Tuesday, December 30, 2014

For Teachers Only: What Is Wrong With Testing?

For Teachers only: What is wrong with giving tests?

By Mary Ann De Neve Slavcheff, M.A.

Let’s take a test.


I could give you one of those standardized tests that students are often expected to take. Doesn’t everyone hate those? Why should anyone have to know what a harangue or a tangent is? Does X plus Y ever equal anything other than two letters of the alphabet?

And then there was this week’s reading assignment which you were supposed to… Wait a minute. I didn’t assign a reading. I didn’t teach you anything, so how can I test you?

There is something about tests and quizzes that scares people. Even those of us who are not students anymore, even teachers, have a negative reaction.


I assigned a reading or a set of problems. The student claims that he read the assignments or did all the problems. He didn’t get help from his friends who always ace the tests. I, the teacher, don’t believe the student really did his homework. I think he is lying about the time he said he spent studying.

I will test him and let’s see if he is telling the truth.

Tests thus crate an atmosphere of distrust between students and teachers.

Students have their own questions. How important is the material on the test to the final grade? Will he be tested on this material again? Often instructors go on to new material, and they don’t go back. The student might just as well forget what he just learned. He doesn’t need it anymore. I have seen students walk out of the classroom after a test, sigh, and I know they have already forgotten much of the material that they just aced a test on.

For students, other important things like cell phone conversations, texting, Facebook, and the latest episode of “Walking Dead or “Game of Thrones” intrude on studies and take up time that could be spent learning. Today’s students have too much information coming at them and they don’t have the time to learn what they can’t use or don’t think they will use.

Students forget what they learned for yesterday’s quiz. Students feel they will worry about the next class when that class comes. Learn and relearn as you go may not be the simplest method, but it is the most popular one. Teachers know that the best students probably learned little more than the poor students.

So why even use tests? If the material is almost immediately forgotten and students clearly don't understand the relevance of much of the material, then aren't tests a waste of everyone’s time?

They are. But we still use them. That is because a teacher can base her grades on test scores. Also some tests have nothing to do with the teacher. These are standardized tests which are so popular with administrators and textbook companies. Here teachers teach to the test. They have to. They had no input in creating the test and may not themselves know the relevance to their topic.

Teachers lose the joy of sharing knowledge they themselves found exciting, and the student loses the joy of learning he took with him to Kindergarten so many years ago and quickly lost in the maze of school.

Standardized tests take time away from learning about short stories,critical thinking and the lives of authors and historical greats. On top of that teachers are sometimes accused of cheating themselves if they learn what will be on the standardized test and they help the student prepare.

I have no idea who creates standardized tests, or why certain vocabulary words for instance are included. The tests seem a way of undermining the teacher, and getting rid of her if the students don’t do well. This ignores the fact that teachers teach and students learn. We can’t blame one individual if another has not his chore.

There has to be a better way.

Tests are old fashioned; Socrates used them. Or did he? Actually the Socratic method is question and answer, but as part of a discussion between students and teachers. There were no written exams in ancient Greece. No wonder they were such great scholars.

Even if Socrates had used written exams, do we still use the medical equipment that Hippocrates used? Are books still copied by monks and letters carried by the Pony Express? We have found better ways of doing most other jobs. Not teaching. Teaching still reties on written tests just like it did when our founding fathers were in school.

Testing itself is not a good way to measure learning, so shouldn’t we at least try to find other ways. One way would be to let students write their own tests and quiz each other on the material. Or let them test the instructor. I used to let my students quiz me on the assigned short stories. Sure they came up with some odd questions like, “What color were the main character’s anklets on page 14?”

I may not have known some of the answers, but we could all look it up. Even if the student made up things for his quiz, it was still fun, and we were all learning despite ourselves. These quizzes started conversations, and then we could talk about archetypes and plot types, and discuss the story. Students were more likely to tell me what they liked or didn’t like about the story. They stopped worrying about what they were supposed to get from the story. They got enjoyment and an understanding of the characters and the theme. It came more naturally than it would have in a test.

Attendance was very important with me. Even if the student was daydreaming and not paying one bit of attention, I always assumed, something was getting through to that student. Required attendance is much less scary than a quiz.

We must give teachers more autonomy in the classroom. Textbook salesmen and administrators are fine, but they need to do less dictating and more listening to both students and teachers. Teachers are professionals. Why are they being bullied by so many administrators, parents and board members? Get out of our way and let us do our jobs.

Make classes smaller so teachers and students can share more of the learning.

We can also give students more time in class to work on reading and doing assignments. If they get into the study habit in the classroom, they might be more likely to do it at home.

Discussions and essays are tougher to grade than multiple choice and true or false quizzes, but the student learns more and retains more. To save the teacher some time and to increase learning, essays can be read in class and or passed around the class room. That will make the classroom more of a community. Now that you have read this article, how about a test on its contents?

Just kidding.

The End

Thursday, December 25, 2014

How to Ace Tests

How To Ace Tests By Mary Ann De Neve Slavcheff, M.A. It’s mid semester and chances are you are getting ready for mid terms. Finals are coming up fast. If you have been following my suggestions, you have chained or pegged the new learning and reviewed it a few times. You probably feel much more confident than in past semesters.

Most students, even prepared students, hate tests and instructors don’t like them either. It would be great if we could get beyond tests. But discussions and essays are even harder to create and to grade. Most students don’t like essays. Essay test questions are even worse than term papers because the student has limited time to work on them. So expect to put up with old-fashioned tests for many more decades.

If we have to take tests anyway, let’s get more comfortable around them. Think of tests as a chance to show off your learning.

What can we do to be better prepared for tests?

