direction, helped me to understand some of the meanings and the tensions involved in the combination of critical thinking with adult education. It is this discussion, the discussion of meanings, tensions, inconsistencies, and potentials that I wish to explore further.

This paper is not intended to be an exhaustive review of the literature on critical thinking. A more complete review can be found in my M.Ed. thesis (Boxler, 2001). What I will highlight is a discussion of some of the tensions underlying the assumptions of critical thinking. As such, this paper should be seen as a beginning exploration rather than conclusive argument.

Positionality in Critical Thinking: Individual Empowerment and Social Change

My review suggests that two indistinct camps emerge from the literature: Those who seek individual empowerment through critical thinking and those who wish to inculcate critical thinking as a social responsibility. Those focusing on the individual tend to treat critical thinking as an end, with clearly identifiable goals, standards, and processes learners must use. Richard Paul’s work exemplifies this view. Critical thinking is a general skill, not context-specific. In Paul’s view critical thinking is "a systematic way to form and shape one’s thinking. It is thought that is disciplined, comprehensive, based on intellectual standards, and as a result, well-reasoned" Paul & Willsen, 1993, p. 20). He distinguishes between someone who thinks critically in the "weak sense" as described above and someone who thinks critically in the "strong sense," which is much more context specific. According to Paul, someone who has mastered the logic or the basic skills of critical thinking is a weak sense critical thinker until she desires and has the ability to move beyond herself to see the bigger picture, therefore becoming a "strong sense" critical thinker. The strong sense critical thinker recognizes that "muddy" problems dominate in our world, and therefore must be able to cope with problems without retreating into an egocentric or ethnocentric shell (1993a, p. 205-209). Paul describes the basic drives and abilities of what I call strong sense critical thinking:

  1. an ability to question deeply one’s own framework of thought,

  2. an ability to reconstruct sympathetically and imaginatively the strongest versions of points of view and frameworks of thought opposed to one’s own, and

  3. an ability to reason dialectically (multilogically) to determine when one’s own point of view is weakest and when an opposing point of view is strongest. (p. 206, italics in original)

Brookfield (1987), falling in line with Paul’s strong sense critical thinking, believes it is necessary for adults to live intelligently and responsibly in a democratic society. He argues that critically aware populations are more likely to participate in the formation of their political and social contexts than those who feel distanced. By "distanced" we mean those who choose not to participate in the aforementioned activities, possibly due to mass representation and significant sociopolitical decisions being made far away by a small power elite.

Critical thinking is necessary if seemingly unempowered masses are to turn away from their self-absorbed private lives to become socially concerned and active (p. 52-56). In spite of this language and rhetoric, Brookfield’s work is targeted toward individual change. He delineates steps and processes, describes the process for an individual, and essentially is hoping that an individual who masters the processes will be willing and able to contribute to social change.

Jack Mezirow’s transformation theory attempts to make sense of problem solving when the problems are ill-structured and grounded in life experience Mezirow, 2000). Mezirow offers this definition:

"Transformative learning involves an enhanced level of awareness of the context of one’s beliefs and feelings, a critique of their assumptions and particularly premises, an assessment of alternative perspectives, a decision to negate an old perspective in favor of a new one or to make a synthesis of old and new, an ability to take action based upon the new perspective, and a desire to fit the new perspective into the broader context of one’s life." (1991, p. 161)

It becomes clear that Mezirow is quite close to the traditional idea of rationality, which uses evidence and logical reasoning to determine a course of progress. While he makes use of Habermas’ theory of communicative learning, one sees little or none of central social responsibility/action concepts in Mezirow’s theory of transformation. As Cunningham noted, Mezirow "explicitly separates personal transformation from social transformation" (1993, p. 10).

Thinking critically as a social responsibility is an entirely different matter. From this perspective, critical thinking is a process one uses within the larger practice of ideology critique. Critical thinking is merely a tool (albeit a crucial, valuable tool) one uses to identify, uproot, and prevent oppressive practices. Michael Newman (1994,1999), an exemplar of the social responsibility approach to critical thinking, discusses critical social theory and the hope it offers:

Critical theory is concerned with far more than analysis or logical thinking. It recognizes the influence of cultural values on people’s reasoning and acting, and takes into account interaction, insight, feeling, intuition and other non-scientific ways of knowing. Critical theory envisages forms of thinking in which people not only perceive the world more clearly but also perceive their perceptions of the world. (1994, p. 44)

In order for social change to occur, however, people need to be critical thinkers. A critical thinker is one who takes responsibility for both words and actions, is open and clear about values, assumptions, and ideology. A critical thinker is not only critical in thought, but also in the necessary component of action (Newman, 1999). Newman’s quote can be seen as a statement of the influence of critical social theory on Brookfield and Mezirow; the main difference between the two camps is scope. Brookfield and Mezirow focus largely on the individual, teaching skills that may help a person know more about herself and her culture.

Hopefully, the ensuing awareness of self-situatedness in society will turn the individual away from looking inward to becoming more involved in the creation of her own life and culture. Newman dismisses this approach as entirely too conservative (1994).

The line between critical thinking and critical theory becomes unclear, and sometimes Newman seems to treat them as identical concepts. However, on closer inspection, one can see that critical thinking and critical social theory are not identical. Critical thinking is a main tool that one must develop and use to enact social change. Remove the critical thinking tool and social change is no longer possible. Newman indicates clearly that one should think critically for a specific purpose, using that ability as necessary to fight oppression.

Airing the Issues

Broadly speaking, it seems to me that in much of the adult education literature the language of social responsibility is employed but the models used are individualistic versions of critical thinking. The authors seeking improvement primarily for the individual tend to treat critical thinking as an end in itself, with clearly identifiable goals, standards, and processes learners must use. The social change advocates treat critical thinking as a process one uses within a larger process of ideological critique. Critical thinking is emphasized but not dissected.

Brookfield and Mezirow, however, attempt to use critical social theory as a main theoretical source from which they construct their notions of critical thinking. In doing so, they remove critical thinking as a means to an end (social change) and make it into an end. When one removes critical thinking from the social change approach, one is redirected toward an individual change approach. It seems that Brookfield and Mezirow would like people to pursue social change, and hope that learners will voluntarily move from an individual to a social change model. The probability of such a move seems small. If a learner is comfortable with the individual change approach, what will cause her to desire social change? Mezirow states, in the tenth step of his transformation process, that the learner needs to reintegrate with her pre-transformation life (1991, p. 160). How does reintegration lead to social change? Reconstruction might lead to the desired change, but not reintegration.

