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Get the Most Out of Study Time with Textbooks From Bookshare

This very informative article written by Deborah Armstrong, Alternate Media Specialist at De Anza College in Cupertino, CA,  provides some great tips and ideas to get the most out of your study time reading textbooks from Bookshare. She is a lifelong learner who is addicted to reading and says that she’s downloaded over 1,075 books and has read over 900 of them.  While this post is a bit longer than others, it’s really good.

If you are new to electronic books, or don’t read much, you’ll find study skills training intended for print readers might not work well for you. Worry not because we’ve collected some useful tips to make your study time more fun.

1.  What’s bugging you when you study?
First of all, if you don’t believe studying and fun could ever live happily together in the same sentence, think about why studying might not be enjoyable for you. Could it be a struggle to study when the information doesn’t make sense? Sometimes it is hard to concentrate and remember what you read; perhaps you remember fine, but you just get bored. Or maybe you have trouble with electronic voices. If you really hate studying, it’s a good idea to make a list of the problems you confront so you can work on ways to solve them.

Let’s first tackle the problem with electronic voices. Get help finding out if you can put other voices on your computer, or if you need to hear the voice you are using differently. A variety of voices with high quality human-like sound are available now for free or at low cost, but not all voices are right for all people. Just as some people prefer pickup trucks, and others would rather drive sports cars, you might find that you are trying to work with a voice that just isn’t right for you. Play around also with adjusting a voice’s pitch and speed, because that often makes a difference in understanding what’s being read.

Not all software applications work with all available voices. Your best resource to ask a technology expert, and keep asking until you get answers.

Don’t wait to learn the voice until you need to learn the material. First practice using a new voice reading something really enjoyable . For example, if you like monster movies, get hooked on novels by Stephen King! If you follow soap operas, try reading some light romance! Bookshare has hundreds of science fiction, thrillers, westerns, mysteries and loads of suspense to keep you on the edge of your seat. When you get involved in a good page-turning book you won’t mind the voice so much. Remember that to forget about the voice, you need to get lost in the story.

Perhaps it will help to see the words in larger print so you can follow along with the voice visually. Maybe some material is easier for you to read in Braille, while other material is easiest to read with an electronic voice. Be flexible!

2) How are those technology devices working for you?

Would it help to use another program for reading your books? Some programs are designed more for people with learning disabilities, and other software packages are used mainly by people who are blind or visually impaired. Some applications are easy to use and have a simple interface, while others are more expensive, more complicated but more powerful. Some DAISY book readers have a moving highlight that follows the text onscreen. Some readers can show you images of the pages  and some let you define the length of time the voice pauses between sentences and paragraphs. Some book readers have built-in dictionaries for checking spelling or finding word definitions. Some have different bookmarking, highlighting and note taking features, and others have special features for people who find reading difficult.

Your school’s computer lab might have DAISY readers you can experiment with. If not, try a local community college, senior center or agency for people with visual impairments. You can also check large public libraries that often have specialized scanning and reading software. Most of this software works well with the Bookshare collection.

If you cannot afford the access technology that is best for you, advocate for yourself. Be sure your rehab counselor, knows, for example that you are hard of hearing and that a Braille display and not speech is best for your disability. Contact service clubs like Lions or Rotary to see if they can help purchase your access technology, or look for used equipment. Apply for all the scholarships you can, or ask a relative for a loan. Don’t give up, if you need a particular technology to read. But don’t be afraid to experiment with different solutions either. To ensure your success, above all, be sure you are working with software that is right for your particular learning needs.

Take the time to learn the software. Don’t wait until you need to study to figure out how to use the DAISY reader. Practice on some leisure reading. Learn to move backwards and forwards by pages, sentences, paragraphs, headings and chapters. Some books let you navigate many ways, and other books only have page navigation. Some DAISY programs and screen readers add additional navigation, for example, enabling you to move by paragraphs in books that don’t have paragraph navigation built-in.

Learn how to add notes to the book you are reading, how to set and clear bookmarks and how to find information quickly. For example, if you are reading about fossils, you might want to know how to search for the word Dinosaur.

If you cannot figure out how to do something with your DAISY reader, ask for help. Online there are many mailing lists and forums with users who volunteer their time to assist. Bookshare technical support can get you started in the right direction. And the people at your school who teach assistive technology are probably your most valuable resource. Take advantage of all the training you can get!

Now that you are comfortable with your favorite voice and you have mastered your access technology, you will have broken down most of the barriers that separated you from enjoyable studying. Here are just a few more tips to consider.

3.  Are you reading for comprehension?
Can you navigate the book easily?

Get hold of the syllabus with the reading assignment list as soon as you can. If the teacher doesn’t give you a list of reading assignments, be sure to explain that you have a print impairment and need that information early. You don’t want to learn at the last minute that you’ll need to read 100 pages over a single weekend.