We can write our own tests for study practice. This does not have to be elaborate. Start with the obvious. If you are studying a short story ask:

Who are the main characters?

What items play a part in the story?

Are any of these items symbolic? Explain.

What is the order of events? List them.

Are flashbacks used?<[> In whose point of view is the story told?

Did the instructor stress plot? Historical significance? Author’s biography?

Those are all good review questions for review.Now ask what questions lend themselves to essay questions and what questions will most likely be short answer. Write down the answers to all your questions. Look up any that you need to look up and then chain or peg the answers to each one. Review your questions and answers a few times.

Now you have the information memorized, write out an answer to each essay question as you would answer it in an essay question. Have a main point and support for your main point. Organize your answer. This will save you time and frustration if you get a similar question on the teacher’s test..

Not all information lends itself to an essay question. What parts of the quiz will be simple answer like multiple choice or fill in the blank? Write your own test for the material that will be covered here..

After you have tested yourself on the material, and have determined that you know the answers, quiz a classmate. Ask the classmate what questions she thinks will be asked. Have her quiz you..

You will discover that often you will come up with the same questions as classmates or as the instructor. Correctly guessing the test questions is as good as having an advance copy and guessing the questions is NOT cheating. It is just a successful study technique..

Think like the instructor. As you guess multiple choice questions, use it as an opportunity to learn unusual spellings or difficult terms. In “Everyday Use” by Alice Walker, the character Dee has changed her name to Wangero Leewanika Kemanjo. That is a lot of name to learn. But if you can include the name with the correct spelling in an essay question or fill in the blank, your instructor will be impressed. Divide the name into syllables..

Wan Ger O .

Lee Wan Ik A .

Ke Man Jo.

Spell the name out with your fingertip on your arm. Write it a few times with the fingertip and also with a pen on paper. The instructor will be proud you got the name right and may even give you extra credit points. Also look up the possible meanings of unusual names or words..

The presidents name provides an interesting example. Barack means soul of the sun from the sea mother; Hussein means blessed and Obama means man soul of the sea mother.. Adding a little learning just for yourself is okay.

Know that sometimes in multiple choice questions, instructors try to confuse the student with similar spellings or words that look alike. If you learn the material well, you won’t be tricked. If there are similar spellings or soundalikes in a multiple choice answer, then one of those answers is the correct one. In multiple choice questions, the correct answer is most often in the middle and “C” is the correct answer most of the time. That might help you some time when you just don’t know.

The longest and most complete answer in a multiple choice is most often correct. Think of answers from the instructors view. She won’t write out a long involved answer unless she has to do it..

Also read all the choices in a multiple choice questions. Here is an example:.

Mullien is: a herb that can grow anywhere in the U.S.

a cure for hay fever..

a herb used by Native Americans to treat conditions in all areas of the body including respiratory ailments, burns, swellings and wounds..

found in North American meadows..

Thus answer “c” is correct and is the one that should be circled. The other answers are all also correct, but “c” is the most inclusive. Note it is also in the middle and is the longest answer. This question would be labeled a trick question by students, but it is easy to figure out if the student has studied and read the question and answers carefully..p> Sometimes answer “d” reads “All of the above.” I used to find many incorrect answers in a question like this because instead of reading all the choices, students selected the first correct answer they saw. When taking a test, use clues like these to find the answer when you are not sure, but always go in prepared having learned as much as you can from the assigned material..

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Understanding Difficult Material

Memorizing is a great skill for new information, but what if the information is uninteresting and hard to follow? What do you do?

I never could concentrate on the “Illiad" or the “Odyssey.” In high school I just didn’t have the self discipline to read them. In college, I read both, but my mind kept straying. I could not stay with the story. Sure there have been movies, but they didn’t interest me either. Here are some strategies for understanding difficult or seemingly uninteresting material.

I could have gone to a study guide. I would still have to read the stories because even the best study guides sometimes have theories or off information. Many students think reading the study guide is enough. It isn’t.

One semester I was teaching, “Hamlet.”. We were discussing Ophelia’s suicide. One student said Ophelia was pregnant. That was an interesting take on the story, but inaccurate. Yet other students agreed. What was happening?

I asked a student where in the text it said Ophelia was pregnant. She rushed up with a copy of “Cliff Notes,” which usually makes very good study guides to important literature. One paragraph suggested that a pregnancy might explain Ophelia’s odd behavior.

Ophelia wasn’t pregnant. In fact, her dad thought she was a virgin. Ophelia was a romantic, but Hamlet didn’t have much interest in her, and according to her dad he never would. The study guide was wrong. So use study guides as a tool to better understanding, but read the story, so you know when the guide is off target. There are hundreds of study guides online, so these are not difficult to obtain.

One advantage of famous plays like “Hamlet” is that they can be taped or seen as live performances. Sometimes when we watch a very good actor read the lines, they make more sense than just the text on a page. Some novels have also been made into great movies. When I assigned “Lesson Before Dying” by Ernest Gaines, I showed students the HBO movie starring Don Cheadle and Micah Phifer. But beware, not all films are that good.

“Hart’s War” is a great novel. The movie changes the plot and would be of no use to a student.

Talking books are wonderful tools for understanding novels and those shorter fiction and non fiction pieces that have been recorded. free public domain audiobooks has thousands of free recorded titles. The readers are volunteers, but the quality is generally very good. One can put on a pair of ear phones and read the assigned text while doing housework, running or driving.

I sometimes make movies in my mind when I am reading books. I imagine the scenes as they would be presented. I cast the story with actors I know from film and television. It is fun and making the story into a movie does make it more understandable. How would Martin Sheen or Johnny Depp read that line?

