Posts Tagged ‘learning’


Wednesday, September 30th, 2009

I tend to feel very disinclined to write about my own academic frustrations, because such things are very sensitive topics, but I feel as if my current issues, and hopefully possible solutions, can be of help to other students.  The problem?  I cannot seem to take good notes while reading.  I have been working at this for a few days and literally have found no good way of reading and notetaking.  The closest I come to doing such is underlining what I feel are key passages and making notes in the margin.  What this doesn’t work for is books that are supposed to be library only.  These are texts that I won’t always be able to gain access to, so how do I address this issue?  I need my notes to not only explain what a reading says, but also be able to handle explicit quotes.  My note taking process as it exists now takes up way too much time for me to spare.  I can’t let a reading take me half a day to digest, ponder, and then summarize into notes.  What I’ve also noticed is that the notes are themselves a text that I allow to grow too long.  I used to think that taking notes in full sentences would ease the process of writing about a text later.  What I’ve come to realize is that it takes up far more time to create these full sentences.

This semester of too many credit hours forces me to find a new method to move through material quickly but most importantly effectively.  What point is there to doing all this work if it amounts to nothing?  I will give an example of a book that I am really struggling with:  Man Awakened From Dreams.  The book is divided into chapters which should potentially make my life easier, yet I find it difficult to divide the chapter it meaningful subsections as each portion of the chapter tends to be one long overarching discussion of a topic.  For instance right now I am re-reading a chapter on filial piety…the whole piece is threaded together in such a way as to make it difficult to put or cut into meaningful chunks.  How do you handle a monograph?  How do you divide up portions of a story?  The next problem I encounter is how to actually write while reading.  As I talked with a student about it, she mentioned “Well you can only do one thing at a time.”  That’s what is keeping me in this mess.  If I wait till after I finish a chapter, I have already lost the specific break down of the chapter.  Sure I could probably summarize it, just not be able to pull the info from my head into a nice paper and certainly not without the use of the book.

And if you are wondering…this problem has also been crossing over into lectures.  Lectures, unlike books, tend to be in shorter segments, giving it a sense of urgency, purpose and direction.  Professors only have 50 minutes or so to deliver a talk, so their talks carry a very strong thread, for the most part.  I know for instance my history professor specifically shows an outline of her talk before even beginning.  This not only sets the stage for the talk but also gives students a framework to take their notes.  They will know how the talk is divided and this really helps to organize notes.  But what about professors that take tangents?  What about a complicated talk that does not have a solid outline.  Even worse, what do you do with a discussion based class?  So far my answer to this has been to start using the Cornell system.  I used to just bring my computer and essentially write down every word.  That process is not notetaking, that is transcribing, they aren’t the same.  Frankly, writing every single world is just laziness.  It’s easy to take down everything said and not be critical about the material.  When you are forced to create a series of keywords about the lecture, you have no choice but to think critically.  What is important?  Tangential?  These are judgment calls which ultimately make the information more important.  Cornell, in my mind, through the use of keywords on the left side of the page encourages a student to categorize information.  However, I still haven’t settled on it.

Penn State University put out a helpful guide dealing with a wide range of note taking strategies depending on the style of the lecture and how content heavy any given talk is.  Many of these options boils down to experimenting and seeing what works for you.  Most people assume that they know how to take notes, but I would hazard to say that it is a skill most people do not have fully developed just yet.  Why?  I believe that note taking is actually a challenging task that requires very thoughtful musings in creating categories, keywords and key phrases.  Maybe note taking relies on the same structural method of a blog?  This is the end of the road, I have discovered a problem in my study skills, and now I reach out to you, fellow scholars, avid readers, and beyond, because you all might have information and thoughts that I have not stumbled across yet.  This semester’s work requires new methods, new ways of tackling and processing information.  As it stands, I do not process it fast enough.

So if you get any thoughts or ideas, particularly about reading and notetaking, leave me a comment or send a message @bahktinjali on twitter.   I greatly appreciate any help!

The Panda has requested!


Saturday, July 25th, 2009

It has been a long while since doing a solid blog post on this space. While my readership probably isn’t the largest out there, considering the might of bavatuesdays and confessions of a community college dean, I still feel this very bizarre obligation to continue to write to an audience I can’t quite see. Over the next few weeks I’d like to share a little bit of my own ICLP experience, perhaps also write a post-ICLP talk. Many of us have not done an intensive language program and so don’t have a very firm grasp on the benefits and pro’s that a language program can bring to the table, not too mention how one goes about selecting the appropriate program. At another time, it would be awesome to write up a broader piece dealing with the whys and how to’s of language study, but for now I will settle with a look at my time at ICLP.

