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June 17, 2012

Final entry for Warwick Skills Portfolio Award

Final entry, in which I look back over my posts in an attempt to remember what went on at each of these workshops, spread out somewhat evenly over the year. Let’s do it chronologically, and conclude at the end:

P1: I suppose this is “An Introduction to Skills Development” in the same manner as “An Introduction to Topology”, this workshop stands on its own. I feel that the things I learnt about skills development as opposed to actual skills were merely side-effects of the process - for example, setting goals that actually have benchmarks with which they can be measured (a goal that I learnt several times over across all the workshops and may even only now be beginning to stick). In short, I feel this was more… solid than the meta-skills workshop I was expecting. Then again, the best way to learn the meta-skills is through experience, and you can’t really make action points about something theoretical - “I will make an action point that is measurable” doesn’t really work. I don’t recall SMART goals being empasized here, though (I believe they were in P6) and it does seem like a rather good place for them.

A4: This was the first workshop I attended that I was able to observe a positive long-term result from - the improvement of my ability to listen (and recall) (and learn). It was also nice in that I started something and utterly failed, instead succeeding in the harder task. As a result of my failure (and other things) I got hold of a memory book, which was certainly an enjoyable (and helpful) read.

P4: This was far and away the most enjoyable workshop, and the first I was willing to actively recommend attending (over, say, reading about things on the internet)! More like active training than a seminar (in concordance with the subject matter, I rather liked (and instinctively feared) the “Did you think you’d be sitting at a desk while I lectured you on presentation techniques?”). Bev was very professional and authoritarian from the outset; this was also the only workshop (I attended) that felt like one you’d actually pay to attend. I attended this one just before the holidays so the bulk of the improvement came from the workshop itself - even with that caveat, I think the gain was comparable to months of reflection/application from other workshops - it was very concentrated, and you could see the benefit on others during the presentations given.

P6: This was where I first found SMART goals - something that would probably have helped to come up in P1 (and if it did, to be more emphasized). It was also the first in which I had an honestly negative experience from a change (or at least one that I noticed) that made me fear, for the first time, that I could be doing real damage to myself, in the same vein as being indoctrinated into a religious order, or being taught to think critically about things without being reminded that you should also apply this to your own thought processes. I found I was suppressing my own sadness (and have been for years) but I could remember the previous day, when I was sad, and then I thought “perhaps if I take myself back there, I can recall the emotion”. And so I did, and it worked, and then there I was, sitting there, feeling the weight and then the worry hit me - this suppression was a skill I’d developed, it was useful, I wouldn’t want to lose it. So I suppose this is something the health of which we’ll have to agree to disagree on.

A7: Speed reading! This was probably the second most enjoyable workshop. It was interesting in that on attending I found that I was already using most of the techniques and - to my great surprise - I found that other people weren’t. I was honestly unaware that it was possible for people to read so slowly! I was hoping to increase my reading speed because it seems like a rather useful skill, so it was something of a downer to find out that I was already rather fast. Contained the excellent quote “I wouldn’t have thought you’d do much reading in Maths” (my library card begs to differ :P). Contained an important and obvious lesson (to get better at something, do it a lot). Learning the techniques meant I was able to help one friend with his slow reading, which is always nice.

A1: Attended this one after my lectures were over, which wasn’t the best plan. Still useful, though. Found a method that seemed obvious in retrospect, which is a nice indication it’s a good one. Came with the hint to make a booklist, which is a nice thing to have. Also introduced me to what skimming and scanning actually are - and I, who could already read quickly, had a hell of a time trying to put them into practice. Was I already doing them? How could I tell? Tricky business.

The workshop that I got the most from (discounting any reflection/blogging) was P4, followed by A1. The workshop that I got the most from reflection/blogging was A4: I was able to implement a slight change that lead to a long-term improvement that’s still going. In the meta sense, reflection was also especially helpful in P1 and P6, due to the side-effects mentioned as opposed to actual progress with the plan. Overall, I’d say that the side-effects that occurred as a result of implementing the points were more important and helpful than the results of implementing the points themselves - I feel I’ve learnt more about myself, my thoughts and my actions from them.