Another method is to follow the arc of one character at a time. This is easy with a play that has dialog tags. When following a character arc in a novel skim looking for the character’s name and scenes. Read the chapters out of sequence. Start with the last chapter and read the chapters in reverse order. Skip every chapter. When I do this I usually have to go back and reread everything in order, but I have a better understanding of the story.

Some subjects like math require learning to be in a certain order. In those cases, I look for not only study guides, but for explanations online. Youtube and iTunes U are overlooked resources.

Some short stories are read on youtube. Others are acted out. In teaching, “Sonny’s Blues,” I found scenes from the story on youtube. While the entire story was not there, these scenes helped students and increased their interest. I had the students read dialog from the story in class.

When I was teaching grammar, I found youtube very useful. I found a site on youtube where the apostrophe sang and danced. The students loved that. It saved what was bound to be a boring lecture. For home study, youtube singing punctuation marks can break the boredom.

Annotating books is the best technique in studying most courses. When I was in college, I would pre read all my textbooks and mark them up with different colored highlighters. That way during the semester when I was very busy working and studying, I could just read the highlighted main points and support. It made the study and the understanding go faster.

Don’t feel bad if you don’t like or just don’t get a famous story or poem. We all have different tastes in movies and television programs. It is only natural that we have different taste in all forms of fiction, nonfiction and school courses. When the story is about a distant place or time frame, it helps to go to an encyclopedia or other reference book, but don’t beat yourself up if you still don’t like the story.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Get Your Textbooks Now

Many of us are now between semesters. It is a good time to get next semester's textbooks, read them, annotate them and be that much more prepared for next semester.

We can read and digest at our own pace, look up needed material and be more prepared when the semester starts.

While the holidays are busy times, reading can give you some relaxation time.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Pegging Using Numbers

Pegging using loci or location has been a popular memorization method since ancient times when Roman senators used Loci to memorize speeches that sometimes lasted for several hours. Ancient orators did not carry notes with them.

But using loci rooms is not the only way of pegging. Many people use lists. As I wrote earlier when I introduced pegging this list might be the alphabet or any list already memorized like the nine planets or the 44 presidents of the United States.

The only requirement is order and numbers. The alphabet has its own order and the presidents would most likely be in chronological order.

Both those lists are abstract. We made the alphabet more concrete by creating fun alphabets like my list of popular singers. There are many ways of making the alphabet more concrete. Just associate each letter with an item that can be experienced with the senses.

“A” might be applesauce , an ape or astronaut. “B” might be a battlestar, bumble bee or a banana. “C” might be a calico cat, cow or a candelabra. It is best to come up with your own associations.

Some people knowing they have to number the items use numbers. They might use soundalikes like: one is a sun; two is a school; three is a bee; four is store; five is dive off a high platform; six is a stick; seven is heaven; eight is a skate; nine is crime’ ten is a wren.

Others use associations that look like the numbers. One is a pencil or a tree; two is a swan; three is an Alfred Hitchcock profile; four is a sail boat; five is a bike; six is an elephant trunk; seven is a boomerang; eight is a snowman; nine is a balloon; ten is a bat and ball.

You can also associate the numbers with concrete items and make popular associates for dozens of numbers. For instance here is a numbers pegging list that I created.

Geoge Washington. He is on the one dollar bill and he was the first president

Dancers. There are usually two.

The Three Stooges, or musketeers

The Beatles. John, Paul, George and Ringo

A tape recorder. In the old “Mission Impossible” television series, the tape would self destruct in five seconds.

Actress Tricia Helfer who played Number Six in “Battlestar Galactica.”

Seven Up.

A skate. Skaters do figure eights.

A reindeer. Santa has nine of them.

Cowboy hat. It is a ten gallon hat.

George Clooney who starred in the film “Oceans Eleven.”

Monkeys. Think of the film, “Twelve Monkeys.”

Huckleberry Finn who was thirteen years old in the novel.

Shakespeare. A sonnet has fourteen lines.

Audie Murphy, the most decorated soldier in World War II won 15 medals.

Candles. Jimmy Clanton sang “Sixteen candles make a lovely glow.”

Mary Poppins, who worked for the Banks family at 17 Cherry Tree Lane.

A semi truck is an eighteen wheeler.

Gold clubs. The 19th hole is the watering hole.

Eye glasses. Perhaps you have 20/20 vision.

A wine glass. At age 21, we can drink.

A rifle. Some rifles are 22’s.

The Bible with its well-known 23 rd psalm.

Keifer Sutherland, the actor who starred in the series “24.”

Buck Rogers who'd who lived in the 25th century.

A Texas or Arizona Ranger. A very old television western about the Arizona Rangers was called “26 Men.”

Dresses after the film “27 Dresses.”

A television set. Remember the old 28 inch screens.

An airplane. The B 29 won World War II.

A hippy who would not trust anyone over 30.

An ice cream cone. A popular brand has 31 flavors.

A comic book which usually has 32 pages.

Frank Sinatra who make many 33 1/3 RPM records

A Matador. Thirty-Four is the area code for Spain.

A camera (35 Millimeter).