I have three classes at ICLP that stretch from 10AM until 2PM with a break at noon for lunch. My classes, I think I have mentioned this before, contain no more than three people, including myself. My first two classes work out of different books and are the group classes with two other students and me. In the group classes we work our way through grammar points by setting up scenarios and looking at the dialogs of a given lesson. I’ve noticed that of the two classes one really focuses hard core on the grammar, very nitty gritty, while the other one takes a much lighter approach by teaching you how to work with certain scenarios. From there you get a basic understanding of the grammar tools that will allow you to handle transactions, ask questions etc. Now, I have to admit I am coming to ICLP with way less language experience than most people normally come to ICLP with. The best way to put it, ICLP trains scholars in the field of China studies on how to use language towards their field. So The normal langauge student doesn’t necessarily come to ICLP as his first training area. However, ICLP has recently made a point in creating classes and hiring teachers to work with students that are at or near my level. I noticed some students that are using level one books, normally these students have some experience with say reading or have massive vocabularies but require some correcting in basic grammars and pronunciation. It’s actually funny how most students tend to come here with great reading comprehension but less than quality speaking skills. Although, admittedly, most of those students are by now very proficient at speaking since we are in week…five or perhaps four I have now lost track unfortunately! My days at ICLP have felt a bit strange, I have the same classes everyday so it is a bit like being back in high school and a weird twilight zone. Everyday, I walk into the same bakery and got some delicious bread and juice, quickly jog (慢跑)to the school. I hear the bells (not actual bells but speakers under the clocks) that go off with the traditional da da dada da da dada, however you decide to represent sound via text, but you are familiar with the tune that goes off to announce classes. Classes happen, I catch my break for lunch. I’ve been using my lunch breaks for drum practice using a small practice pad, metronome, and my sheet music. The ICLP teachers (laoshi=老師)will sometimes come out and watch me play on their way to pick up lunch. It’s kind of weird being a little attraction, especially since let’s be honest my drum skills are less than quality, but it makes for good conversation! Afterwards, I jaunt over to the computer lab and check email as well as take a quick refresher glance at my new vocabulary.

This refresher glance is usually very helpful. Lately I have been getting a hold of so many words that it is hard to keep a hold of the words. The issue, which should be more fully addressed in a separate post, comes from the fact that different words can have the same sound. But this isn’t like the homonyms like bee and be, two too and to. It’s usually like “shi” with a fourth tone (a sharp drop) can be a whole host of sounds. This is really why having the characters is super important. Without the symbols you would have all these different sounds that would be awfully hard to figure out their meaning. Although I imagine context would clarify things, but we’ll find out in the future. My last class of the day is the real challenge. It’s a single person class called a 單班課 (dan ban ke). The instructor never ceases to amaze me on how he manages to work with me, especially when my brain just won’t work at all. If you can imagine you are in this class alone so you have no one else to rely on. If you don’t know the information you have to ask and then work your way around the definition of the word using words you already know. Maybe, it isn’t that complicated for other people, but my class tends to leave me really exhausted. The vocabulary isn’t usually what bothers me, it’s the correction of tones. I almost always need my tones corrected. Tones have become the bane of my learning experience. What’s sad is, you often don’t hear yourself properly. When you think you are making third tone, you are actually doing fourth. So 老師 corrects you and you still won’t get it right away.

So my constant rinse and repeat at ICLP leaves me pretty tuckered out by the weekend, making traveling around Taiwan tough, since your brain is just worn down. However the classes are really well thought out. I’ve been impressed with how the school puts together the courses to work with each student’s needs. One individual has nothing but one on one classes and each class dove tails into the next. I guess it’s easier to do that with all language classes. My week surprisingly moves very quickly. The days blend into each other almost seamlessly, making it difficult to recall what day it is, unless it is Friday. Friday, all filled with tasty tea and delicious snacks and wandering around, is my fun day, period. : D

Jus’ Talkin’ bout da Bava

Saturday, July 11th, 2009

I have been really busy with classes at ICLP, but I came across a blog by Jim Groom that just really needs some talking about. The question being dealt with here is how open should umwblogs be. Since my attending UMW’s faculty academy, I have been thinking about this issue of opening of online spaces to further connect and encourage students to knowledge creation. As a student, I want to touch on my own perspective and side of the argument. While at the Inter Chinese Language Program in Taipei, I have been keeping blogs to talk about Chinese language learning and my classes. It got me thinking that it would be awesome to have other students that are here participate in my own work as co-authors, but the problem is I can’t do that on umwblogs. It’s unfortunate, but this space isn’t open up to outsiders who could potentially be brought into the conversation beyond just comments, any one can do that. I want to be able to talk about Chinese language with a multitude of other students and be writing a blog that informs other people. Here’s the thing, at Mary Washington there are very few people who are as interested in studying China or the language as I am, how awesome would it be to get other scholars from different institutions writing on the same space? It would be sweet and could connect schools in totally different ways. I would love to have the capability of adding authors to my blog who are in similar veins of study. If we are all about having a “conversation” which was the buzz word at faculty academy, shouldn’t we be talking to more people than ourselves? If that answer to that question is yes, then what do we do?