I decided to go for it on a whim, but looking back I don’t see any better (realistic) way I could have spent my time. The investment was comparatively small for the results obtained, and I’m glad I made it.

April 11, 2012

Speed Reading: Finality

Follow-up to Speed Reading: Reflections from Midgley, Christopher - Pointless twaddle and meaningless diatribes

Tutor was Han-Na Cha.

Likely I’ll continue with the nonlinearity, or at least try to, as part of the SQ3R thing that was recommended in the memory book.

Unlikely I’ll continue with the reading more slowly – in particular I’m not particularly sure how to read more slowly. I can’t consciously chunk it less, because this kills my understanding, and any slower speed seems to involve smaller chunks. I’ve come to reading a sentence, then trying to recite it to make sure I actually remembered it. This isn’t actually ‘reading slower’ but it’s close enough, I feel, to the original intent. This was a point that seemed like there should be an obvious way of doing it (surely it should be easier to read slowly instead of quickly?); but I can’t get it to work reasonably. I’ve developed a system that’s worked fairly well so far, and it comes easily to me, so I think I’ll stick with it until circumstances prove me wrong.

Reading symbols is part of doing mathematics so that’s not something I can ignore :D

Hmm, I put most (read: all) of my “aha!” moments for the extant action points into last week’s post..time for some other miscellaneous commentary.

I still feel it’s too easy to let my attention drift away from what I’m reading. On the plus side, I no longer wake up and realise I have no idea where I am – I just stop, dead. I found a few ways of getting around that. The first was timing myself, and reading for a fixed length of time, which I thought worked well until I found out I was somehow getting less done in a greater length of time than before timing. It did, however, get me to stop taking absurdly long breaks (the enjoyment returns are strictly diminishing after, say, 20 minutes off).

The other way was to give up on reading and try reciting what came before. If I can’t remember, that’s a hint to go back :). Otherwise it’ll improve retention without risk of boring further.

April 06, 2012

Speed Reading: Reflections

Follow-up to Speed Reading: Taking care, moving backwards, slowing down… from Midgley, Christopher - Pointless twaddle and meaningless diatribes

Tutor was Han-Na Cha.

Before we start: results on how much I comprehended or how well I remembered were likely contaminated by memory training I was doing at the same time. Good thing these results weren’t supposed to be formal or anything, and indeed had no way of properly being measured!

The best thing from the sessions was probably just a realization of the state of affairs (I read quickly) and a formalization of the effects of things I do (why they’re beneficial, why they aren’t) and that the (obvious in retrospect) answer to the question “how do I get better at X” is “do X a lot”.

On the not so well side, reading non-linearly seems to increase the risk of reading over material you’ve already read, especially if you’re able to do impressive things like forget section headers soon after you read them (which happened almost inevitably without some recitation).

TODO differently: Put the memory techniques into the program itself, as opposed to a “hey it would be cool if I did this” item that only comes up when I remember to do it. Comprehending stuff is easier if you can remember what came before :P

On the other not-so-well side — slowing down is hard, because by nature I don’t do it. It’s like improving my handwriting, or that “fingers on home row” typing, because my natural typing involves my hands moving all over the place, and my natural handwriting is a spider’s crawl — it’s just not natural for me, so I fall back into habits as soon as I stop thinking about it and sometimes even while thinking about it, because the behaviour is instinctual, in the same way that my fingers have a habit of hitting ‘n’ between ‘ght’ and ‘ing’ so the outcome is fightning.

March 16, 2012

Speed Reading: Taking care, moving backwards, slowing down…

Follow-up to Speed Reading: Even though I am a mathematician… from Midgley, Christopher - Pointless twaddle and meaningless diatribes

Tutor was Han-Na Cha.