There’s more to it, which can be obtained from emailing me and asking for Mary Ann’s pegging list. You may make any changes that make sense to you.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

More Loci

More Loci

by Mary Ann Slavcheff

In an earlier blog, I wrote about organizing items into lists using location, numbering them and attaching them to things already learned.
I often use my laundry room even though I have added other rooms over the years. When using Loci, start with one room. 
The  items in my laundry room are, 1. doorway, 2. litter pan, 3. window, 4. Dryer, 5. wall cabinets, 6. mops, 7. furnace, 8. washing machine, 9. hot water heater, 10 sink. Say I want to memorize a list of the southern states in the order in which they seceded. (South Carolina, Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Texas, Virginia, Arkansas, North Carolina, Tennessee.)
Here is how I will use Loci to memorize the  names of the states in order of secession.  You may, of course,  use other images if those will work better for you.
I see Caroline Kennedy standing in the doorway of my laundry room speaking in a strong Souther accent. (South Carolina)
I see a Mississippi river boat  sitting in my cat’s litter pan. (Mississippi)
I look out the window and there are flowers blooming everywhere in my back yard. I  pink roses, purple  lilacs and yellow dandelions.  (Florida)
I look in my dryer. Ali MacGraw and Bambi are in there. (Alabama)
Next I open the wall cabinets above my dryer. George W. Bush is dressed as a confederate general and he is leading a cavalry charge. (Georgia)
Below this are my pail of mops. My Uncle Louis is  holding a mop that perhaps he might use as a weapon in the war. With him is actress Anna Paquin who is also holding a mop.  Louis plus Anna. (Louisiana) 
I look at the furnace and there is my tax statement for last year. I must have forgotten to mail it.  (Texas)
Virginia Graham swims in my washing machine. (Virginia)
On top of my water heater is an ark and a chain saw. (Arkansas)
Caroline Kennedy is now by my sink. She keeps saying “No” to let me know that she has lost her accent. (North Carolina)
Backing away from Caroline, I bump into Tennessee Ernie Ford, who is standing in a waste paper basket.(Tennessee)
An easy technique if I have ten items in the room and eleven items to memorize, is to add either a person, an animal  or a wastepaper basket to the room. (Eleven states seceded, so I had to put Tennessee Ernie in the wastepaper basket.
Those states will now be easer to remember. I have given them order and numbers. I associated them in fun ways with locations I had already memorized.
Loci is an ancient method, but fun for modern scholars. See my earlier blog on Loci. For longer lists, I use more than one room.  Kevin Vost has one of the best explanations of Loci in his book, “Memorize the Faith.”  He has a ten commandments room, a seven deadly sins room, a seven virtues room and even a cathedral. 
Readers do not have to be Catholic to use his rooms or for Vost to  help them with Loci. His rooms work for memorizing anything and I often use his ten commandments room. 
I like to work in multitudes of ten, so I added items to some of Vost’s other rooms when they had less than ten items.  
I also have a Loci car which I copied from “O.W.” Bill Hayes’ book “Your Memory.” This last book is a 1958 edition that has been out of print for years. It is still available  at online bookstores and at rare book stores.  There are 20 items on the Loci car.
I also have a Woodward Avenue list that I created.  Woodward is main street in Detroit and runs through several Detroit suburbs. A few of the businesses I slotted onto my Woodward Loci have gone, but I remember them where they were.  There are thirty items on my Woodward Avenue List going south and  twenty-six items going north.
Many people find Loci even easier to use than fun alphabets.
I shall close this column with the loci person. We will come back to this Loci person later and see how it can help us learn code and memorize even very long numbers.
Because this list is more than just Loci, when you memorize it, please use the exact words given. Don’t change toes to foot or muscle to leg.  Also leave the numbers as they are. Zero does not follow nine, but this will make sense later when we learn this as master code. 
  1. Toes, 2. knee, 3. muscle, 4. rear, 5. love handles, 6. shoulder, 7 collar, 8. face.9.pate, 0. ceiling

Your assignment is to create some Loci rooms on your own. Draw a floor plan; below that number and name each item.  You may use my laundry room or any of Vost’s rooms. I will print print Hayes’  Loci car list in a future column.
Also memorize the Loci person, we will be using that as we learn other learning techniques.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Be A Rich Whiz Kid

Some billionaires claim they can start from scratch tomorrow and rebuild their fortunes. How?

Success in life does not come easy. Even the most talented among us need some help now and then. This article is filled with great advice. I wish I had written it. Be Smart. be Rich.


Saturday, December 6, 2014

John Langan's Seven Steps to a Better Memory

If you are looking for a good book on getting better grades, check out John Langan’s “Reading and Study Skills.” Adult learners will find it is the bible of books on how to survive in school.  Parents will find lots of help for their children.  Sixth graders and above can read the book for themselves. Struggling students might want to reread it once a year.  Now in its tenth edition, a new copy online  might cost you over a hundred dollars. College book stores will be just as expensive. Older editions are just as good and usually much cheaper.  Go with an older edition, unless assigned the latest edition.
The book discusses attendance, test taking, note taking  and all the other skills, students need.
It was a required textbook in the college classes I taught.  I drilled Langan’s seven steps to a better memory into students, so I hoped they would never forget.
Step One: Organize the material.  Using this step I could introduce Pegging. My students organized material chronologically, alphabetically, or by order of importance.  See my earlier and blog on “Pegging” and “Loci.”.  To really learn anything, you must learn the order.
Step Two: Intend to learn.  So many students think they don’t need English or math and that they can forget the information as soon as the test is over. Decide to learn the material and to keep that learning.  Review previous learning from time to time. I find a good time to review my old learning is when I am walking the dog, biking or doing dishes.
Step Three: Test yourself repeatedly.  Who says the teacher must do all  the testing? Write your own tests.  Quiz fellow students and let them quiz you.
Step Four: Use memory techniques.  Langan introduces his readers to catch words and phrases, but to learn more about memory techniques, read my blogs.  I will also be sharing a list of books that have some of these techniques. Those of you not willing to wait for me to address these topics can look for books by Harry Lorraine, Joshua Foer  or Dominic O’Brien,all of them memory champions. 
Step Five: Space out learning sessions.  Don’t cram for tests. Study everyday, but give yourself breaks. Get up, watch a television show, walk the dog, or eat a sandwich.
Step Six: Over learn. When I would give tests, I would watch the students leave the classroom, take  a deep breath and promptly forget the material.  Spend a little extra time and really learn the materials. I can rattle off the names of U.S. presidents in alphabetical or chronological order. Give me a number from 1-44, and I can tell you what president had that number. I also still know the shorthand I learned way back in high school.
Learning is something you should strive to keep.
Step seven: Study before bed time. We are more open to new learning when we are relaxed. Studies have shown that playing baroque music and relaxing comfortably increases learning.The very best time to study is just before bed time.
While Langan is a great introduction to learning, my techniques go further and show you more. I elaborate on techniques described by Langan and other scholars.  I hope you enjoy my blogs and learn from them.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