Jim Groom makes a very strong statement in his post: “What is UMW Blogs if not simply a step towards something else? Why are we so jealous about protecting it, let’s burn it down and build it anew.” I feel that what we are seeing is a return to a very old problem concerning how academic works, it is madly sheltered away from the eyes of the public. It’s also something that should be vigorously controlled and locked down to just people at the institution, but really come on, is that how learning works for those of us interested in umwblogs? No, because it comes with the assumption that you can only learn from your institution and nowhere else. I have wondered if this idea about umwblogs and its bringing up of a network of problems also points to how academics have to publish through peer-review journals and have little control of their own work. Who really holds the reins in terms of umwblogs? The students aren’t the ones calling the shots, its the university. I remember at the end of the spring semester this year Jim Groom posted about a “umwblogs escape plan” for those students who were graduating and wanted to continue on the work they began at UMW. This sounds great, it sounds like a flexible system, but if you have an escape plan, you are getting out of situation that is stuck, trapped. In my own opinion that isn’t what umwblogs is supposed to be, but if you go to the mainpage it says “a publishing platform for the UMW community”. It doesn’t say “a publishing platform for the academic community” or even “…for the learning community.” It’s ultimately limited by a simple tagline to the university. I agree with Groom’s answer of saying bah to it, start over and open the sucker up, but that isn’t going to happen, just because as long as it is attached to the University, they are going to want to keep a handle on it. It’s how a school works, it needs to protect and secure its own intellectual property for its own prestige (which brings to question who owns the blog posts : P).

The eventual compromise looks towards a way of doing a plug-in to allow people from here to grab people in. I can settle for that. Groom said it right, ” This is a plugin/feature that we should develop, for we need to start thinking of this as network that both relfects UMW, but also all the various individuals and their networks and relationships that move beyond it.” Where does the UMW community end, really? If it is actually about the individuals then let’s allow the individuals a little more control, but how do we simultaneously call this the University’s space but say it moves beyond it as well? I think here at Mary Wash we do have a body of students that are very rigorous in their learning and want to try it out by letting the world see it. Frankly, it’s great practice. It doesn’t come with the fears of receiving bad grades, but allows you to still be susceptible to mistakes and grow from the process. I’m down for a new approach to the umwblogs and really am super stoked to see where it goes from here. We have seen this platform do exceedingly well, but just because this is having success doesn’t mean we should stop here and call it a day. Does it?

Week 3

Sunday, July 5th, 2009

Has this become the blair witch project? You catch these snippets of me running around with short breath and snot dripping out of my nose? It’s quite possible, but that is just fine. This weekend went absolutely awesome in terms of training. A few of my new Taiwanese friends sat me down and forced me to make sounds and read outloud as they corrected me. I can finally ask questions of how you would say a specific word, which the word in question is the only time I am allowed to speak English with them. After last week’s successive defeats the weekends minor victories in communication have been glorious! I keep thinking about what it will take to break into a level of somewhat fluency. Chinese doesn’t have the same learning curve of European languages that we pick up in college. The problem with Chinese basics is that there is a lot of reprogramming that needs to take place in an English speaker’s brain before you can even hope to get anywhere. I don’t even sit at the point of being reprogrammed and ready to speak Chinese, which is exactly why I stumble. Dr. Campbell gave me some interesting book recommendations concerning second language acquisition and neural patterns that should be good reads when I get back home. I have basically nixed full hard core reading of books until I get home. I tend to read for hours at a time, and unfortunately I don’t have those stretches of hours…although with two independent studies next semester, will I even have the time then? Anyway! Today’s assignment is to go to a restaurant, order in Chinese and write about the experience. Superstoked since pictures also count as part of the assignment. Ooof I’d kill to have someone teach me photography, get me a nice camera, and (due to heavy bookbags) give me a shoulder massage : D! Don’t mind me I’ve just gone a little bonkers. As a side note, fourth of July when abroad is pretty lame, especially if you are the only American around. I got up and did a little dance for America, since I’m not exactly sure if people can set off fireworks in Taipei without some sort of authorization. The last thing I need is to be thrown into jail while abroad. Alright let’s get this week rolling. 3….2….1 BING!

