A major ‘demotivator’ for many students is information bloat. Textbooks and poor teaching practices are guilty of this. How do we know what information is relevant, and what isn’t?
Applying The Right Treatment
Before proceeding, I want to say this: if your answer to the above question is to ‘teach mind maps’ to your child, or to ‘read the text carefully’, stop. doing. that. Information bloat is the stage at which the child’s ability to discern useful information from drivel has stalled, not from lack of aptitude or even unfamiliarity with content, but from disconnection with expectations. It’s not that the child cannot cope (hence why mind maps are usually not the solution to the problem here), but that he or she does not know what info is necessary in a normalised test — which is what we use to measure their ‘ability’, right?
Using the wrong solution can potentially worsen the situation. Take mind mapping for instance. It is a great skill that one can learn for condensing information, but it has no default mechanism for separating that which is relevant to potential examination questions and that which is not. Asking a child to do mind maps will not magically give him or her a better idea of what to write or what information to use; it may instead deepen frustration and resentment towards the subject.
What needs to be done at this stage is to help the child develop a better filter that can separate the wheat from the chaff.
Identifying Information That’s Relevant: Preliminary Steps
How do we know what information is pertinent? First of all, one must recognise that the poring through tomes of information primarily applies to students doing expository and discursive essays. Next up, the child must be cognizant of the topics and sub-topics he/she is absorbing information for.
Let’s first talk about why the studying of information applies mainly to expository and discursive essays. Exposition and discourse require logical reasoning, and as such, need to be substantiated by facts. The child needs to understand that he/she is reading through the facts in order to use them to substantiate his/her points. This seems like stating the obvious, but many times, students don’t know this unless they’re explicitly told.
The same applies to the topics and sub-topics being studied for. From experience, students find it easier to compartmentalise chunks of information when topics are broken down into smaller sub-units, as doing so gives them a clearer idea of what to expect. In Singapore’s History syllabus for secondary school kids (aged 13 to 17), for instance, WW2 is a major component of examinations. One sub-topic revolves around the appeasement policy; another concerns Auschwitz. There is a lot of information one needs to carry with him/her into the exam hall. Students without a proper understanding of the sub-topics have a tendency to: a) take more with them than necessary, b) inappropriately use information from another sub-topic, or c) be so overwhelmed that they forget actual, useful information.
These are preliminary steps that will help facilitate the process of filtering out information, which I’ll explore further (i.e. details to look out for) in a subsequent post. In the mean time, I will leave you to think about what’s been said. If you have any feedback, don’t hesitate to leave a comment below. Alternatively, you can hit me up on Facebook or Twitter too. Thanks for reading and have a great week ahead.