I have recently completed a second graduate program. My first foray into graduate-level studies was just after I completed my teachers’ training, but before I started working full-time as a teacher. I began my second graduate program after six years of teaching full-time. The two programs were different in both content and structure, so I expected the experience to be different; however, I attribute the most significant difference in the experience to how much my experience as a teacher had changed my approach to learning. Specifically, I found myself using many of the strategies that I had taught my grade 6 students. For example:
- K-W-L charts made my reading more purposeful. Rather than doing all the assigned reading and then working on the assignments, I started an outline of each assignment before beginning the readings so that I could identify and organize relevant information as I read. This also helped me to locate gaps in my knowledge and identify areas for further research.
- Breaking a Central Idea into Lines of Inquiry helped me to focus my research. As a teacher in an IB school, I quickly learned the lingo of Central Ideas and Lines of Inquiry. These are used to help students take big ideas, like Body systems play a role in our physical and mental health into smaller subtopics, like The main systems of the human body, The body’s defenses, and Our responsibility to protect our bodies. I used this structure to elaborate on the topic for my major research project. You can see a sample here.
- I used graphic organizers for everything. Whether it was finding information that was relevant to the various lines of inquiry I had developed, or using assignment criteria to make sure that my work was complete, I created charts in which my questions (or the required content for the assignment) were listed on one side and the information that I collected was listed on the other side. I often added a third column for my own thoughts, questions or opinions. By organizing information thematically rather by source (as I used to do), I was able to see key themes, synthesize information, and compare and contrast perspectives efficiently. It was easy to analyze the information, draw conclusion and suggest implications.
- I used the text I had already written. When I used graphic organizers, I would have an outline by the time I finished my research. Rather than staring a blank page, trying to find the words, I would often copy-and-paste my point-form notes (citing and paraphrasing appropriately, of course) and then rework the text into complete sentences and paragraphs. Editing and formatting text was much less daunting than writing from scratch.
All of these are strategies that I have taught my students at various times. As much as I’m tempted to think “why didn’t my teachers teach me how to do this!?”, I prefer to focus on the thought that my students are gaining specific strategies that will support their learning and thinking. If those strategies also help me to be a better student, so much the better!