Jennifer's Personal Notes

Thinking in the “semester”

As you probably know, my midwifery program is housed through a University. This means my classes follow the standard schedule of the semester. It takes me about three days to get fully organized so I feel ready to begin studying and learning.  I want to share with you what I do to organize because these steps could be helpful if you attend a formal program, and can help you stay on track if you are doing a self-directed or distance study program.

1.  Gather all syllabus – I need to know all the information about the classes to be organized.  I print these out to keep in a binder and I keep digital copies on my laptop so I can refer to them anytime.  If you are doing self-study make your own syllabus.  It should include learning objectives, the materials you will use, how you will evaluate yourself and what your timeline will be.

2. Order Books – I like to have all my books selected and purchased before the semester begins.  This gives me a chance to look through the book and become familiar with any study helps. If you have the freedom to select the books you study make sure you order them all and make a schedule to keep track of your reading.

3. Put all classes on calendar – I have my semester roughly mapped out when I enroll in classes, but I don’t know about special lab days or conferences I am expected to attend. I use Google calendar so I can access the same calendar from my phone, my laptop and my desktop without having to worry about syncing. But I also chart my days on a paper calendar so I can easily “see” what my time looks like.  I also block out other times I am not really available on my paper copy.  This includes my husband’s travel schedule or special events for the children.

If you are studying at a self-pace, use the calendar to schedule study time for yourself.

4. List all assignments in chronological order by due date.  This is key for my organization because it always tell me what I need to work on next.  I make my list in a spreadsheet as I read through the syllabus.  I use three columns; one for due date, one for class and one for the assignment or test name.  I then sort the list by due date to make it chronological.  Once I am sure all classes have been added I print the list and keep it near my desk.  As I complete projects I mark them off my list.  Last semester I experimented with making my list as tasks on the Google calendar.  I liked having the check off boxes, but did not like having to log in to see my list.  So back to paper copy this semester.

5. Mark test days on the paper calendar – this is just to help me see what time I have to prepare.  I’m a very visual person so this works better for me to grasp the workflow for the semester.

6. Schedule clinical days.  Since I schedule my own clinical time in my program, I can arrange it to best fit my life. Knowing what space I have available lets me see easily where clinical days will fit while keeping time to prepare for midterms and finals.

7. Start studying.

Yes, it takes a few hours to make sure this is all completed, but doing each of these things helps me to be prepared for the semester.  I make it a point to always be ahead of where the teacher expects – reading before class and assignments completed a few days in advance.  This is because I know that my children are a potential distractor.  At any time I could lose a day or two because of a sick child.  Staying ahead of my schedule helps me feel more comfortable when the unexpected happens – and I always expect the unexpected.

So there you have it.  I hope this helps you organize your learning, whether you use the semester system or your own timeline.

Jennifer Vanderlaan (Author)