It seems that the move from a social change approach to an individual change approach represents a case where authors use critical social theory while simultaneously ignoring the purpose for which Habermas and other critical social theorists envisioned critical thinking. Diverting critical thinking to an individual change model may in fact stunt the social change process. Once the learner has achieved personal change and growth, she will feel that she reached her goal. There is no impetus to critique and bring change to the larger social order. There is no impetus to work with others in achieving common visions or goals. Individuality is stressed at the expense of the greater social order.

Why, indeed, would adult education work so hard to find a place in the critical thinking movement? One possible reason is that critical thinking may address a problem that appears to obsess adult and other educators: power and control (see, for example, Apps, 1991; Cervero & Wilson, 1994; Merriam & Caffarella, 1999; Ruggiero, 1988, Askay, 1997). Authors on critical thinking are suggesting that if we think critically, we cannot be fooled, thus enabling us to choose our courses. This may be so. The word "control" seems to imply that not being fooled also means that we will have courage to act on our knowledge; take this a bit further and we see it is also assumed that we have the desire to act on our knowledge, and faith that we may in some way alter the balance of power to take the aforementioned actions. That is a lot of assuming to come from merely having a critical mindset.

I do not accept "control" as a good reason to practice critical thinking in adult education at any level. What types of control, to what extent a thinker may be in control, and limitations of critical thinking in this arena are not addressed. Greater awareness does open up the thinker’s horizons and acceptance of new possibilities, but to what extent? Democracy is often mentioned as a reason to promote critical thinking. There are control issues in that term as well, but let’s ignore them for now. Why is democracy best for everyone? How do we even know it’s best when we (at least in the US and the UK) don’t practice true democracy? I think it may be safer to say that critical thinking is an effort to stave off ignorance. In our information society, ignorance is abhorrent and sometimes dangerous. Those who are not ignorant are less likely to accept glib slogans, catchy ads, and slick assurances.

Critical thinking in the broader sense has a distinct method, philosophy, and identity. Critical thinking in adult education is a hybrid, related to but not sporting all the necessary characteristics that makes thinking critical instead of ordinary. Further, adult education (as well as much of the rest of the critical thinking movement) assumes that rationality is the best way of thinking and knowing. We adopt criticality because we are of the centuries-old Western rational tradition. We have faith in it. Legitimacy is also an issue for our field: If you want someone to take you seriously, you use and teach reason n so therefore it seems likely that adult education has assimilated rationality to improve its image and acceptance. Rationality is frequently associated with the notion of objectivity n and raises the picture of a cold, detached academic studying life under a microscope. Adult education fosters a socially conscious, caring image, and therefore the traditional "academic persona" does not suit. To get around this problem we instead use "sense" to be critical in our vague, unstructured manner. Since our thinking is not disciplined, there is no need to examine its structure for strength and stability using a set of standards. It seems fairly clear that adult education courts but does not truly adopt historical criticality.

Brookfield states that he is not following traditional critical thinking paths (Brookfield, 1993). He is instead attempting to develop a method tailored to the needs and purposes of adult education. There is not a universal definition of critical thinking for adult education. While this is not of itself a problem, there does need to be a stronger sense of the nature and practice of critical thinking in adult education, that it is different from the larger tradition, and in what ways. Evaluating thinking is essential here because we have a new practice, and we need to know how well it works-or does not.

Teaching critical thinking in adult education is problematic. I find it difficult to believe that students can become truly critical thinkers if their teachers/professors are unaware of its nature and practice. Robert Sternberg (1985), points out problems with teaching critical thinking that I found completely plausible based on my experience as a graduate student in adult education. We are taught, for example, that many problems faced by adults in life are ill defined, located in a dynamic context and fraught with power relationships. We are taught less about how to structure the problems; how to identify worthwhile problems; and how to think critically (and constructively) in conjunction with other people. If, as Chaffee (Esterle & Clurman, 1993) suggests, there are other ways of thinking and knowing, should we not also become familiar with them as alternatives? Askay addresses this point when he points out that we "preserve the analytic perspective [by] our Western insistence upon a bifurcation between rationality and alternative ways of thinking. The first receives uncritical acclaim, while the latter is excluded, suspected, or extinguished." (1997).

Bearing these considerations in mind, consider how many authors cite Brookfield and Mezirow on a regular basis. Both are very influential in adult education. I suspect that many adult educators simply have not thought about critical thinking much beyond Brookfield’s and Mezirow’s work. Their scholarship, motives, and aims are frequently accepted without serious question. Critical thinking is, ironically, accepted without serious question. It is time to start asking ourselves better questions about how we think so we know why we think the way we do, its advantages and disadvantages.


In the case of graduate students, critical thinking will allow us to sort through the plethora of literature in adult education and identify that which is quality from the dusty chaff. Good critical thinking will enhance our scholarly efforts as well as our daily lives. Maybe, just maybe, we can use it to help improve the human condition. However, I think exposure to other thinking traditions (see Askay, 1997) would benefit scholars (and probably others). Promoting critical thinking without exploring alternatives is problematic. Adult educators need to shake off our collective complacency. In terms of critical thinking and even-dare I say it?-thought in general, adult education as a field needs to reflect, to cultivate awareness and then take appropriate, deliberate action to direct its course.

This last point will probably come as resounding a lack of surprise to most readers. My study demonstrates that confusion such as that which I described is justified. To initiates such as myself the literature is confusing and confused. The term, the concept and the practice of critical thinking are an integral part of today’s academe-what professor is going to knowingly take an uncritical position when teaching? What student will be applauded for writing or reading uncritically? However, critical thinking is being cast off from its theoretical moorings; if critical thinking is the academic equivalent to the rudder of a ship, we are quickly becoming lost in a sea of equivocation. If critical thinking is indispensable to the theory and practice of adult education-as most authors imply-a lot more attention needs to be paid to its theoretical underpinnings and the congruence between professed, implied and operational usage.


Apps, J. W. (1991). Mastering the teaching of adults. Malabar, FL: Krieger Publishing Company.

Askay, R. R. (1997). "Beyond ‘Critical Thinking’". Journal of Thought, 32(4), 23-36.

