Monday, December 3, 2012

Reading Social Sciences Workshop (Economics, History, Sociology, Psychology)

For the original PowerPoint presentation you can download it here or by going to this link:

“It was books that taught me that the things that tormented me most were the very things that connected me with all the people who were alive, or who had ever been alive.”
 –James Baldwin (author, playwright).
The social sciences (including history, psychology, sociology, economics, and some philosophy) study the very essence of what it is to be human. Part of what many students enjoy about the social sciences is it gives them a feeling of connection with themselves and with others; it allows one to begin to understand some of the most mysterious and universal things about our existence: love, hate, violence, money, politics, culture, social status, religion, familial connections, and much more. These are things that mankind has been trying to understand—and master—for a very long time.

When reading your social science texts your goals should be more than just basic understanding. Sometimes teachers use the text as a way of “filling in gaps” of detail they don’t have time to cover during lecture. Other times, teachers will expect the text to show the student the “big picture” while the lecture covers details or only specific events/people. Whatever the expectation, you should be able to identify your purpose and plan to read according to that purpose.

Purpose (why you read) is more than just “My teacher told me to read this.” Of course your teacher told you to read it, but what are the reasons why your teacher is having your read it? Do you need to write an essay? Must you participate in a class discussion? Are you taking a quiz on the material, or will it be on your final exam?

Purpose could be any, all, or any combination of the following things:
·         To identify arguments.
·         To weigh evidence.
·         To evaluate sources (and resources).
·         To look for conflicts of interest and opinions disguised as facts.
·         To question assumptions.
·         To understand the “big picture.”
·         To add additional details to other sources (such as lecture).

Once you determine your purpose for reading you can decide how you want to read your text. If your purpose involves a more comprehensive understanding of the text (such as for an exam or essay) you’ll want to read slowly and deliberately, annotating (taking notes), asking questions, and critically thinking about what you are reading. If you’re reading for a class discussion you may want to read slightly faster, focusing on only some of the (most important) details so you can participate and understand the discussion; you should still annotate (take notes) but it won’t need to be as thorough. Use purpose to guide your style of reading and your reading speed.

Before reading get an understanding of what the material has to offer you. Spend 10-15 minutes looking over the material, prior to reading it, so you can be prepared to make the most of your reading time. Make mental notes of whether the material is completely new or unfamiliar
To preview:
·         Read the title, author information, key words, introduction, and/or the abstract or summary.
·         Read the headings and subheading throughout the article or chapter.
·         Read the first and/or the last sentences in each paragraph.
·         Look at the bolded, italicized, or any other emphasized terms; also look for any words you don’t recognize. (You may want to take a moment to look up what any words mean before you actually start reading.)
·         Examine any pictures, charts, tables, and any other graphics.
·         Read the chapter summary, end-of-chapter questions, reviews, and any other information at the end of the chapter or article.

Once you finish previewing, you can go back and carefully read the article/chapter and annotate it as you go. Your annotation style should be dictated by your purpose for reading, the style you’ve decided to read, how much time you’ve decided to invest, and how familiar (or unfamiliar) you are with the subject.
To annotate: 
With all of that in mind, think about what you will need to look for (and annotate):

·         A basic understanding of the subject for a quiz or exam? Mark main ideas, topics, key terms, and important ideas.
·         Writing a paper and using the article as a source? Mark facts, figures, statistics, factual information relevant to your essay.
·         Class discussion? Mark points of personal interest, ideas you agree or disagree with, questions you have, and points you want to raise to your classmates.

As you read you want to keep these, and other questions, in your mind to help you keep on track with your reading. By zeroing in on the answer to these questions, you will not only find the reading more “meaningful” (and probably less boring) but also more productive.
·         What is the structure of the text?
·         What questions is this text trying to answer?
·         What are the author’s sources?
·         Is this information opinion or fact? How do you know?
·         What evidence does the author use?
·         Is this a primary or secondary source?
·         Whose perspective are we learning?
·         What information can one learn from the graphics?
·         How does this information fit into the class?


Mapping is a visual note taking style that emphasizes relationships between ideas and the “big picture.” Mapping lends itself to the social sciences as it allows the student to see all the details (so often emphasized by instructors) as well as how those details fit into the larger subject, and mapping has many different ways it can be done depending on the material itself.  Mapping can be used in either lecture note taking or book note taking.

When students think of “maps” they often think of bubbles and arrows that can go all over a page in a (sometimes) very disorganized way. Though this is one kind of mapping, there are many different kinds of maps and you should make a point to be familiar with them so you can utilize them when you need them.
Some examples include:
·         Economics: graphs, flow charts, process graphs.
This is a map of "Supply & Demand" done from an Economics text. I'm not an Econ major so forgive my simplicity. I do, however, understand supply and demand much better now!

