Tuesday, February 23, 2010

"Better One? Better Two?" or Focusing

You're sitting in the chair at the ophthalmologist's office and he is asking you, "Better one? Better two?" as he flips lenses on that cyborg-owl looking contraption in front of your face. You ask, "Um, can you do that again?" The whole purpose of this tedious exercise is to bring the fourth row of randomly assigned letters into better focus and figure out your glasses or contact lens prescription. The key phrase here is, "bring into better focus".

Have you reached that point in the semester yet where you need to bring it into better focus? Some of us will be on spring break in a couple weeks, like me. I am hoping that will help sharpen my focus. It doesn't help that I am surrounded by seniors who all seem to have an incredibly severe case of senioritis.

When one reaches that point in the semester where one is figuratively in the ophthalmologist's chair, how does one bring it all back into focus? Try these tips:

1. Remember why you are in school in the first place - to get your degree. It's not that far away - just a few short semesters. You're almost there!

2. Take an afternoon off. If the weather is nice, spend the afternoon at the park with your friends or with your children. If the weather is bad, spend the afternoon doing something you like - go to the movies, meander in the mall, buy yourself flowers.

3. Listen to opera and sing along at the top of your lungs. Who cares if you don't know the words? Just make sure the windows are closed if you're in your car.

4. Volunteer for an afternoon at an animal shelter, a community garden, etc. Or put on a bright orange vest, grab a pair of work gloves and a garbage bag and pick up trash along the side of the road in your neighborhood.

5. Plant some flowers in your front yard. Or better yet, take some flowers to an elderly neighbor.

6. Sit down and actually write a letter to someone, or perhaps two someones.

The whole idea of getting back into focus is to get away from the books and computer for a while to clear out the cobwebs. Doing something a little crazy, like singing opera at the top of your lungs, or doing something for someone else, like volunteering or cleaning up garbage, or doing something creative, like planting flowers, causes us to refocus for a little while, kind of like plowing up that fallow ground in the field. Sometimes all it takes to able to focus better is a little bit of refocusing - not changing anything, just focusing better. So, how 'bout it? Better one? Or better two? Stay tuned . . .

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Thirty Years Ago

Thirty years ago this May, I graduated from high school. My daughter will graduate from high school in May - thirty years after I did. How cool is that? My 30th high school reunion is in March. I am going back to Phoenix for the event. It will be fun to see some folks I have not seen in a long time. I will have to post my senior portrait from 30 years ago. I'll keep you all updated on what happens. Stay tuned . . .

Volleyball, Homework and a New Daughter-in-Law

Let me begin at the end. My oldest son, Aaron, got engaged on Tuesday, 2-16-10. I am going to be a mother-in-law. I hope I will be a good one. Ashley is a wonderful girl and we love her tremendously!

I am in Louisville, KY this weekend with Megan at her second club volleyball tournament. The team lost all four of their matches today. They just are not functioning as a team. With the exception of two girls (Megan and Corrie), these girls have never played together before. One girl even drives from Rogersville, which is two hours from Knoxville, just to be a part of this team. Two other girls on the team attend an exclusive private school in Knoxville and don't seem to want to be "team players". That is frustrating to Megan because she definitely IS a team player. Today has been a lesson in learning to play as a team and teaching others to do the same.

As usual, I have hauled both my mini and my full-sized laptops with me to do homework between matches. I used the full-sized laptop in the hotel room and the mini on the road. I am still trying to get a grasp on Indian Philosophy. I had to finish reading a book about Yoga, which I found quite interesting. I am also reading "The Deeds of Louis the Fat" for a paper in Medieval Kingship which is due the week after spring break.

Perhaps the point of this post is best described as "Time Management". In the midst of shrill whistles blaring, parents cheering and the loud popping of well-hit volleyballs, I have to be able to concentrate on what I am reading. How do I do that? I take notes on what I've just read. I don't like to underline or highlight in the book because I sell books. Taking notes serves to cement the concepts I've just read. Of course, when Megan is playing, she is my focus. But when we are between matches, my mini and my books are my focus. I am getting to the point where I can pretty much study anywhere.

One of the best skills a nontrad can learn is time management. If you know you are going to have time in your day when you have to wait somewhere - in the carpool line, at the doctor's office, at a dance lesson, on the bus or the train - take your homework with you. Make the best use of your time. If you make the best use of your time during the day, you will have time at the end of your day for what matters the most - your family. Good luck. Stay tuned . . .