Boxler, H. (2001). "Quest for the Grail?: Searching for critical thinking in adult education." Unpublished master’s thesis, The Pennsylvania State University, University Park.

Brookfield, S. (1987). Developing critical thinkers: challenging adults to explore alternative ways of thinking and acting. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Brookfield, S. (1993). "Breaking the code: Engaging practitioners in critical analysis of adult educational literature." Studies in the Education of Adults, 25(1), 64-91.

Cervero, R. M., & Wilson, A. L. (1994). Planning responsibly for adult education: A guide to negotiating power and interests. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Cunningham, P. M. (1993). "Let’s get real: A critical look at the practice of adult education." Journal of Adult Education, 22(1), 3-15.

Esterle, J., & Clurman, D. (Eds.). (1993). Conversations with critical thinkers. San Francisco, CA: The Whitman Institute.

Merriam, S. B., & Caffarella, R. S. (1999). Learning in adulthood: A comprehensive guide (Second ed.). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Mezirow, J. (1991). Transformational dimensions of adult learning. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Mezirow, J. (2000). "Learning to think like an adult: core concepts of transformation theory." In J. Mezirow (Ed.), Learning as transformation: Critical perspectives on a theory in progress. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Newman, M. (1994). Defining the enemy: Adult education in social action. Sydney, Australia: Stewart Victor Publishing.

Newman, M. (1999). i Sydney, Australia: Stewart Victor Publishing.

Paul, R. W. (1993). "Critical thinking: Fundamental to education for a free society." In J. Willsen & A. J. A. Binker (Eds.), Critical thinking: What every person needs to survive in a rapidly changing world (3rd ed.). Santa Rosa, CA: Foundation for Critical Thinking.

Paul, R. W., & Willsen, J. (1993). "Critical thinking: Identifying the Targets." In J. Willsen & A. J. A. Binker (Eds.), Critical thinking: What every person needs to survive in a rapidly changing world (3rd ed.). Santa Rosa, CA: Foundation for Critical Thinking.

Ruggiero, V. R. (1988). The Art of Thinking (2nd ed.). New York: Harper & Row.

Sternberg, R. J. (1985). "Teaching Critical Thinking, Part 1: Are we making critical mistakes?" Phi Delta Kappan, 67(3), 194-198.

Posted with permission.

Making Accommodations for Students with Learning Disabilities in College Classrooms

The purpose of this presentation is to show how proper accommodations in college classrooms can lead to more students with learning disabilities being successful in more courses.

Dr. Joseph Pitts

Presented at the National Conference on the Adult Learner 2000, Atlanta, Georgia.


The purpose of this presentation is to show how proper accommodations in college classrooms can lead to more students with learning disabilities being successful in more courses. The presentation will center around choosing modifications of traditional ways to do course work so that students are able to bypass obstacles caused by the learning disability, yet at the same time be able to show the professor the material is mastered.


  • To understand what role accommodations play in the college classrooms;

  • To become familiar with the advantages of accommodations;

  • To understand the difference between a proper and improper accommodation;

  • To be able to list accommodations that might be appropriate for your classroom;

  • To develop strategies to help students to become successful in your classroom.

What is the role of accommodations in the college classroom? Specifically, this presenter thinks that the role of accommodations is to let the professor know just what it is that the student knows. A better approach might be to define what are reasonable accommodations. Although reasonable accommodations may be viewed differently by different professors, it would seem that reasonable accommodations are based on the premise that the students with learning disabilities are given an equal opportunity to determine what they have learned, but not an advantage over others in the class. This does not mean lowering course expectations, but it may mean having students learn and express knowledge in a different mode. The basic advantages of reasonable accommodations should be academic success, better motivation, and more confidence. These would continue in an upward spiral if the reasonable accommodations were doing what they are supposed to do. If we try to determine the difference between a proper accommodation and an improper one, this presenter has found the following guidelines helpful: proper accommodations allow the student to present content in a different format. They still have to show the professor they know the material. An improper accommodation would give the disabled student an advantage over other students. In general, support services do not give disabled students any advantage over others; they merely enable disabled students to overcome the disadvantages with which they would otherwise begin. Some of the more common accommodations might include the following: untimed test, notetakers, taping the lecture, readers and scribes, test-taking alternatives, providing the students to check his/her notes for accuracy with those of faculty or another student, or providing sufficient time for copying information from transparencies and the chalkboard.

What are some other general guidelines or suggestions that are important to consider when making accommodations?

The recommendations that follow are taken from the Faculty Guidebook used at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. Maybe they will be helpful.

  1. Talk to students with disabilities early in the semester– during the first few days of classes. If they don’t approach you, don’t wait- approach them yourself after class.

  2. Do not single out students for special attention in class because this could embarrass them. Speak to them privately about problems or issues related to the disability.

  3. Discuss course issues related to the disability and identify potential problems. Talk about what the student can do in your course and discuss what adjustments or modifications you might make in your teaching style and in your evaluation procedures.

  4. Encourage students to keep in touch with you during the term so those problems can be solved as they arise and so those crises can be averted. Let students know that you are available to meet with them.

  5. In matters where the disability is not an issue, treat the students as you would any other students.

  6. If the student is failing because the disability makes it impossible to meet certain course requirements, examine the importance of the problematic requirements in your course. If the problematic requirement is not essential, you may want to adjust your grading scheme so that the student can show mastery of course material in equivalent ways. Note: this is not the same as simply waiving a requirement– it is replacing it with one of equivalent importance and level of difficulty.)

  7. If it is essential that the student be able to complete all requirements, let the student know early in the semester what course requirements will not be modified.

  8. If the student fails for the "usual" reason, allow the grade to stand. Do not pass students with disabilities just because they tried hard. This is unfair to all of your students.

  9. Talk about assistance that the student may need from classmates, tell the student about resources for your course that you know of, and discuss what kinds of modifications to your regular routine would be helpful e.g., seating arrangements, format of exam, grading issues).

  10. Make adjustments in your teaching style which would make it easier for the student to learn (e.g., allow audiotaping, say aloud what you write on the chalkboard, hand out assignments and reading lists early.)

  11. Be flexible with exams (time needed, format) and with deadlines on assignments (there may be problems getting articles in a readable format for the student or in finding assistants to help with library research). Do not, however, grant unearned grades.