Explore the book first. In the bad old days of the tape recorder, you were often forced to listen to the book from beginning to end, though you might use the fast-forward to skip over stuff you didn’t need. But with DAISY navigation you can jump around the book and preview it first. Take advantage of this electronic strength you have, because even print readers will spend more time hunting for information if they aren’t skilled students.

Read the table of contents first. I like to use a digital recorder to record the table of contents so I don’t have to jump back to it, just to locate a specific page. With some DAISY readers, you can copy and paste the table of contents in to a separate file. You might want to print the table of contents in large print or Braille as well, so it’s efficient to refer to later. You can even export the book’s table of contents to your note taker or smart phone so it’s handy like your address book or calendar.

Match up the table of contents with the reading list. For example, if the instructor tells you to read pages 55-75, note which chapters and units that will cover. If the Bookshare edition of your book doesn’t match the printed textbook’s pagination, this is another fact to know about early. You may need to have your teacher look at your electronic contents to help you adjust for the correct page numbers. Often many editions of a book are printed with the content not changing significantly, but the pages and even the chapter numbers might change. It is particularly common to have “custom editions” printed just for a particular college. But you might find the Bookshare edition of the book is actually the same text, perhaps with extra chapters. Having ready access to both the reading assignments and Table Of contents can help you effectively log what you need to read.

4.  How much reading do you need to get done?  Plan your attack!
Plan ahead. Say it’s Thursday and you need to have forty pages read by next Monday. You could plan to read ten pages each day. You could plan to read five pages now, fifteen pages on Saturday, and fit the rest of them in to your plans for Friday and Sunday. Or plan to read the easy stuff while babysitting and deal with the hard stuff Friday afternoon when the computer lab is pretty much empty. Make a plan that is right for you and your schedule.

Go to the start of several chapters to get a sense of how they begin. Some textbooks start off a chapter with a quiz to test your knowledge, a glossary of terms or an anecdote or thought of the day. Getting oriented to the book by looking at the start of each chapter will speed your study time later when you are trying to locate particular information.

Look at the ends of chapters too. Maybe the discussion questions are the last thing in a chapter, and maybe each unit ends with a list of concepts to review. Later when you have to find those discussion questions quickly, you’ll know where to look.

Pay attention to the length of each unit or section. When the instructor says you’ll be reading a chapter a week, it’s easier to plan ahead knowing their average length.

Also pull up a few random chapters from your reading list and look through them. Go to the next page, read a few paragraphs and then move on.  This gives you a feel for what kind of reading experience you will have with this particular book. Right at the start of taking this class you will know if you are likely to need extra help, or conversely if the material looks too easy and you will have to avoid becoming bored.

Many of these ideas will sound like extra work, but it’s only extra work at the beginning, when you are most likely to be enthusiastic about the course. Think of these as techniques for saving you work, providing you a hassle-free study experience as you approach the dates of your exams.

5.  Jot down notes and questions as you read.

As you read, make lists of words or ideas you don’t understand. For example, I might ask questions like, “Why are so many old bones found in Utah” if I were reading about dinosaurs. I might wonder if old bones were found as much in Arizona, and I might wonder why jawbones were particularly important to scientists. I would undoubtedly run across many words whose meaning I didn’t know, and writing them down would be helpful. Asking good questions is a particularly good way to put the fun back in to studying.

6.  Try a tape recorder!

If you have difficulty writing, here’s where the tape recorder, or a modern digital recorder can be your best friend. Speaking your questions and notes aloud also helps you retain information, so don’t be afraid to restate the main points of what you are reading, in your own words for the record! Besides remembering what you do know, remembering what you don’t know helps you ask good questions in class, or get extra help when you work with a tutor.

If you prefer to use the computer, take notes in the DAISY reader, or use a program you feel more comfortable with, like Microsoft Word.  Even if you have a good memory, note taking can significantly improve your retention, so even if you always thought that a person with a print-impairment could not take notes, think again!

If you hate sitting still, take notes while moving around. Grab your recorder and dictate while you pace. Or go outside and rake leaves while thinking about what you’ve just read. Then come back inside and write it down. Don’t force yourself to study the way your friend, a relative or a single teacher thinks you should study. Experiment with techniques and get creative. For example, since I write Braille, but see color, I use colored index cards for taking Braille notes. I use green for things I know, red for things I don’t, and yellow for stuff I want to remember.

If you enjoy doing other things while you read, do so by all means. But if the material is difficult, and say you listen to it on the bus using your Victor Reader Stream, remember you might want to go over at least part of it a second time while taking some notes. Most print impaired students fail because they try to study while watching TV, commuting, caring for children, or working at their paid jobs. Guess what! Most able-bodied students fail the same way, but because you have a print impairment, you already have one strike against you. You need to avoid handicapping yourself further by multi-tasking or procrastinating too much.

