Tuesday, October 24, 2006

How to use a textbook

As part of my natural Satan-spawned evilness, I assigned my seminar students to write reviews of their textbooks during their week-long fall break. One thing I realized is that I don't emphasize how to use textbooks enough in class. Here are things the students should be doing, and usually aren't.
  1. Play the examples on the CDs while following the score excerpts. If CDs aren't provided, look in the well-stocked music library.
  2. Even better, play the examples on the piano or sing them.
  3. Then read the descriptions again, check to see if you understand.
  4. Work on the practice exercises and check your answers in the back of the book.
  5. Look up words you don't know in the glossary or in other reference books.
  6. Look up composers or pieces you don't know, listen to recordings and look at scores.
  7. Read the explanations in the beginning of the chapter, especially if you are struggling with the topic. (For the first-year students, that would be the Aural Skills book.)
  8. Don't wait for an invitation from the professor to read from the book. Read ahead, or behind, as your curiosity and/or confusion impell you.
  9. Also read the next chapter before the professor lectures on the topic, and then read it again after the lecture.
  10. Highlight, underline, or write in margins. It is your textbook, so don't be shy.


Terminaldegree said...


May I print these out to share with my students?

Anonymous said...

Unfortunately, many students believe in the osmosis method of learning from books -- if they happen to be around a textbook long enough, some of the contents will be absorbed into their bodies.

I have found that I often have to give the following instructions as well:

Familiarize yourself with the organization of the book.

Scan the table of contents.

When you are assigned a reading selection, read the chapter titles and section headings.

Read first and last paragraphs closely. What's the most important information/argument the author is trying to communicate?

Them read the rest of the text and see if the author has succeeded.

Look at pictures, charts, and diagrams, read their labels, and ask yourself if you understand why that material is included in the book.

Scott Spiegelberg said...

Terminal, certainly.

Anonymous, the critical reading is a good point that I don't have on the list. In general I try to pick textbooks that the students can trust, and point out any disagreements I have in class. But critical reading is a fine habit to get into.

Anonymous said...

Has your blood dried in your veins?

Perhaps by foregoing "critical reading" your students are demonstrating a predisposition for a more genuine sort of learning than that which your textbook offers.

If you have to give your students instructions on how to read their textbooks, one of two scenarios are taking place: either your students have little interest in the subject matter, which means that your instructions are useless; or your students are perfectly willing to devote all their faculties to learning up until the point at which it is codified, abstracted, embalmed, and cooked into the tasteless, over-preserved and malnourishing cake of academia.

Either way, by handing them a clever set of instructions on "critical reading," I don't see how you're helping them get any further than a good grade, or learn a life-long skill other than dancing the right steps in the monkey suit they've put on.

Scott Spiegelberg said...

Dear Anonymous (2),

Your two scenarios is a wonderful codification of the problems of codifying knowledge. As it is, I see more scenarios than those as possible. In some cases the students don't have the proper study skills to dance in the academic monkey suit. Others haven't realized yet how the monkey suit will help them in their life goals and career goals. And many forget that the book is there to help them translate the "ooks" of the professor, giving the instructions on how to put the monkey suit on (or which dance step comes next).

Beyond that, I just keep on dancing. If only this monkey suit didn't itch so much.