Monday, February 15, 2010

Something Different

This semester is turning out to be more different than I expected. For example, my classes are usually lectures (or labs) with a paper or two due sometime during the semester, a couple of exams and a final. However, I have a couple of classes that are something different.

In my Asian Studies class, a seminar, we have assigned readings. Nothing unusual there. One or two students present the readings each week - their opinion, what they got out of the readings, how they interpreted the information presented. Nothing unusual there. What is unusual is that the exams are a single essay question. I have never had an exam like that. But there is a first time for everything. How does one study for an exam like that? One goes back through the readings and back over one's notes. This is another example of why good notetaking skills are so crucial in college - whether one is just beginning one's college career or returning to one's college career. I have had several classmates over the past couple of weeks request my notes (I take notes in outline form).

My Philosophy class is also something different. We have quizzes instead of exams. We also have discussion days on which we are graded for our group participation and the answers we give to the group questions. It would help if I understood Philosophy!

I am finding out that I am not the only one in class who is having a hard time in my Philosophy class with the subject matter. To me, Philosophy is rather abstract. I am more of a concrete person. This is another reason to get to know one's learning style. I am visual and hands-on and concrete. I don't do with with auditory and abstract. Words are good for me - they are visual, hands-on and concrete. Numbers are bad for me - too abstract.

Your personal learning style is a whole different subject for a whole different blog. But, if you're interested in finding out what your personal learning style is, I recommend, "The Way They Learn" by Cynthia Ulrich Tobias. Tobias' book has more to do with children, but can be applied to adults as well. Learning styles are more than just audio, visual and hands-on. Learning styles can also be something different.

This semester is proving to be a challenge - just like all the previous semesters. I wouldn't have it any other way! Challenge is good! Stay tuned . . .

Monday, February 8, 2010

I Don't Understand

This semester, I am taking a philosophy class - PHIL 374, The Philosophy and Religion of India. I am discovering that I am not the only one in my class who has no earthly idea what is going on in the class. When the professor lectures, it is more like a history class. However, we are having to read from several books and the Vedic and Upanisadic scriptures are quite confusing. I have emailed my prof several times to talk about my confusion. I will see him this week during his office hours.

My son, Ryan, has also had an "I don't understand" experience. He is taking Calculus and, like me, he is not a math person. Last week, he went to the Math Dept. and found a tutor. I commended him on his initiative to take care of the problem now instead of at the end of the semester. I hope the tutoring will make a difference and he will be able to pass the class.

There are many resources on campus here at UT to ensure that students are successful in their college career. The main channel for putting students in touch with those resources is the Student Success Center. From there, students learn about tutors, workshops in note taking, etc. The university provides many opportunities for students who are struggling in a particular subject, struggling with a particular skill (writing, studying, etc.), or struggling with life issues, to overcome those struggles and be successful and whole.

However, even though the opportunities exist for students to learn to be successful, the students are the ones who have to seek out and take advantage of those opportunities. The professor is not going to suggest tutoring after the student has just failed his fourth quiz. Nor is the professor going to suggest counseling for that anxiety problem the student seems to have. It is up to the student to seek help.

Many students do not seek help - they do not go to see the prof during her office hours, they do not visit the Student Success Center to find out what tutoring resources are available, and they do not take advantage of the free on-campus counseling services. Why? Perhaps they feel ashamed or embarrassed. Perhaps they think they can ride this one out on their own. The university recognizes college can be a big and overwhelming place. That is why they provide success services.

What about nontrads? What do we do when we are struggling? I would hope we would seek out those success services as well. Prior to my separation from my husband, a friend suggested the free on-campus counseling services. I am glad I took his advice. When I was struggling in my Computer Science class two years ago, I asked the prof about tutoring. I was tutored by a graduate student and was able to pass the class. As nontrads, we are in a unique position from our younger classmates - we have families, are working, have been out of school for a while, etc. However, we still need to be able to use those success services.

If you are struggling and feel like, "I don't understand", seek out the resources to help you better understand. Do not be ashamed, embarrassed or think you can ride this one out on your own. Ask for help. Be successful in your academic pursuits. Stay tuned . . .