Reading and Lecture Strategies
While most classes at Reed are conferences, every Reedie will at some point in his or her career need to take a lecture class. Taking good notes is crucial for good conference participation and for learning the material. It is hubris to believe that you will remember the key details of every lecture at the end of the semester based on memory alone. It will be easier to study for exams if your lecture notes are kept either in a three-ring binder or in a bound notebook. Bring this notebook or binder with you to conference!
What should your notes include?
- A list of key terms that were defined in lecture or you did not understand.
- The thesis of the lecture.
- The evidence used to support the thesis.
- A list of the claims or pieces of evidence that you didn't understand, disagreed with, or were unsure about.
- A list of ideas that excited you from lecture that you'd like to discuss in conference.
If your conference isn't directly after lecture, you will probably want to review your lecture notes 5-10 minutes before conference and add to them any questions you had from the readings.
When you are assigned a critical article for class, you should make sure you have identified the main argument before coming to conference. Ideally you will also bring with you a list of questions, strengths, and weaknesses about the article.
The first step is to identify the argument. Joseph Williams, the author of The Craft of Argument, Style, and The Craft of Research, argues most academic articles have four main parts. Usually these components appear in the introduction to the article, but sometimes they are woven throughout the article. When you read academic papers you should keep an eye out for these parts of the argument and either highlight them or write them out on a separate piece of paper. These four parts are
(1) Common Ground: Establishes a brief context that the author intends to qualify or question. This may be either a commonly held belief (some people...) or may be what other researchers have said about the subject.
(2) But... Introduces a question about something key that is not known or fully understood or contradicts this common ground.
(3) So What? States the significance of the question raised
(4) Thesis: the answer to problem/question. States the author's main claim.
Here is an example of an introduction with this format:
Ever since the sixteenth century, when Girolamo Cardano began thinking about games of chance in quantitative terms (Cardano, 1545), risk has been treated as a purely mathematical problem ... In the twentieth century, researchers shifted their focus ... These problems, too, have been addressed almost exclusively with mathematical tools. context ( common ground) But researchers who try to communicate risk to a public audience have failed to understand that most people view do not view risk not as a rationally quantifiable question, but rather in ways that seem puzzling, even irrational, question (So what?) As a result, we do not understand how ordinary people make decisions about risks in their daily lives and so fail to communicate with the public about risk. significance Among the general public, most decisions about risk include at least six factors that may not be precisely quantifiable but are systematic and therefore predictable. (Thesis/main claim) (Example cited in Research and Its Reporting by Wayne C. Booth, Gregory G. Colomb, and Joseph M. Williams.)
Many students miss the main point of an article because they mistake the common ground for the author's own thesis. Identifying all four parts of the argument can help you avoid this mistake.