  12. Make a special effort to be well organized, to make assignments clear and to communicate effectively.

  13. Talk to students about the impact of the impairment on their ability to do well in your course and about adaptations that you can make to help them do well.

  14. If the student’s impairment interferes with writing ability, allow extra time for exams and be flexible with the modality in which the student provides answers (e.g., oral or audiotaped rather than written answers).

Posted with permission.

Your Accomplishments Portfolio

The traditional portfolio was used by artists, photographers, and architects to demonstrate samples of their work. Unlike a cover letter, resume, or application form, a portfolio demonstrates how one’s skills, experiences, and history match a position.

Special to by Barbara Ritter, M.A. *

Why Create a Portfolio?

  1. The traditional portfolio was used by artists, photographers, and architects to demonstrate samples of their work. Unlike a cover letter, resume, or application form, a portfolio demonstrates how one’s skills, experiences, and history match a position.

  2. Today, with many applicants for each job opening and with the necessity of screening individuals efficiently and effectively, the portfolio is emerging as an excellent tool to accomplish this task. A one page list of the "Portfolio Contents"sent with your cover letter and resume allows the employer to screen your qualifications quickly and then request items from your portfolio, if desired.

  3. The cost of training and maintaining excellent employees is high, both in terms of financial resources and time. A portfolio is a visible means of proving that one is well-matched to a specific position in an organization. Employers know that in the long run, time, energy, and resources will be saved by making the first choice the right choice.

Guidelines to Building a Portfolio

When one is ready to seek a job, is common to think ahead to the future: What will the job require in terms of skills? What will I need to know? What will I be doing? Rather than think of future requirements, building a portfolio is best done by concentrating on one’s past: What have I done? What skills have I mastered and practiced? What experiences do I have that have made me the quality person I am? What do I know? What have I done well?

By answering these questions and then aligning items that demonstrate the answers, an "accomplishments to date" of one’s past is created. This will serve as a material, visible presentation to a future employer. It will also put the owner of the portfolio in better control of an application and interview situation because the material to be discussed is chosen and familiar to the holder!

Another added benefit is that it is simpler to narrow the focus of one’s desires in future employment. That is, rather than applying for all kinds of openings that may look interesting (a very time and energy-consuming and sometimes defeating process), one can apply only for positions in which both that applicant and the employer will find true success and satisfaction.

8 Steps to Creating Your Portfolio

  1. Ask and answer the questions that follow. Leave nothing out in this brainstorming look at yourself. Don’t try to do it all at once, but take several days to return to your list and jot other items down as they occur to you. You may always trim your list down, but you don’t want to omit important characteristics that really are the essence of you!

    • What paid employment have I had?

    • What unpaid work have I done? (Volunteering, service, informal helpfulness all count).

    • What courses have I taken (particularly a category, such as writing classes or acting classes) where I have gained skills and felt successful?

    • What training have I had? This might include informal classes, seminars, groups of friends that gather with common interests (such as book groups), or specific programs?

    • What life experiences have I had that I enjoyed, felt successful, and learned? This includes such things as travel (even family vacations growing up), living situations (such as summers on the water where boating or swimming were a part of the experience), a talent for cooking or baking, special collections of interest, and hobbies that have yielded you information, such as hiking in the woods that taught you about wildflowers, animals, and preparing for weather changes.

    • What skills do I have that make me capable of accomplishing tasks? This includes abilities such as organizing, speaking, writing, driving, care giving, sensitive listening, dancing, woodworking, using tools, following directions, and noticing details, for example.

  2. Collect items that correspond to your answers to the questions.

    Gather materials by scouring through your old school records, awards bestowed upon you for volunteer work, collections of hobby items, certificates, and photographs. Again, leave nothing uncovered! Faded newspaper articles that highlighted your achievement can be rewritten or copied. Collections too big to put into a portfolio can be photographed. How to fit something into the portfolio should not eliminate any materials at this point.

    Once these items are collected, it becomes important to categorize them according to theme, skill, or qualification. It is at this point where you can start to see how one thing you have done is related to other things, or how one skill has built upon itself.

  3. Select how your items might best be displayed.

    Some items lend themselves to easy display; a certificate or diploma, for example, can be copied and shown. Some items are more difficult, but with creativity can by shown. A collection can be photographed. A collage of photographs can be copied. A video tape can be edited with highlights of oral speeches, presentations, and dance or athletic competitions, for example. With computers, scanning and editing can be done to nicely demonstrate many performance-type achievements. Professional videographers, copy centers, and computer whizzes are available for consultation or to format this work.

    After you have gathered your materials and selected how you want them to be demonstrated, decide which (if any) are simply not important or relevant. However, do not eliminate anything from your portfolio that you consider an essential element of you or your achievements. When you present your portfolio, it does not have to be done in whole. For a specific position, you may want to include only 4 of 6 portions, for instance, if that is all that seems relevant to that job.

  4. Demonstrate that you have a demonstration portfolio!

    This may sound like double talk, but it means that you need to indicate that you have a portfolio and what kinds of materials it contains. You will not be handing your portfolio out to many people at one time, but you need to let them know what you have. This could be done in the form of your resume, a personal brochure, or cover letter. You might have a heading in your resume that is called "Portfolio Contents," for instance. Then, by category, you could list the items it contains. Or you may choose to include a paragraph in a cover letter indicating you have a portfolio containing specific items that you will be glad to review with them at their request.

    Compile a list of what the portfolio contains by category. This contents may be included inside the portfolio and also as an attachment to your resume or cover letter. You may wish to write a cover letter that describes some sample highlights from your portfolio and then note the portfolio may be requested in whole or part. In doing this, you have shown an ability to organize, confidence in your past accomplishments, proven demonstration of your skills and achievements, and a willingness to be helpful and available to a future employer.

  5. Duplicate your portfolio one time.

    Be sure you have two complete portfolios in case one is loaned temporarily. However, unlike a resume, you need not duplicate your portfolio many times. It will be loaned, not given, to future employers. In some cases just listing what is contained in the portfolio is sufficient to secure an interview.

  6. Select a container for your portfolio.

    This may vary as your portfolio builds. Office supply stores carry many inexpensive containers that would serve this purpose well. Accordion folders, small briefcase-type holders, or other similar carrying pockets are available. A portfolio does not have to be expensive, but does need to be lean and neat.

