Category Archives: Methods

Note taking tips – Notes matter

As I sit in business and board meetings, I notice that few people take notes.

Note taking as a path to success

I wonder if they have better memories than I do, but then,  I realize that they have been trained, like most of our society, to let content wash gently over them and pass by un-noted, un-synthesized, un-digested.

One of the most powerful differentiators I’ve found in life, both in academic and professional settings is the skill and habit of taking clear notes.

I came across an interesting piece in the Atlantic recently re: note taking with some important tips and perspective on note taking.

If civilization is based on learning from and building upon the best thinking that’s gone before, then note taking must be one of the keys to building or at least fighting entropy in our civilization.

I do not agree that the best notes are taken on a PC.  I may be old school, but I can write/draw/think much more quickly with pen and paper than I can with a computer.  If some hand-written notes turn out to benefit from digitization later, I can quickly dictate them into text using my Android phone.  Capture and synthesis the most difficult and valuable part of the process, digitization falls far down on my list of priorities.

The last point in the Atlantic article mentions note’s usefulness in court, but I find them useful in any setting where differences in recall or opinion might creep in.  The power of the scribe is a well-known and very useful phenomena, essentially, the person who creates the written record (notes, legal agreements, historical interpretations, etc.) have a special power over the written record of the event.  Harold Innis has an interesting perspective on the power of the scribe through history and in the refinement or entropy of our current civilization.

I came across a very simple implementation of the ideas from the Atlantic article in the Cornell Note Taking Method.

Duly noted!

 

Iron sharpens iron

When sharpening, a few variables produce the desired result:

  1. The quality of the sharpening steel
  2. Angle of approach
  3. Pressure

Most large group education uses:

  1. a lowest common denominator sharpening steel (so no one gets hurt),
  2. a sharp angle (a rigid, methodical approach)
  3. high pressure (homework, drill, grades and standardized testing).

I use the finest quality sharpening steel (Aristotle, Plato, Newton, Jefferson, Franklin, Emerson, Thoreau)

An angle of approach suited to you, today.  

What will light the fire of curiosity and love of learning right now?

Low pressure, in fact, my life’s work is to create a safe, exciting bridge between your heart and mind and the great hearts and minds of our civilization.

What steel have you found most formative in your sharpening process?

I’d love to hear in comments below.

Learning to Learn

In my search for a meaningful path toward my own education, I’ve found the following thinkers and ideas useful. I started with Jefferson and Franklin, men I admired. I then looked to their favorite authors and educational methods. From there, my latticework continues to expand.

Benjamin Franklin

Autobiography of one of America’s greatest autodidacts. Full of fascinating perspectives and practices as well as great stories.

Thomas Jefferson

Letter to Peter Carr of 19 August 1785 in which he lays out a plan of study for his nephew.

Eric Hoffer

One of America’s most important thinkers and the author of The True Believer-lived for years as a Depression Era migratory worker. Self-taught, his appetite for knowledge-history, science, mankind-formed the basis of his insight to human nature. Working and Thinking on the Waterfront is a rare glimpse into not only Hoffer’s personal life but his thought process while postulating his great future works.
Giambattista Vico

 

Autobiography

Interesting, useful ideas from an often overooked 18th-century autodidact from Naples who attempted to create a science of history, complete with the ability to predict what’s coming.

On the Study Methods of Our Times

Ralph Waldo Emerson

Self-Reliance of course, but also his essay History, which serves as the foundation for my approach to the subject.
The Brain Rules

In Brain Rules, Dr. John Medina, a molecular biologist, shares his lifelong interest in how the brain sciences might influence the way we teach our children and the way we work.

Rudolf Steiner

Steiner’s focus on the whole person, not just mind, but body and soul too inspires me to offer a richer, gentler form of teaching.

Jean Piaget/Kegan

Piaget’s stages of human development interestingly expanded and explained by a psychologist.

Warren Buffet

 

Latticework reveals the thinking that has led Warren Bufftet and his partner Charlie Munger to make such excellent financial decisions.

Neil Postman

Building a Bridge to the 18th Century by Neil Postman argues that the best thinking of Western Civilization was done in the 18th C. and that we’ve been riding their coattails ever since. If we want to find a workable path forward as a society, we need to return to the educational practices and the high quality of thinking of those amazing years.

Frederich Nietzsche

In the essay, On The Advantages and Disadvantages of History for Life, Nietzsche clarifies the possible affects (positive and negative) of history on humans who live in the here and now.

The Trivium

The essential book on learning the trivium: grammar, logic and rhetoric.

Thomas Aquinas/A.G. Setillanges, O.P.

An practical, inspiring look at applying Scholastic methods to our own intellectual lives.

Lively Discussion

To be considered well-educated, we must learn to express our ideas eloquently in conversation.

The goal of our lively discussions will be to prepare students for college and later life when clear, collaborative inquiry will yield tremendous dividends.  

We pursue this goal by practicing:

  • Wrestling with big questions as a group
  • Quoting from the text to support our propositions
  • Disagreeing without being disagreeable
  • Seeking to understand other viewpoints without sacrificing our own values

To this end, we use a version of the Socratic method:

  • With leading questions we seek to pull intelligence from each other rather than didactically delivering a “Truth”
  • The focus is on dialouge around shared inquiry rather than on formal debate
  • This is a kind, encouraging Socratic Seminar approach, not Paper Chase/Harvard Law School intellectual combat
  • Our goal is always to meet each other kindly where we are and gently guide each other to more refined thinking, understanding, and expression.

Clear Thinking

Once we learn to read deeply, we find the need to evaluate and expand upon what we’ve learned.