If you multi-task, do it when you are reading the assignment for the first time, so it won’t matter if you miss some information. If you want to procrastinate, work on taking good notes or improving your lists of questions instead of reading the book, or read ahead in the book instead of taking notes.

7. Ask a friend for input, find creative ways to remember your thoughts, form a study group!

Being creative can help you effectively work with those small bits of time that add up to large blocks of unused time in your day. While waiting for your bus, you can review your notes, even if it isn’t practical to fire up your Daisy reader. You can use the free half-hour between English and Psychology to phone a friend to get clarification on something you didn’t understand in class. And you can phone your answering machine at home with the information while it is still fresh in your brain. While sitting at Starbucks, you can pretend to talk on your cell but instead be dictating term paper ideas in to your recorder. While waiting for a free computer in the lab, you can try to remember everything from yesterday’s history lecture. If you become really good at stealing free time for “stealth” studying you’ll discover you will have more time to party.

To tackle the problem of not understanding, use your own personal strengths to help. For example if you like surfing, google for the answer. If you like chatting with people, call up a reference librarian. If you have parents, teachers or tutors who can explain, ask them to do so. If you are embarrassed, because you think this is information you should already know, read a children’s book on the subject. For example, when as an adult I couldn’t remember how to balance my checkbook, I read  a book about managing your money that was intended for fifth graders.

If you enjoy working with people, form a study group. Even if you feel your study skills are weak, your access to the Bookshare book can help everyone. You can quickly search the entire book for relevant information. You can take notes for the entire group on your computer. You can record class lectures and listen to them later and be therefore prepared to summarize the lecture for your study group friends. You can be responsible for providing a quiet room and whiteboard for the group’s use. You can coordinate an Internet mailing list for your study group. For my study group, I provided a spacious living-room, plates of home-baked cookies and neatly typed copies of my notes. I also provided copies of the lists I kept about things I didn’t understand in the book and got all my questions answered, because some of the people in the group were just a whole lot smarter than I am!

8.  Acknowledge boredom or frustration, walk away or delve into other resources.

If you like working alone, make sure you aren’t just reading the same confusing passage over and over. Search Bookshare to find other books on the same subject. Maybe another author explains concepts in a way that makes more sense to you. Keep your list of stuff you don’t know updated. If you haven’t reviewed it in a few weeks you might be surprised to find it jogging your memory about information discussed in class which you actually do understand.

As a Bookshare user you have a whole library at your fingertips, so take advantage of this great research opportunity to produce quality term papers, to be a champion at class discussion time or to get answers for a group project. You may not be able to read print as effectively as your able-bodied buddies, but Bookshare can become your secret weapon.

To tackle getting bored, practice explaining concepts in your own words. Pretend you are explaining to a student you are tutoring or a friend in the class. If you feel sleepy, get up and walk around while reciting the known facts of the assignment to your dog. Do whatever it takes even if you find yourself conjugating irregular verbs in your bathtub or singing the periodic table in the shower. When I read something that I think is badly written, I try to rewrite the explanation to make it clearer. This keeps me personally from getting so bored. One of my study group leaders confided that he practiced explaining a concept to me when he had trouble staying interested in the material.  Do whatever it takes to stay interested, because if you slog through studying like it’s death warmed over, you are unlikely to remember information for your exam.

Great athletes fantasize about winning Olympic medals. They picture all the details as they imagine excelling on the field. You too can fantasize about becoming a great student. When you daydream, fill in all the details in your imagination: googling for the definition of a word, asking a friend to walk you through converting a temperature to Fahrenheit or using the DAISY reader to jump with just three keystrokes to page 99! You can do this daydreaming on the noisy bus, where real studying would be impossible, and it will actually help you excel, just as it helps athletes win.

Thank you Deborah Armstrong for this amazing article. We loved it and learned a ton of good study tips!


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  2. Jim McCarthy

    Ms. Armstrong does a great job of explaining how DAISY reading devices can help with studying. There is some tip or trick in this article that should help just about everyone who reads it.

  3. This is really helpful to me. I’m studying online to learn some new skills to help me at work. I’ve discovered another tip that helps me learn faster. If my speech doesn’t pronounce a word correctly, I stop and fix the pronunciation. This works in programs like Kurzweil and Text Aloud. I didn’t think it really mattered until I noticed how I got distracted when a word wasn’t spoken correctly. On top of that, I found myself beginning to think of the word in its mispronounced form so that I said it wrong in my study group one time. That was embarrassing to me.

    For those who use Kurzweil 12, they have a new feature where you can actually hear the pronunciation of a word when you look it up in the dictionary. It’s spoken by a person, not a synthesizer, so you can be sure you’re learning how the word is supposed to be.

  4. Colette Heath

    are textbooks for e-classes available by voice? i find i retain more this way.

    thank you

  5. Colette Heath

    where can i find the textbooks i need? for instance, i would really like audio for the chain rule of calculus.

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