An Assignment: Plan a Journey Around the World
by Mary Ann Slavcheff

Phileas Fogg went around the world in 90 days in a Jules Verne novel.

Abe Lincoln's son Willie used to make imaginary train


Plan a trip around the world in 90 days. Sure it can be faster today, but let's stop here and there and enjoy perhaps a soccer game or a concert or bicycle trip.  Maybe we can climb a mountain or take part in a festival.
Leave from your home. How long will it take to drive to the airport or bus station or to drive to New York City.
Go to the cities you want.  You can go north, or south east or west. Just so long as you go around the world in 90 days.
Find out about airline, bus, train and boat timetables.

What cities will you spend extra time in?

How will you get from airports or bus depots?

The imaginary trip is yours to plan.

Faulty Argument
Now that we have learned how to memorize anything faster, easier and better, let’s learn how to evaluate facts.  If you still need help with memorization, go the earlier blogs on chaining and pegging. They may take some practice, but after you have a fun alphabet or two and some loci, you can memorize anything.
Next comes logic. How do we evaluate information that is coming to us? 
If you are on a jury, how do you decide guilty or not guilty?
Who should you vote for? 
What product should you buy?
We use logic, to evaluate the facts and make a decision.
Too often in our modern world, we make decisions based on Liking or on Social Validation. Liking means that if I like someone, I am more likely to vote for him or buy a product from him. Salesmen work on likability. Social validation means we make decisions based on popularity. We read books on best seller charts, watch popular movies and television shows, and buy stupid toys because we saw people fighting over the toy on the evening news.
These are not good reasons to make selections.
One of the best ways of understanding logic is to understand examples of poor logic. That way when bad logic comes our way, we can quickly recognize it.

Over the next several months, I will be presenting a blog each on about a dozen and maybe more faulty arguments.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

How to Select the job of Your Dreams
There are lots of guides that will tell you what future fields will be hot. Don't believe them. Often they are wrong because managers tend to overestimate future needs. Schools want to attract students so they often exaggerate the demand for the professions they teach. Besides that, no one can predict the future or the impact of technology.
 The best thing you can do is pick a field that you have a passion for working in. People are spending more and more time on the job, so doesn't it make sense that you should be doing something fun?
What is your dream job?
Surprisingly many of us don't know where our passion lies. Also our interests can change from decade to decade and even from year to year. Here is some help.
Name five things that you would do, if you had the next year to do whatever you wanted. People are not made to sleep in the sun. Those who do it are castaways without a choice, or they are on vacation. If you had unlimited time, you would stay busy. What would you do? Rebuild cars? Walk dogs at the animal shelter? Play guitar in a bar? No answer is too ridiculous.
What did you like to do as a child? I loved swinging and daydreaming and I make my living being creative. Sometimes, even today, I walk to the park, sit on one of the swings and daydream for awhile. It releases my creative energy and I walk home full of ideas. \\\\
Look for people who have unusual jobs. John Keene bills himself as Sherlock Bones and he has made a career out of finding lost pets. Others become food critics, ice cream tasters or video game testers.
Check out newspapers and magazines for articles about people who are doing jobs that you think you might like, Clip the articles, Contact the people in these jobs if they live near you.
I found one article about a woman with a knack for decorating rooms. She lacked the credentials to become an interior decorator, so she started decorating garages. She makes them look good enough for a home and garden magazine.
Other individuals write mystery scripts for murder weekends, become disc jockeys, bridal consultants, mystery shoppers or clowns. People who love second-hand treasures might be able to earn a living on e-Bay or with a resale shop.
One man became a pizza farmer. With just a small parcel of land, he planted a slice of his property in tomatoes, green peppers and onions. He raises chickens and pigs and shows them off to visitors. The animals don't even have to be killed. He makes his money by charging visitors or a tour of the pizza farm.
A woman gives business seminars in manners – no, not Miss Manners.
A 71 year old woman became a runway model.
A woman who had no place to teach her exercise class arranged for sessions at a tavern. An entrepreneur started a web site that recommends local restaurants, gives hours, menus and ratings.
Just reading about people like that fills me with hope and with ideas.

 Start thinking about your likes and your talents. Put together a list of things you would like to do. 

Friday, November 28, 2014

This is from my notes on finding the job of your dreams:
How to Select the job of Your Dreams
There are lots of guides that will tell you what future fields will be hot. Don't believe them.  Often they are wrong because managers tend to overestimate future needs. Schools want to attract students so they often exaggerate the demand for the professions they teach. Besides that,  no one can predict the future or the impact of technology.
The best thing you can do is pick a field that you have a passion for working in.  People are spending more and more time on the job, so doesn't it make sense that you should be doing something fun?
Surprisingly many of us don't know where our passion lies.  Also our interests can change from decade to decade and even from year to year.