To this end, we learn to think more clearly by using the Trivium and other tools:

From Aristotle’s Organon via the Trivium

  • Deductive and inductive reasoning
  • Syllogisms and Aristotelian logic to understand and form propositions and arguments
  • Topics and dialectics as a means of wrestling with questions beyond the scope of scientific reasoning

Visualization tools

  • The Dialectic Bridge
  • Concept Mapping
  • Dramatization

Seeing ideas and propostions clearly allows even visual learners and kinesthenic learners to clarify their thinking.

Peripatetic School

Literally, the walking around school led by Aristotle.

Imagine Aristotle leading discussions with his students as they wandered the grounds of the Lyceum in Athens.

Imagine Thomas Jefferson walking in the woods around Monticello late each afternoon after a long day of studying. He suggested his nephew, Peter Carr, take such walks.

Now, imagine your own child, mind filled with beautiful, challenging words and images, discussing them while walking through the woods near Battle Point park. We stop, read another passage, begin our discussion and continue talking as we walk over the bridge and up the hill. Hearts pumping, oxygenated blood flowing, minds racing to cement fresh connections.

What Aristotle and Jefferson knew from experience, modern science has proven.

Young people have bodies that need movement and brains in bodies in motion learn better.

See this interesting site on 12 Brain Rules, #1 is exercise.

So, my question is… why don’t more teachers teach moving children?

per•i•pa•tet•ic

(per”u•pu•tet’ik), adj.
1. walking or traveling about; itinerant.
2. (cap.) of or pertaining to Aristotle, who taught philosophy while walking in the Lyceum of ancient Athens.
3. (cap.) of or pertaining to the Aristotelian school of philosophy. —n.
1. a person who walks or travels about.
2. (cap.) a member of the Aristotelian school.

How I Teach

Technique

I work on the premise that iron sharpens iron.

To advance intellectually, we must run the mind up against even harder and sharper steel in the form of great writing about great ideas by great people.   I work to ensure that this interaction creates the quantity and quality of friction that sharpens without cutting.  See Mortimer Adler speak on this topic here (highly recommended)

To that end, I seek to hold creative tensions between:

  • Edifying challenge and delightful ease.
  • Material that is “over the student’s head” and being sensitive to exactly where the student is today (skills, knowledge, and emotional/physical state).
  • Focused intellectual work and integrating body, heart, and mind.

Experience samples of my teaching (mp3s)

Tools I use:

Tutoring

The Trivium

  • Grammatical analysis to discover meaning
  • Logical analysis and logical fallacies to steer thinking towards truth
  • Rhetorical analysis to add beauty and grace to expression

Socratic Method

  • Leading Questions

Visualization

  • Time and Space Mapping
  • Concept Mapping
  • Mind Mapping
  • Drawing

Writing Exercises

  • Pastiche – using great writing as a model for our own
  • Note Taking – capturing ideas from conversation and reading
  • Journaling – to strengthen the heart, brain, and hand connection
  • Editorial – practice reading your own work with fresh eyes

Examples

In a 1:1 tutoring  or private class session we might:

  1. Review prior work, discuss successes and challenges
  2. Check in on skills practiced since last session
  3. Read some fresh material with support from me
  4. Use Trivium tools to deepen our understanding of the topic and sharpen those skills
  5. Discuss the material using the Socartic Method
  6. Seek to vizualize part of the piece to make it more real and to impress it in our minds
  7. Begin writing a short piece about what we’ve read and discussed
  8. Prepare to work at home on continuing the reading and writing assignment

In a public class or camp we might, on day 1:

  1. Introduce ourselves and loosen up a bit with a short anecdote
  2. Walk for a few minutes to get our blood pumping to a grassy spot
  3. Dive right into taking turns reading aloud to the group (those who feel comfortable)
  4. I open our Socratic discussion with a leading question
  5. Our discussion begins
  6. We continue our discussion as we walk to a spot a few hundred meters away
  7. We read a bit more aloud
  8. We take time to visualize the scene we’ve just read about
  9. We spend 15-30 minutes drawing what we visualized
  10. We read a bit more and start our discussion anew
  11. We walk on as we share insights and invite those who have yet to share to do so
  12. Etc, etc. until our 3 hours have flown by and we return to the pick up area bodies fully alive and minds abuzz

Next:

Experience samples of my teaching

See the classes offered

See my qualifications

See my rates

Deep Reading

The books that help you most are those which make you think the most. The hardest way of learning is that of easy reading; but a great book that comes from a great thinker is a ship of thought, deep freighted with truth and beauty.  – Theodore Parker

Learning to read deeply requires patience and practice.  Mortimer Adler and  Charles van Doren wrote the classic How to Read A Book to teach us how.

Students today seem to focus on speed as the ultimate reading skill.   We all bathe in huge, cresting seas of information.  But how much of it do we really process?  How much of it makes us really think?   How much is “deep freighted with truth and beauty?”  Are we avoiding reading anything we think is over our heads?

Here’s what Mortimer Adler himself has to say about that:

If you never ask yourself any questions about the meaning of a passage, you cannot expect the book to give you any insight you do not already possess.  – Mortimer Adler

See Mortimer Adler speak on this topic here (highly recommended)

My goal is to help teach students the skills to elevate their minds with what’s over their heads.

The Process

  • First, we start by slowing down and looking closely at sentences, using the Grammar tools that make up Part One of the Trivium.
  • Once we figure out the meanings of the nouns, the relationships implied by the verbs, etcetera, we move on to looking at the logic of the thoughts in sentences, paragraphs, chapters, and entire works.
  • Finally, we analyze using Part Three of the Trivium, the Rhetoric. in search of elegance and persuasive power.

Waving iron near iron won’t sharpen it.  We must bring our minds into close, friction-heated contact with greater minds to be sharpened.   This work happens with greater ease and predictability when a tutor (that’s me) is close at hand making sure no one gets cut in the sharpening process.