·         History: timelines, Venn diagrams, “comic strip” style pictures, cause/effect charts.
Taken from Reading Across the Disciplines (Rooney 2010); a map of American history. Note that it is both a timeline (chronology) as well as cause & effect (see the arrow going from May 1773 to December 1773).

·         Behavioral sciences: flow charts, Venn diagrams, process maps, cause/effect charts.
Done from a Human Services text, maps can help clear up differences (however subtle) between theories, people, or ideas.

Maps can also show processes, as this one shows the stages of bullying, clearly with use of color.

Grid Note taking is another visual style but contains more structure that is “built in” so students find it far more organized than traditional mapping. Grid Notes can be done during a lecture, while reading, or used as a way of studying information as preparation for a test. One great thing about Grid Notes is that it makes clear if there is any information (this will make more sense in a minute).

You begin by drawing a grid on your paper (in your note book or on a plain white sheet of paper), or you can create a worksheet for yourself in Excel or Word. Standard Grid Notes use the “5w+h” method: Who, What, Where, When, Why, + How: write those in the very top of your grid. It should look something like this:


     For a printable Grid Notes page you can use in your class download it here [pdf] or use the following url:
As you find information, write it in the corresponding box. For example, if your teacher mentions a name, write that name in one of the boxes under the “who” column; when your teacher gives you dates (like when that person was born, when they were active, etc.) write that information in the “when” column. If, at the end of the lecture, you have an empty box you may want to ask your teacher if that’s important information, or double-check you didn’t miss anything.

This can also be used while reading or reviewing your text. You can add to your Grid Notes from lecture, or create a grid specifically for your textbook. Either way, Grid Notes is an excellent way to organize your information!

Different texts have different features that you should use in different ways. For instance, peer reviewed articles have several features, including key words, headings, and author introductions that help orient you with the work. Each section of a text provides the reader with important information that you must pay attention to in order to make the most of your reading. For instance, if you’re writing a research paper that requires that you use specific statistics or quantitative information, you will want to locate that information within the paper and spend extra time interpreting it for your own research. If, on the other hand, you must read to gain background information for a class discussion you may want to spend more time on the background, results, and the author motivation areas. In any case, you should always look carefully at who funds the study, why the study is being done, and what kinds of conclusions are being drawn as a result of the study itself.

By paying attention to these features you can prepare yourself for the reading you must do and plan your reading time better:
·         Title: Specific; usually jargon-heavy. Be prepared to look up any unknown words in the title as you know they’ll be important to the rest of the text.
·         Abstract: Short, usually one paragraph introduction/overview of study and information collected and the outcome of the study. Use this to familiarize yourself with the text.
·         Key Words: Jargon/terms used for search purposes but also terms you should know before reading. Make sure you look them up if they are unfamiliar.
·         Subheadings/Subtitles: these split up the article to help the reader through the material. Each section supplies different information and, though they are different from article to article, there are some consistencies. Some important sections include:
o   Background: gives background on the study.
Important because: Explains related studies, background information about the study and/or the researcher(s), and the motivations of the author.
o   Theories and Evidence: presents the question the author hopes to answer, along with evidence they may be using as support.
Important because: will usually present the hypothesis of the study, as well as the preliminary evidence that may or may not support the initial hypothesis.
o   Methods or Data and Methods: describes how the study was done, how data was collected, and what was recorded and why.
Important because: It explains the way the author set up the study, who was involved (patients, volunteers, etc.), the size of the study, and what data was kept and why.
o   Results: the results of the study, usually recorded quantitatively (with numbers) along with the author’s interpretations of how the results support or deny the hypothesis.
Important because: goes into detail of results, heavy on numbers but important if you need information to support a hypothesis of your own.
o   Discussion (and/or Conclusion): in depth look at the data, usually to eliminate any misinterpretations of the data or explain any inconsistencies that may have arisen in the course of the study.
Important because: talks about why the results of the study support or deny the hypothesis including details about statistical analysis, etc.
o   Notes: Any extra information the author feels important but doesn’t’ directly fall into any of the other sub-headings.
Important because: there may be other information about the study, including extra data, related arguments, or subsequent additions or thoughts on the study.
o   References: Any outside sources, studies, data, or information the author uses to support or argue the hypothesis.
Important because: allows the reader to check sources; evaluate the author’s previous research, and connections between ideas.
o   Acknowledgements: usually thanking the people who took part in the study, supported the author/researcher, or assisted in some way to in the course of the study.
Important because: may give the reader more information about the motivations behind the study, the author’s background, or other research that’s been done on the topic.
o   Funding: some studies get grants or other financial support from outside sources (such as governments, private companies, or non-profit agencies); the author may disclose those to the reader.
Important because: gives insight into who is behind the study, more motivations for the study, and any other outside influence that may or may not skew the results of the study.