Coming Next: How to create a job based on your interests.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Speed Learning
By Mary Ann Slavcheff

Now that we know pegging and chaining, are there others ways to speed up learning? There are. 
Thirty Days Has September, April, June and November.
Fall back; spring ahead.
Red sunset at dawning, sailors warning; red sunset at night, sailors delight.
Please excuse my dear Aunt Sally.
I before E except after C.
There are a few others that night be less well known.
What happened to Henry VIII’s wives?
Divorced, Beheaded, Died, Divorces, Beheaded, Survived.
What is the order of the planets from the sun? 
My very educated mother just served us nine pizzas.
People in my generation know what year the battle of New Orleans was fought.  We 
simply remember the first line of a Johnny Horton hit song. “In 1814, we took a little trip along with Colonel Jackson down the mighty Mississip.”
Many years later Tom Lehrer sang about the “Elements.” Hundreds of kids memorized the lyrics and the elements. Gosh that was fun. And while singing along with Lehner or with their friends, they didn’t even have to use chaining or pegging.
I have an album that includes campaign songs from each president and another album that includes songs from some of the presidential losers.
There are songs about adverbs, adjectives, nouns and even pronouns.
You can find most if not all of the songs listed above free on youTube.  I learned American Sign Language on YouTube. I am sure one can take guitar lessons and much more from this site.
I Tunes U.
Say you are taking a class in mathematics, chemistry or political science, and you are having difficulty with the instructor or the textbook. Maybe you have not started the class yet, but you want a preview.  Maybe you already took the class and want to know more. Check out iTunes U.  The lectures are free.  It is a college education without the expense.
I remember hearing students discuss the television series, “The Tudors.” in the elevator at Wayne County Community College. They were surprised that the future Queen Elizabeth I was the daughter of Ann Boleyn, who had seemed to be more of a pretty mistress in the series than a real queen.  While they may have been enjoying the soap opera aspects of the story, they were also learning history.
Growing up in the 1950’s, television westerns started my interest in American history.  Recently there have been movies made about both John Kennedy and Richard Nixon. When films turn to history, the story ideas are unlimited.

But there are also police procedurals and crime scene investigation (to learn science on a dozen levels). One television program was about a mathematician.  Justice Sonia Sotomayor  in her autobiography writes about watching “Perry Mason” on television when she was growing up. It made her wonder not only about the jobs that lawyers do, but also about what the judge was doing.  The rest as they say is history.  She sits on the Supreme Court now.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Loci, A Memorization Technique

We know the layout of our homes or apartments.  We might also know the layout of homes, businesses and streets where we work, where we used to live or where friends live or work. Why not use these places to peg new information?
Pegging using location is called Loci, an ancient memory technique. Roman senators used Loci to memorize long well-organized speeches that might go on for hours. They mentally planned their speeches and pegged different parts of it to places within their homes or streets or communities.
For instance, if I want to use Loci instead of a fun alphabet, I know the order of items in my laundry room.  1. doorway  2. litter pan  3. window   4. dryer  5. wall cabinets  6. mops   7.  furnace  8. washing machine 9. hot water heater  10.  sink.
Note that I assigned each item a number.  From now on each of our pegging lists should have numbers.  The only time we won’t use numbers with our lists is when using a fun alphabet and even there numbers can be helpful.
Numbers help us keep order, and they keep us from missing any items on our list. The same items should be used over and over in a Loci list.  There are other items in my laundry room, but adding or subtract items can be confusing.
I have a pegging list of items on Woodward Avenue near my home. Since I first created and memorized that list some things have changed. The Fantastic Sam’s beauty salon is gone, but it is still an its on my loci pegging list.  The sculptor, Marshal Frederick’s study was already gone and replaced by an office building. Still I used Marshall Frederick’s studio.  A historical marker sits there, and I like to pick the most interesting places.  Just like the fun alphabet, create your own Loci list.
It is probably best to start with a room in your own home.
If you move or change furniture a lot, try to stick with one arrangement for your pegging list. A laundry room night work better than a living room because things don’t change much.
Now back to my laundry room pegging list. 
Say I wanted to memorize a list of the planets in order from the sun. I use my imagination, and my laundry room  and I peg. 
The first planet is Mercury, so I imagine a Mercury automobile sitting in the doorway.  (That is a ridiculous image, but because it is silly, I will be more likely to remember it.) What is a Mercury car doing inside my house, blocking entrance to my laundry room.  What color is the car? What year? 
I imagine this in as much detail as I can.
I might also imagine Mercury, the Greek messenger of the gods, that we see so often in the florist’s commercials.  What you imagine to help you remember is up to you.  I picked a silver 2014 Mercury Grand Marquis.  Beautiful.
Next in my laundry room I have a litter pan. The second planet is Venus. I might picture Venus from the famous Botticelli painting “The Birth of Venus.”  There she is standing in my cat’s litter pan.
Next I look out my window and see Earth, the third planet from the sun. I see the actress Eartha Kitt sitting there. What is she wearing?  A  green robe. She holds a globe. She waves and smiles. I might also see giant  earth worms, hear them singing the song, “Earth Angel” while an earthquake shakes my back yard. There are always different images I can create.
Number four  is Mars. Mars candy bars are in my dryer.  The chocolate is going to melt. I will have a mess to clean up unless I eat all those candy bars.  I start taking the wrappers off. I taste the creamy chocolate of a Mars bar.  Maybe the television detective Veronica Mars is helping me.  We eat those Mars bars together. I see us clearly standing by my dryer.
Next comes the wall cabinets and Jupiter.  I might have a map of Jupiter, Florida or a picture of the Roman God Jupiter on the cabinet doors. I might have copies of “Joup” magazine inside.  I might have bottles of juice and piles of tar paper. Any of these items will help me remember the fifth planet from the sun is Jupiter.
Below  my wall cabinet I have a pail full of mops. The sixth planet to remember is Saturn.  Is that another automobile sitting there beside the dryer with mops hanging out of all the windows?  The car is even being driven by a mop. It’s a good thing GM named so many cars after planets.  It helps with my pegging.  My imaginary Saturn is red.
Uranus, the seventh planet from the sun, is next?  I have a funny little roadrunner  running around in circles  on my furnace screaming, “You ran us.” 
Neptune is  the eighth planet reminds me of Nipper, the RCA Victor dog who hears his master’s voice. Neptune would make a great name for a dog.  He is swimming in my washing machine.  In there with him might be some Neptune High School cheer leader outfits. I like that image, but remember Veronica Mars went to Neptune High School.  I picture Veronica Mars standing by my washer wearing a neptune High School cheer leader costume.
Pluto is easier.  The dog Pluto from all those Walt Disney movies is on top of my hot water heater.  Another dog? Why not? We had two cars. The dog characters, Nipper and Pluto,  are very different.
Try Loci on some lists of your own. Draw the room. List  and memorize the items and then use the room to memorize something else like the capitals of U.S. states.  You will need several different rooms for that
But as learning is important and we learn better if we use more than one powerful memory technique, let me share another way to learn the planets in order from the sun.
Memorize this sentence.  
My very educated mother just served us nine pizzas.
Note the first letter of each word. M as in Mercury;  V as in Venus; E as in Earth; etc.