  7. Update your portfolio periodically and keep it current.

    As you accomplish new tasks, keep material demonstrations of them. Once you begin thinking in terms of creating and keeping a portfolio, it becomes natural to think, "How can I include this in my portfolio?" You will begin to photograph, record, and collect proof of your work in many displayable ways.

  8. Use and enjoy your portfolio!

    This is a tangible picture of you–your skills, experiences, accomplishments, qualifications, and interests. Use it to reflect on your past, know yourself, and move to your future!

The Electronic Portfolio

An Addendum to The Professional Portfolio

All of the information that can be collected for the portfolio can be placed in what is sometimes called an "electronic portfolio". This is an alternative to gathering paper (hard) copies of information; "electronically," or via a web page or computer disc, the portfolio information is accessed through a computer.

The easiest way to create the electronic portfolio is to use an electronic format from the start. That is, documents and resumes could be placed on the web page or disc as they are originated rather than trying to collect information and transfer it later to the electronic version later.

When a person is ready to distribute the portfolio to potential employers, several options for making the portfolio information available exist. First, a number of employers, newspapers, and agencies have web page postings. By going into these web sites, directions can be followed as to how to post one’s own portfolio on the web. Secondly, writing to employers with directions as to how to access one’s portfolio on one’s own web site can be included in the letter. This requires that the creator (owner of the portfolio) establish a web site on which to display the portfolio and how an interested employer might respond. (Assistance with doing this is available from anyone knowledgeable in how to set up a web site). Thirdly, the contents of the portfolio can be placed on a disc and the disc duplicated and distributed to potential employers.

The convenience of displaying the portfolio in this manner, the ability to reach many people, and the demonstration of technology skills are all evident by using the electronic portfolio format. Finally, the ability to be creative, colorful, and even three-dimensional are limited only by one’s imagination!

* Barbara Ritter, M.A., is Director of Vocational Education for Bethel School District in Spanaway, Washington. Her accomplishments include serving as director of a consortium of employers and educators that created a highly successful portfolio program.

© Barbara Ritter. Posted with permission.

For more information on portfolios, please see our links page.

Developing Goals

If you feel overwhelmed by the tasks ahead of you—and even if not—read on. Setting and reaching your goals can be easier than you think.

(Setting goals you can live with)

So you’ve gotten yourself into college. One goal reached! Now what will you do?

Many adults returning to college already have an idea of what they will study due to the type of career toward which they are working. But many do not. If you are one of those who may feel overwhelmed about the future—and even if not—read on!

Below you’ll find several different philosophies on "setting and reaching goals" because what may work for one person may not work for another. Similarly, each style may be better suited to one situation over another. Feel free to borrow ideas from several methods, combine the tips, and develop ways of your own!

A basic way to begin setting goals is:

Develop a plan or vision as your goal and find or create a "picture": Based on your likes and aptitudes, determine what you want to work toward. You can write it down, take a picture of something that resembles your goal, find an article in a newspaper or magazine that describes what you’d like to become or do, or anything else that represents your vision. (More on this below.)

Break it into workable, measurable steps, and then break it down again: If you feel like you’ve bitten off more than you can chew, that’s OK. It happens to everyone with a big plan. Try breaking down the goal you’ve created into smaller parts. For example, a goal of "succeeding in college" might have as one objective "getting an A in history." While that is a good start, it can still be too big to get a handle on exactly HOW to get an A in history. Break it down into even more steps, and continue to do so until you have a list of things that are "do-able" for you. For example:

  • attend all classes
  • read a chapter every two days
  • read all extra materials
  • study 4 hours at the library before each test
  • complete homework assignments on time

Get started: Actually, by this point, you are already started! Planning and analysis are very important first steps. Now it’s time to implement some of your actions. Create a To-Do list.

Uh-oh…. Get back on track: Sometimes it’s easy to get a little discouraged if your plan goes astray. Maybe you receive a C on the first history test, weighing 30% of the grade. You feel there’s no way you can recover enough to get an A now. This is the time for your best creative thinking. Is there extra credit available? Will the instructor work individually with you? I had that exact situation once and the instructor let me create a crossword puzzle for the class on terms we needed to know. It worked. I ended up with an A. There’s almost always something you can do if you catch the slide quickly. The longer you wait, the harder it is to recover.

Measure results: In the classroom, results are easily measured by the grades you receive from your instructor. Other goals may have less obvious measurable benchmarks. Say you want to learn photography. Some broad benchmarks might include: learning to operate a camera, taking a class or buying a book on technique or lighting, buying and using extra accessories, learning to develop and print negatives the old way. "Learning" here is a subjective phrase, but you can ask yourself what level of proficiency you wish to have at the skill you want to learn.

Reward yourself: When you reach a benchmark or complete a goal, reward yourself! Appreciate the hard work you put in to accomplishing your goal, even if it is a little one, like getting all the errands run (Phew!). For smaller goals, many find "to-do" lists rewarding. Seeing the items get crossed off brings a sense of accomplishment.* For those bigger goals, you should take time to pause and reflect. First, remember your past self prior to your achievement. What were your ambitions, visions, energies, and excitements about the future? How have they turned out? What did you DO to make that happen? What have you learned that will help you moving forward (not just academically — but for you as a person)? Embrace your development, appreciate the effort you put forth, remember that at one time, this was exactly what you wanted… and treat yourself to something special!

What now? Develop a new Goal: The final part of the process is to figure out what you are going to challenge yourself with next. Many people find that once they have accomplished their goal, they are not as satisfied as they thought they would be. Most of the time this is due to a simple belief that once they have accomplished one thing all else will be well. But, kind of like inflation, you need to judge your past goal on the circumstances of its time. What is not realized is that life goes on, changes come, and different outcomes from the original goal may be needed. It’s also helpful to have more than one goal at any given time, have ones under development, in the beginning stages and full on. This way, you’ll always have something to do!

Strategic Planning Process

In most organizations, strategic planning and goal setting are part of the on-going development process. The same is true in life. Here are some steps based on a data-gathering model of goal setting. Write it down or type it in:

  • Decide where you are / what your current status is: Use your feelings and intuition, assess your situation, obtain and analyze any available data, and ask for input from others. Ask where am I? Why here? Why now? Why am I doing this? Avoid asking "how" in this step. It dwells too much on the past for this exercise.