Points were read symbols until you get as good at reading symbols as words and try reading out of order because I’ve found previously that focusing on more than two things at the same time is a good way to forget what I’m doing and not get much done :). If we need three, an additional (fair) one could be slow down your default reading speed to increase comprehension - it wasn’t until the session where I, not thinking I was doing anything differently, hit 650 wpm as my normal speed and realised that that was so much faster than other people read. A rough timing showed that my speed of reading fiction (at least on a screen) is about that quick as well (around 150,000 words in a four hour block). I think my reading speed is slower when it comes to books (although I haven’t tested this); I do the vast majority of my reading from a screen.

Let’s comment on the second one first, because that’s shorter. If a summary, or key point list, is offered at the end, it’s convenient to do that -> section headings -> start, linearly forward to get some indication of where it’s going and which parts to skip over. If not, the section headings themselves offer a decent summary (often, yet not always).

Onto the first: reading symbols. We begin, naturally, with an example.
(\forall x,y)(\forall \epsilon > 0)(\exists \delta)(|x-y|< \delta \Rightarrow |f(x)-f(y)|<\epsilon)
This one is the definition of continuity of a function f everywhere. Once again, the brackets here provide an obvious chunk. Draw attention, here, to the first triplet:
(\forall x,y)(\forall \epsilon > 0)(\exists \delta)
This is /also/ a chunk: that is, it’s a combination you see a lot, and it’s also the initiation step for this sentence: we have initiation, followed by statement. It’s also importantly different from
(\forall \epsilon > 0)(\exists \delta)(\forall x,y)
which is used for uniform continuity, despite sharing all three chunked phrases, with two paired.

Unsurprisingly, it turns out the way to get better at reading is to read more, and look out for the patterns that emerge.

February 24, 2012

Speed Reading: Even though I am a mathematician…

Tutor was Han-Na Cha.

First, on subvocalization: attempting to consciously destroy all subvocalization also destroyed my speed and any comprehension I had of the text. Comprehension-wise, I find the voice ‘reads’ the text a little behind my eyes (and far faster than I could speak it aloud), which I find helpful. Despite this, it’s difficult to tell exactly what I subvocalize: focusing on the process interferes with it.

However, I think reducing it in certain areas will increase speed (while slight!) and possibly (hopefully!) comprehension. This is a very maths-related area, so I’ll add some examples.

Example 1: [1\quad 2], (1,2) and \{1,2\} are all different: the first is a vector, the second a tuple, the third a set. However, I take no time to /read/ the symbols surrounding the numbers - they are merely interpreted.

Example 2: x < 2 is probably pronounced “x is less than 2”, but while reading it as part of a series of equations, I don’t subvocalize it as such - just sort of understanding it. This is an aid to comprehension, as focusing unnecessarily on the symbol detracts from the meaning.

Example 3: \exists and \forall are pronounced “there exists” and “for all” respectively; I do subvocalize these (in full! there ex-ists! bleh!) and (likely) focus too much on them. Taken from my metric spaces notes: a sequence is Cauchy if:
(\forall \epsilon > 0)(\exists k \in \mathbb{N})(\forall m,n \geq k)d(x_n,x_m) < \epsilon
In this case, this example is healthily chunked already - each bracketed section is a phrase and together it forms a sentence. The order is important and only the whole statement together makes sense. Reading it should be a bit slower than a sentence because you actually have to understand each part before moving on - they’re all important.

In short, I suppose the aim here is to become as good at reading symbol-heavy sentences as I am wordy sentences.

In second; my current mode of reading is linear, but jumpy. I begin at the beginning and go forth, occasionally hopping back and forth to section titles to see where I’ve come from and where I’m heading until I reach the end, whereupon I stop. A nonlinear arrangement would likely serve better: the headings, a summary (if present), the end, the beginning, for instance. So I suppose a relevant ‘goal’ is try that.

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  • Nice proof! Does this mean you're going to specialize in analysis and differential equations next ye… by Nick on this entry
  • Hi Chris, It was most interesting to read your various reflections – thank you for sharing them. I'm… by Ceri Marriott on this entry
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  • Hi Chris This is an honest final entry for the WSPA. Im glad that you have found the WSPA journey wo… by Samena Rashid on this entry
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