There are lots of ways to make learning easier. We are just getting started.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

By MaryAnn Slavcheff

What is thinking outside the box? It is looking for new solutions. What if I ask you what is the missing state in this list?

New York
North Dakota
West Virginia

It is clearly not alphabetical order.
It isn’t the states in the order they entered the union. That would start with Delaware and New Jersey. The states are certainly not in order geographically.
By population? That doesn’t make sense either.
As we try different solutions, we are exposed to new knowledge. Be it the historical like the order states entered the union or geographic. We are learning as we solve a puzzle, but we are learning other things as we look for the answer.

With this puzzle we are doing something that students seldom do. We are thinking. It might take us a while to come around to thinking about state capitals. Most of us learned the in alphabetical order according to the state.

Montgomery, Alabama.
Juneau, Alaska
Phoenix, Arizona. And so on.

But what if we put the state capitals in alphabetical order according to their names.
Then we get:
Albany, New York
Annapolis, Maryland
Atlanta Georgia
Augusta, Maine
Austin, Texas
Baton Rouge, Louisiana
Bismark, North Dakota
Boise, Idaho
Boston, Massachusetts

The answer to the puzzle is Nevada because the next capital in order is Carson City, Nevada. Puzzles are fun and certainly less threatening than tests. They inspire real thinking and real learning. Teachers often find puzzles take long chunks of their time and puzzles also have to changed often as the answers become common knowledge. People share puzzles, but rarely share tests. Therefore, teachers prepare tests instead of puzzles.

Serious students can make up their own tests and puzzles to help them learn. They can also try to stump each other. Tests we give ourselves are less threatening than tests given by a teacher. They give us an idea of how much we have learned.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Prepare, Don’t Compare
By Mary Ann Slavcheff

Students often compare themselves with other students. When we get our tests back, what do we do? We look at our scores and at our neighbor’s scores. “What did you get?”  we ask?
What about final grades?
What did you get in the class?”
“What did she get?”
It can be frustrating, if despite all your hard work, someone who you consider a flake  says he got a higher score.
But the competition is seldom about who learned the most. Instead it is often about final grades or scores.  Someone else’s learning is impossible to measure accurately.
Let me tell you a couple of stories.
When I was in high school, I was an awful student. I had problems in and out of the classroom, and teachers considered me hopeless. I didn’t do the work and that was it.  But when I took a shorthand course, I liked those symbols. I took the time to practice and learn them. I should have been doing well, but the instructor wasn’t about to give an “A’ to someone barely passing other classes. There had to be something wrong, if I was doing well in this subject.  I ended up with a “D.” 
But I liked shorthand, and over the years I kept it up. When I finally got to college and became a serious “A” student, shorthand helped me. I could take notes on 100 percent of what the instructor said, if necessary. Of course, that would be too many notes, but I could keep up with even the fastest talking instructor. 
I still take shorthand.
A few years ago I met an old classmate.  She was a serious student then in all the classes that I dismissed.  I remember  how well she did in shorthand. “Do you use shorthand?” I asked her.
“I don’t remember any of that,” she said. “I’m surprised I even passed the course. I couldn’t remember half those squiggles.”
I barely passed the class and still remember it. I was clearly the winner and the real learner. That teacher dismissed me as a goof off because that is how she read me before the class even began. A better teacher would have  recognized my interest and given me the “A” that  I now think I deserved.  But that is all ancient history.
Learning became its own reward for me.
While my old classmate and I were being honest about our grades and what we learned, know that other students sometimes lie.
I remember one of my students whom I will call him Willie. He seldom came to class and when he did come to class, he was unprepared.  He was the class goof off. He made jokes when he didn’t know the answer, so he had entertainment value.
The class ended. I gave him the grade he deserved which was not a passing grade.
The next semester when I walked into the school atrium., several students from that class were sitting around the tables. The goof off student was all smiles. He walked up to me, put his arm around my shoulders, smiled and said,”Thanks for the “A,” Mrs. Slavcheff.”
I didn’t say anything;  there was nothing I could say. It is illegal to discuss a student’s grade with an outsider present. I ignored his comment.
The students who had worked hard and several of whom had earned A’s stood there with open mouths. They couldn’t believe it.
The next few days I would walk into the building and see all those students again. The goof-off Willie would grin at me. “How you, doin’,  Mrs. Slavcheff?” The hard working students looked like I had just harpooned them. They believed he had gotten an “A.”
Finally, I went up to  my angry former students. “If he says he got an ‘A’, tell him to show you his “A.’”  I said.
I had not passed that student. His lie was believed for awhile, but he couldn’t show anyone his “A” because he never got one.  So remember that students lie, the next time someone tells you his grade was higher than you know he deserved.
But does it matter?