  • Locate where you want to go or be: Based on where you are, decide where you want to go. Ask where do I want to be? What do I want to do?

  • Develop a course based on the conditions you want to satisfy: Using the data collected above, and input from the rest of the article, create a listing or chart of what steps need to be accomplished to get to where you want to be. (This is the tough one… use the rest of this article to help break it down.) Use deadlines if helpful.

  • Chart your progress: Check off the items accomplished. Make notes about things that need updating or changing.

  • Alter plans based on new information and opportunities: Time changes things no matter what. What you dreamed of 5 years ago may be quite different from what you visualize now. New obstacles, responsibilities, and opportunities are sure to pop up after the first draft of your goals. Don’t be afraid to revisit the plan to add new tasks or delete items that are no longer relevant.

A Top Down Approach

The Top-Down approach starts with general statements and goals, and like a reporter, asks questions to extract specific steps you can take and aptitudes you can develop to fulfill your goal.

Start with a general goal, desire, or aspiration such as "I want to be happy" or "I want to be successful." Begin by asking yourself "what" makes me happy or "what" makes a successful person, or whatever question (how, what, when, why, where, who, what does it take) best fits the situation.

Continue asking as many questions at each level as you can. (Answer: "I am happy when I am outside and when I am helping people." Follow up questions: Where outside? Why outside? Doing what outside? Helping people how?)

You may want to chart your answers in a pyramid type structure, starting at the top with your goal, and filling in each level below it with progressively more specific answers.

With continued sifting of the answers through thorough questioning, you can help identify the traits, actions and requirements necessary for you to have in order to accomplish your goal.

Conversely, by starting with a specific activity you enjoy, you can use this questioning method (and research in your college career center) as a tool to help you figure out how to take a trait you already posses and "grow" it into a career path. Be advised, it is as important to know your weaknesses and dislikes in order to find a career path that is best suited to you. One bad aspect of a job can far outweigh several good aspects. Here are a few questions to get you started:

  • What do I like to do?
  • What do I like about it?
  • Is there anything I don’t like about it?
  • What do I do well?
  • What do I get praise for?
  • What do I struggle with?
  • What do I wish for?

To-Do List

A simple and rewarding activity essential to goal setting is the simple creation of a "to-do" list. Either the night before or morning of a day, write down the items and activities you wish to accomplish. You can have one list for several days if you’d like.

Being able to prioritize is a necessity. It can be helpful to group items in one of several ways: urgency, topically, level of difficulty, geographically, time of day constraints, etc. Keep the list near and as you go through the day, mark off the items your complete. Some people like to start with a few easy items to warm up. Others like to get the hard stuff out of the way. I’ll do a mix of these, depending on the urgency, and my mood or energy level.

Sometimes (many times??—at least for me) you will not get everything done. Don’t sweat it. You can transfer the incomplete items to a new list. While doing so, think about why you may not have completed that item. Was it just a time issue, or was there some obstacle to getting it done? If you identify an issue, add that as a subentry on your new list.

* Note: for some people, To-Do lists represent what is not yet done and can add a level of stress. If you can relate to this, I would suggest breaking down the activities on the to-do list into smaller parts, and if possible, allow yourself more time to complete each item.

You can also apply a To-Do list for a long-term goal. Don’t think of it as a daily list, but more of a regular check-in list to chart your progress over the long term. Here, a more generalized list is OK.

5 elements of a useful goal

Adapted from: Carolyn Hopper, Middle Tennessee State University, (author of Practicing College Study Skills, Houghton Mifflin, © 1998, ISBN: 0395852749)

  1. Specific: describe with as much detail as possible
  2. Measurable: describe in a way that can be clearly evaluated
  3. Challenging / Inspiring: one that takes energy to accomplish, that makes you get up in the morning
  4. Realistic: you know you are capable of attaining in a reasonable amount of time
  5. Has Completion Date: create a measurable deadline for your work

Online References

Many, many references can be found about goal setting and development. Here are just a few:

  • Personal Professional Development Program (National Science Teacher’s Association):

    Meant for teachers, but contains useful information for anyone setting goals. (PDF format).


    A course developed by two community college teachers as an online self-directed resource. Free for now, use it soon! Also available, for sale, are individualized career development packages.

  • Program Development and Evaluation Resources

    A Project of the Southern Region Program and Staff Development Committee, Kentucky Cooperative Extension Service. Some are applicable, some are not. but an interesting list none the less.

Recommended Reading:

What Color is Your Parachute, by Dick Bolles, is a time-honored book with several activities to help you prioritize your likes, dislikes, and competencies. A new version is released every year, however, if you find a copy at a used bookshop, it is just as helpful as the latest edition.

– – – –

by Kristin Pintarich, Editor-in-Chief, The Adult Student’s Guide to Survival & Success

Bloom’s Taxonomy

Many students don’t understand the difference between "C", "B" and "A" level work on their exams and papers. Here are some guidelines.

Many students don’t understand the difference between "C", "B" and "A" level work on their exams and papers. According to Benjamin Bloom, there are six levels of mental skills that demonstrate the kind of understanding a person has about a subject. Starting with the lowest level, knowledge, and building to the highest level, evaluation, students demonstrate depth of understanding of a topic or concept. Each level has key words that suggest the level of thinking. Levels one and two would probably receive a C, levels three and four a B. Five and six are A-level work as long as other requirements for the assignment or test are met.

Bloom’s Taxonomy (summary)

  1. Knowledge
  2. Comprehension
  3. Application
  4. Analysis
  5. Synthesis
  6. Evaluation

For an example of C-, B- and A-level work, please see The Adult Student’s Guide to Survival and Success, 7th edition.

For a clear succinct description of all the levels you can go to the following web site:

and, with a lot of cross links:

The reference work for descriptions of Bloom’s Taxonomy come from:

Bloom, B.S. (Ed.), Taxonomy of educational objectives: The classification of educational goals: Handbook I, cognitive domain. New York: Longmans, Green (1956).

The following site contains a 21 page essay about critical thinking. (PDF file format – updated 2007)

Quia – Bloom’s Taxonomy, a site with flashcard, word search and a concentration type game, activities created by Carolyn Hopper

An online demonstrative quiz of Bloom’s Taxonomy, Choose "Bloom’s Taxonomy." Courtsey of, a demo for their quiz producing software that happens to cover Bloom’s Taxonomy.