Weekend’s Work

Friday, July 3rd, 2009

So the site has fallen into slight disrepair, the classes at ICLP can keep you so busy that your head spins right off. Regardless, you have to attack things with a plan. Random moves and work won’t get you anywhere. The workload is simply too large to not have a plan. So with that in mind! It’s the weekend which means it’s prime time for review. I’ll be doing a review of all the grammar patterns and vocabulary acquired thus far in these past two weeks…if I really have gotten a handle on it then the review should be a very fast process. The next thing is writing in my Chinese Journal (sometimes a very long process) and then crashing into the current lessons that I’m working on. Sounds pretty jam packed, but I took last night off from working on anything and am seeing another film for Taipei’s film festival. I can’t complain too badly : D

Lots of Vocab

Thursday, July 2nd, 2009

I have been meaning to update but been a bit busy watching my brains splatter on the computer lab’s screens as I work at ICLP. I will be sure to throw everything up here asap. The big theme recently has been restaurants…which has actually come in handy as well as some words like “borrow” which I’ve been managing to get a lot of mileage out of. Today was a backwards day for me as I took a few steps back and lost some ground in my training. I’ve cooled off now and am working to build a medium between ultra confident and knowing I don’t know a bit of the language. It’s going to take some thought, but will do me a lot of benefit down the road, I’m sure of it.


Tuesday, June 30th, 2009

I checked one of my homework assignments only to find that it has marking all over it. I often strive to make my sentences more complex so the markings are always welcomed. I want to find out what I did wrong and how to fix it, improve it. Lucky me they don’t mark in red…just green. Eh, green the life giving color. It reminds me of how I felt when I got a writing assignment in one of my history classes back. It literally had more ink on it then I originally handed it in with. I felt bad and a little miserable, but then realized each mistake was a great learning experience. If you take it that way you can loosen up a bit and dissect it. If you sit and only see markings and failure, you’ll never be able to make any progress or look at your own work with the proper form of critical analysis.

六月 三十號

Tuesday, June 30th, 2009

Picked up a quick meal at Vegetarian Paradise and am now ready to roll for another night of work. I have two sets of vocabulary to prepare for as well as some grammar aspects. I’ll be posting up the lists of both later on tonight. The big thing is a new assignment consisting of crafting well thoughtout journal entries in Chinese…funny how laoshi pegged me as the type to journal. It’s a fairly hand tailored assignment, and I am digging a challenge. Just for my own sanity writing out my schedule: 1)FEEC Dialog/Vocab(listen/write)/Grammar 2)PAVC Same set up, create flashcards. Speaking of flashcards, I still need to get more use out of that Anki program, that’s probably best done another day though. Alright Let’s do this!

A quick post

Monday, June 29th, 2009

I need to find a way to really beef up my training. The classes are intense, but as of yet I am not rising to the occasion for these classes and need to find another tool or method to get myself up to that next level. Maybe a quick talk with my Laoshi will handle it. I just need to find other ways to improve my training methods, because right now I just sort of do “whatever” until I feel like my brain is going to explode. The problem with this is that it is an unguided workout. That’s not a good way to train. Imagine if you went to the gym and did some different exercise every single day. Yeah sure you are exercising, but what are you really accomplishing? It takes a good regiment of exercises that are strategically planned and then thorougly executed nigh daily to have solid and more importantly lasting improvement. I’ll be thinking about these training methods and let you know what I come up with!

Week 2

Monday, June 29th, 2009

Today marks week 2 of ICLP classes. Everything went by real smooth like, which is awesome, but it tells me something. I am not pushing myself hard enough in terms of what I expect out of the course. If my expectations are too low, my work ethic will also take a fairly severe nose dive. The large goal, overarching is a better phrase, should be to internalize grammatical structures as well as develop a mouth for tones. This should be on top of all other homework assignments.

Tonight’s homework is pretty light given that I am a little ahead of the curve with my vocabulary. Lin Laoshi gave the students a roleplaying assignment where we create a dialog based on a situation given to us, via random selection, at the end of this morning’s class. My assignment “Ask the staff for the postage and time-spent of a postbard, a regular letter, and a registered letter. ” It sounds really straightforward, but it took me a little while to put together. The problem isn’t that I don’t recognize vocabulary, only that my familiarity is more than a little weak. It simply isn’t flexible enough to create a new situation other than a mirror of what is given in the book Far East Everyday Chinese. This is the same exact problem I experienced with Integrated. Part of my problem with integrated was just straight up the book doesn’t encourage you to think outside the dialog. Here, I am dealing with the effects of that mindset. (While I am writing this I am working on another assignment which is to listen to myself from my one on one class. I sound retarded…) : P Maybe a post about the records could be helpful.

So, now that the main piece of homework is out of the way, I have a mission: type out the different grammar pieces, blow them up on a piece of paper and print those suckers out. Also, I have been having serious issues with the sound represented in pinyin as “c” which is said like “ts” of students. I either make it sound like a z or too aspirated and therefore a “t” I need to hang out with a linguistics person focusing on how sounds are made. It would probably be helpful. Alright, let’s put up those grammar sheets! And then silly sounds ahoy : D