Start learning because it is the best thing you can do for yourself, not so you can compare your grade to someone else’s grade.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Pegging: The Alphabet Is a Simple  Pegging List
Last week, we created fun alphabets. I asked all my readers to come up with a fun alphabet of their own. I suggested a list of favorite actors, singers or Facebook friends.  We could now use these alphabets which are forms of pegging lists to learn new material. 
Alphabets are easier to learn than most other lists because they already have an easily recognized order. After you have memorized the items in your fun alphabet, we can use them to memorize other lists.  Remember my fun alphabet of singers circa 1960:
Paul Anka, Pat Boone,  Chubby Checker, Bobby Darin, Everly Brothers, Fabian, Leslie Gore, Johnny Horton, Burl Ives, Stonewall Jackson, Kingston Trio, Brenda Lee, Johnny Maestro, Rick Nelson, Roy Orbison, Elvis Presley, Que Sara Sara,  Bobby Rydell, Neil Sedaka, Johnny Tillotson, Leslie Uggams, Bobby Vinton, Andy Williams, X-Ray , Kathy Young and Zippidy Doo Dah
I  can now use this list to help me memorize another list. Say I want to memorize the first  26 American presidents in order.  A simple  way would be to attach or peg each president to a singer in the fun alphabet. 
I might picture Paul Anka washing a ton of clothes. I even see a scale that weighs piles of clothing and “By George,” says Anka as he is washing a ton of clothes.  I see the picture clearly in my mind.  Anka might be washing dollar bills with Washington’s picture on them.  By associating Washington with the first item in my fun alphabet, it is easier to learn.
If Paul Anka is too much ancient history, use another celebrity whose name beings with A.  Take Christine Aguilera, for instance. 
John Adams is second just like the letter “B.” I use my fun alphabet. Pat Boone (or Justine Beiber)  is singing the theme of the “Addams Family.”  I get a clear picture of my mind and even hear Boone working on those lyrics.  Watch the spellings if you are using this as a school project. John Adams not John Addams.
Thomas Jefferson, our third president,  I will peg to Chubby Checker who  is signing the Declaration of Independence as he does the twist.  It is a fun image, and after all our Civil Rights battles, I like the idea of Checker who is a Black singer signing the Declaration.  With Chubby is George Jefferson and his son or someone named Tom.
James Madison, our fourth president, is pegged to Bobby Darin.  Perhaps Darin is  is  taking a bath on Madison Avenue as he sings  “Splish Splash.”  Maybe Darin is in the cast of the television program “Mad Men.”
The next 21 presidents in order are:
5. James Monroe  6. John Quincy Addams  7. Andrew Jackson  8. Martin Ban Buran  9. William Henry Harrison (Tippecanoe)  10. John Tyler  11. James K. Polk  12. Zachary Taylor  13. Millard Fillmore  14. Franklin Pierce  15. James Buchanan  16. Abraham Lincoln 17. Andrew Johnson  18.Ulysses S. Grant  19. Rutherford B. Haynes  20. James Garfield  21. Chester Arthur  22. Grover Cleveland  23. Benjamin Harrison  24. Grover Cleveland (who served two nonconsecutive terms as president thus he gets the number  22 and number 24 slot.)
25. William McKinley 26. Teddy Roosevelt.
I will let you find your own associations for these presidents.  Use the items on your own fun alphabet or use mine.
Pegging lists can be used over and over. After I memorize the presidents in order, I can use the fun alphabet to memorize the Confederate States in the order they seceded, the state capitals or a list of Plantagenet  rulers in order. 
Alphabets can be used in many different ways. For instance, I might find it easier to memorize the presidents in alphabetical order. Three presidents had names that started with “A.” Two presidents named Adams, John and John Quincy, Chester Arthur.  
Under “B”  we have the two Bushes, and Buchanan.
Under “C” we have Carter, Cleveland (who we have to count twice because of his non consecutive terms) Clinton and Coolidge.
No presidents have names that started with “D” .  President Eisenhower was the only “E”.
I could add numbers later.  For the letter “J”, Andrew Jackson 7, Thomas Jefferson 3, Andrew Johnson 17, Lyndon Johnson 36. We will get to simple ways to memorize numbers in another column.  Usually U.S. presidents are memorized in chronological order, but I like over learning things.  And it is fun to use different orders.
So now we have at least one good pegging list - the alphabet.   If we can memorize all the presidents in any order, we have two pegging lists.   Any list you have already learned, can be used as a new pegging list.
A last note about alphabets. Our alphabet is not the only one. There are hundreds of alphabets and they come in handy in memorizing globs of information. Memory experts use Master Code and Dominic Code, both based on the alphabet to convert numbers into letters and vice versa. 

But alphabets are not the most popular or even the most used pegging list. Believe it or not there is an easier pegging list.  I will introduce you to that one and how it is used in an upcoming column.