Understanding Differences in Temperament

Knowing your temperament and that of your instructors can go a long way towards having successful college outcomes.

How Myers-Briggs Classifications Affect Students

Free Online Myers-Briggs Tests

Just several of many available (Please note – these are not meant as a replacement for a professionally administered test and consultation.):

Isabel Myers and her mother, Katheryn Briggs, developed a test to measure four dimensions of temperament identified by Carl Jung. Myers-Briggs type tests are probably the most popular personality tests given these days because of many benefits gained from seeing how differences in temperament explain misunderstandings between people.

This means that differences in how you and an instructor think are more important than differences in what you think. Here is how the four temperaments influence your learning style:

Extroversion versus Introversion

Instructors and students vary widely in how friendly they want to be and how much emotional distance they need to have. A friendly, extroverted instructor enjoys after-class contact with students. He or she may ask groups of students to meet and talk after class. If you are naturally friendly, you will have a great year.

If you are a more introverted person, however, you may suffer from too much personal attention and closeness. You would much rather have a quiet, more distant instructor who respects your need to be left alone. You like taking courses on the internet better than courses where you have to be part of a learning team with other students.

On the other hand, if you are an extroverted person with a more introverted instructor, you may find it puzzling to have him or her pulling away from you after class. After all, what are instructors for if not to be available for students? Yet your desire to be friendly may cause the instructor to stare at you and make excuses to get away. After that, you may feel avoided.

When it come to studying, the introverted person needs a private, quiet place where everyone stays away. The extroverted person likes to study in the kitchen, in a student lounge, or with classmates. If you grew up in a large family you may study best in a noisy place with lots of people around. Experiment with locations to see what works best for you. Don’t hesitate to tell friends, relatives, and classmates with temperaments different than yours what you need.

Thinking versus Feeling

Descriptions of this dimension of temperament match up closely with left-brain/right-brain research findings. The left brain is where the speech center develops in most humans. The left brain is where you remember words, use logic, and think analytically. It gives you your ability to think rationally and unemotionally. The left brain thinks in a linear fashion. It is time oriented.

The right brain carries your memory for music. You think visually, emotionally, and irrationally in the right brain. It is the source of creativity and intuition. Right-brain thinking follows emotional logic. Using it, you think in patterns and jump from one spot in a pattern to another without apparent connection.

If you tend to be left-brained, you will be well matched to an instructor who gives you thorough, unemotional listings of facts, data, analytic explorations, hypotheses, logic, evidence, numbers, definition of terms, and rational conclusions.

If you tend to be left-brained and get an instructor who teaches in a right-brained way, you may find the course to be a bewildering experience. You may experience the instructor as weird, too emotional, disorganized, and a bit nutty.

If you tend to be right-brained with a left-brained teacher, the course will be painful for you. You’ll feel like a thirsty person handed a glass of water only to find it is filled with sand.

To resolve personality conflicts such as these, avoid indulging in the attitude “If only other people would change, my world would be a better place for me.”

When you have a mismatch, try to find someone (perhaps even the instructor) who will translate the material into a form you understand better. More important, however, make an effort to gain more use of your other brain.

The situation may not be easy at first, but it gives you a chance to add another dimension to yourself. And isn’t this why you’re in school?

You do not have to give up your more natural and preferred way of thinking, feeling, and talking. What you can do is add more to what you already have. We’ll get into more of this in the chapter on resiliency.

Sensation versus Intuition

Sensation oriented people are guided by experience. Intuitive people like fantasy, they are creative dreamers. According to David Keirsey and Marylin Bates, authors of Please Understand Me, differences on this dimension cause the widest gulf between people.

The sensation oriented student is practical, wanting facts and evidence. An intuitive instructor can fill the lecture hour with hypothetical explanations, theories, concepts, and a long list of views held by others.

A sensation oriented instructor gives practical instructions on what to do. An intuitive student wants to know what the underlying theories and concepts are, and asks “but what if?”

What to do about this sort of conflict? Stretch your understanding. Ask for what you need. Try to minimize the judging dimension of the next pair of traits.

Judging versus Perceiving

Judging people make up their minds quickly. They see people, viewpoints, and situations as good or bad, right or wrong.

The perceiving style is to observe without judgment. Such people can watch world events, movies, and hear opposing viewpoints without taking sides or having an opinion.

A judgmental style instructor believes there is a right way to think about the material, that contrary positions are wrong. This instructor may be openly critical of a theory that he or she doesn’t like.

A perceiving instructor presents different positions without indicating that any of them are right or wrong. “On the other hand,” is a favorite phrase. This instructor is frustrating for a judging style student who wants to know which way to think about something.

Note: If you want to take a Myers-Briggs type assessment of temperaments, check with the counseling office or careers center. Many colleges have a software program that lets you take the test and get a printout of your scores.

Learn to Appreciate Human Differences

We humans are all born with different temperaments and different ways of functioning in life. That is simply the way things work. When you experience conflicts with others at school, at work, or in your family, question your attitudes about other people. If you experience an irritating difference, use that as an opportunity to learn more about human nature. You might as well, because you won’t change other people by complaining and criticizing them!

The better you know yourself, the more skillfully you will manage your learning style and the easier it will be to succeed in college!

Help for Sustaining Concentration

There are several reasons why adults have trouble concentrating for any length of time, and several tips to help.

Focusing attention and sustaining concentration is the most difficult challenge for adults in meetings and classes. There are several reasons why adults have trouble concentrating for any length of time. Some of those reasons are:

  • External distractions
  • Internal distractions
  • Feelings of boredom
  • Bad habits
  • Speech thought time differential

External distractions include such things as others talking or whispering or eating or shuffling papers, noises outside of the room from the hall or street, the clothing or mannerisms of the speaker, a soft voice, or, at home, the radio, television, or phone calls.

For most of these distractions you can lessen the effect. Don’t consider it rude to ask others to stop talking or carrying on. You are paying good money for the class and you have the right to attend without annoyance. If you can’t hear the speaker easily, see if you can move your seat so that you are closer to the person speaking. If you find you keep thinking about the speaker’s outfit, hair style or gestures, remind yourself why you are sitting there in the first place. At home, you need to plan your study area that is discussed in Chapter 6. You won’t be able to eliminate all external distractions, but you should be able to reduce those distractions to a minimum.

Internal distractions can be either physical or psychological. Physical distractions include feeling hungry, tired, having a headache or a sore back, while psychological distractions include being concerned about a personal problem, remembering that you need to stop at the store on your way home, or pay the rent, or just being worried about too much to do, too little time.

Some pre-planning and self-discipline are required to reduce internal distractions. Eating nutritious food (protein is good for alertness) and getting a reasonable amount of sleep (try a 10 minute nap before class) will help with the first two distractions. Often, pre-planning can reduce physical discomfort. Perhaps taking a cushion for a hard chair or changing from an office outfit to more relaxed clothing would make you more physically comfortable. Personal problems and time pressures can often be set aside for a time by jotting a note to yourself on a separate note pad you have for this purpose. Once you have formed a habit of writing notes and checking those notes after class, you can forget trying to remember whatever it is that has popped into your head.

Feelings of boredom come from you, not the class. Nothing in and of itself is boring. If you find yourself thinking that the class is boring, stop and ask yourself why? Are you focusing on the message in a way that makes you want to know more, or have you already decided you know everything the speaker is going to talk about? Curious students don’t close off from material they recognize. Rather, they listen carefully to see what more they can learn. Curious students stay engaged with the message.

Bad habits can be changed. Learning to be an active rather than a passive listener will go a long way in helping you to increase you ability to concentrate. The following are habits that active learners strive to perfect:

  • Plan to listen so that you can ask a really brilliant question about the lecture topic before class is over. You don’t have to ask it, but it may be so good you want to.
  • Listen with the intention of relating what the main points of the class were about. Plan to tell someone later about what you learned. You get a bonus here if you actually do it.
  • Listen as if you are the only student in the class. Going solo means that you will be responsible for all questions and answers and that you might be called on at any time….

    (This is guaranteed to keep you alert!)

Speech-thought time differential is the difference in our rate of speaking versus our rate of thinking. It is something that everyone does which is a huge time grabber. Often this time differential is used for day dreaming. Day dreaming is healthy and enjoyable at the right time and in the right place, but when it interferes with your ability to sustain concentration in class… well you know the problem.

Perhaps a little understanding of why we can so easily go off on a mini mental vacation will help you turn your day dreaming time into productive time. These mini vacations happen because the normal rate of speaking in a public setting (class) is 150 to 250 words per minute (wpm). Our brains, however, can process words at 400 to 800 wpm. This difference in speech speed and thought speed allows a huge amount of time for other brain activity such as day dreaming. We literally think between words. Good students work to control what happens during their extra time differential. Some of the ways to use the time are:

  • Use this time to be forming good questions in your mind.
  • Anticipate the speaker’s point. Predict the direction of the talk.
  • Mentally summarize what the speaker has been saying.
  • Identify key ideas and words.
  • Mentally organize key ideas.
  • Relate the message to your own experiences or to what you already know.
  • Evaluate the evidence presented.
  • Look for what is not said–is there a deeper meaning or message?
  • Review the information already given. Ask yourself: did I understand, could I tell this to someone else, did I get the main point?

With a little practice you will learn to refocus your attention quickly and sustain your ability to concentrate for a longer period of time. All of this adds up to listening effectively.

Guidelines for Taking Notes

Taking good notes is essential for succeeding in your college courses. Here are some expanded explanations and tips to help you.

Taking good notes is essential for succeeding in your college courses. Here are some expanded explanations and tips to help you.

  1. During the lecture, take notes on the right-hand side of the paper. Leave a wide margin on the left.

  2. Write down complete phrases and statements, rather than single words.

  3. Star, highlight, or underline points the instructor emphasizes.

  4. As soon as possible after the lecture, complete unfinished sentences and fill in material you didn’t have time to write. The next time you study you will turn your outline into test questions. Each lecture will usually supply you with five to seven good exam questions. Write them in the left-hand margin.

  5. Leave the back of each page blank. Use it later for taking study notes and writing questions from other sources such as your textbook or assigned reading.

This procedure will help you organize lectures into questions and answers. Plan to come out of each lecture with several questions and answers. They are likely to be on the next test!

Outline Style:

Below, you will find a skeleton of an outline as well as a sample:

Title/Date: The major topic or subject.

  1. Major division or category within the topic.
    List important statements.

    1. history, facts, experiments, first researcher
    2. second researcher, other experiments.
      1. Supporting facts and details
  2. Second major division in the topic area.
    1. facts, new perspectives, research

Sample – Outline Form:

If your notes are neat and as close to outlined as possible, you’ll have a much better chance of turning them into a good set of questions. These notes were taken at an introductory psychology lecture. The topic was learning.

Intro Psych – November 17


  1. Behavior Modification – First researcher B.F. Skinner
    1. Main principles:
      1. Experimenter must wait for a behavior to occur.
      2. Behaviors reinforced tend to increase (Note: Term is reinforcement, not reward)
      3. Behaviors ignored tend to decrease
      4. Behaviors punished may be temporarily suppressed but may
        increase, punishment can be reinforcing!
    2. Tracking positives plan:
      1. Specify the desired observable behavior.
      2. Choose an effective reinforcer.
      3. Measure current level of desired behavior.
      4. Watch for slightest increase in the desired behavior.
      5. Give reinforcer as fast as possible.
  2. Classical Conditioning-First researcher Ivan Pavlov
    He noticed dogs salivating when a bell rang that signaled feeding time.

    1. Focus on automatic reflexes.

Summary Method:

Here is a sample of the above information in summary form:


B.F. Skinner, working with pigeons, was the 1st researcher to use Behavior Modification. He said that the experimenter must wait for a behavior to occur & then reinforce that behavior. Without reinforcement, behaviors tend to decrease, but punishment may increase the behavior since it is reinforcing. Mostly, the desired behavior needs to be reinforced as quickly as possible.

Ivan Pavlov was the 1st researcher to study Classical Conditioning. He noticed that the dogs in his lab would salivate when he rang a bell, even w/o the presence of food. CC focuses on automatic reflexes.

Mapping Method:

Finally, a brief sample of the above information in the visual, mapping form:

Mapping note taking sample picture

From notes such as these it is easy to develop practice questions that come close to what the instructor will ask.

Note: Using your own abbreviations for frequently repeated words can be helpful. Just make sure you can remember what they stand for! (A master abbreviation list may be helpful to create ).