A method for understanding confusing lectures

Some teachers have a disorganized lecture style that’s difficult to follow.

One reason this can happen is if there’s like 5 things they want to talk about, but they don’t do it in an organized way. Like they keep moving from one topic to another, then back again.

For instance, in a class on vegetables, a teacher might talk about carrots, onions, peppers, celery, and for some reason, cows. They might jump around from one topic to another, saying things about each as they’re reminded of them. 

It can help to use a computer to take notes, make topic headings, and add to each topic as it is raised.

So it could look like this, in the hypothetical class about vegetables:

Teacher says: Carrots grow in the ground. Onions grow in the ground. Onions are delicious when you caramelize them. They’re good with steaks. So are peppers, even though they don’t grow in the ground. The other thing about carrots is that they are orange, and they are sweet and have more sugar than you’d think a vegetable would have. Cows like to eat vegetables. Celery needs to be washed before you eat it. So do carrots. Cows can eat vegetables without washing them. 


  • Grow in the ground
  • Orange
  • Sweet
  • have more sugar than you’d think
  • Need to be washed before you eat them


  • grow in the ground
  • delicious when you caramelize them
  • good with steaks


  • Good with steaks
  • Don’t grow in the ground


  • Like to eat vegetables
  • Don’t need to wash vegetables first


  • Needs to be washed before you eat it

You can do this with Word files, but I’ve found that it’s easier with outlining software. (I use OmniOutliner). The advantage to outlining software is that it’s really easy to drag things around if you change your mind about which topic they go in. You can also collapse topic headings when the topic seems to be over, then reopen them if it comes up again.

If you think more visually, a diagraming program might work well for you. Idea Sketch works reasonably well on iPad. This works well for following lectures, but notes taken this way can be harder to use later than more conventional notes. It’s also difficult to share notes taken in this format.

Dealing with authority figures who make you really anxious or uncomfortable

kazahayakudo asked:

…Do you have any advice for dealing with authority figures who make you really anxious or uncomfortable? My math professor yells really loudly and is really angry almost every class, and it startles and upsets me into not being able to listen to his lecture because I feel scared, but I’m not in a position to ask him to lower his voice. Should I email one of his superiors? I am not sure what to do.

I haven’t found a way to complain to superiors that helps; when I’ve tried it’s usually made things worse. This is not to say that it can’t be done – but I don’t know how, so I can’t tell you how.

The only thing I’ve found that works well is to avoid authority figures who act like that. When I’ve been in school I’ve, as much as possible, selected classes largely on the basis of who was teaching them. I make this a priority because I know that I can learn better from people who treat me well.

I understand that this is not always possible (although, keeping in mind that it’s ok to make it a priority makes it more possible than it might seem if you haven’t approached it that way before).

When it’s not possible to avoid bad authority figures, what I do is avoid interacting with the problematic person as much as possible. In particular, I avoid depending on them. If I need help, I ask someone else. If I can’t understand their lecture, I try to learn out of the book. (Likewise at work. If I have a boss who treats me poorly and obstructs my work, I try to avoid relying on them to get things done.)

That sometimes works. Not always.

One suggestion for your particular situation – might earplugs or headphones be an option to reduce the intrusiveness of his loud voice?

When you realize that it’s wrong…

A reader asked:

I’m asking you because you are a good person. My brother has dyslexia and all his life he was bullied to think he was worthless, a mistake of our mother. I admit I have my parcel of blame in this, but I too was raised to think of him of a lesser being by our grandmother. These days he’s being bullied by his teachers, expecting him to get higher grades, again, like mine. He asked me the other day what he would do with his life, because he really thinks he is unskilled and is  a big waste of time and space. He asked me what he is good with, because from his eyes, he can’t do anything right.

I honestly don’t know what to say to him and I know this is pretty much because I was born resembling my grandmother with my father’s memory while he resembles mother in almost everything, whom grandmother hated until she died.

I don’t know what to do, please help us.

I don’t know your brother and I don’t know what he’s good at, so I can’t address that directly, but, here’s what I can suggest:

Talk to him about the abuse

  • Tell him that what you and your grandmother did to him was wrong
  • Tell him that what his teachers are doing is wrong and disgusting
  • Tell him that he shouldn’t be treated like that and that it isn’t his fault
  • It’s not because of his grades, or anything about him. It’s because of prejudice and hate
Be honest about your part in it, and do what you can to treat him right from now on
  • Tell him that you’re sorry for your part in it, but don’t make it about you trying to feel better or get him to reassure you
  • Be specific about things you’ve done to him that you think were wrong
  • Don’t do those things
  • When he points out that you’re still doing those things, apologize and stop
  • Don’t expect him to trust you just because you’ve realized it was wrong – you have to stop doing it, over a long period of time, before it’s likely that you will seem safe
  • Listen if he wants to talk, but don’t push the issue
And here are some things I’d say to him directly, if I was talking to him rather than you:

It’s ok not to know what you want to do or are good at:

  • Doing stuff is awesome, and life gets better when you find good stuff to do
  • Everyone has worthwhile things they can do
  • It takes time and work and exploration to figure out what they are and get good at them
  • School isn’t conducive to this kind of growth for everyone
  • School is actively harmful to some people.
  • Having school and an unsupportive family undermine your ability to find things to do is really, really common for people with learning disabilities
  • It isn’t your fault that this happened to you, and struggling in that environment doesn’t suggest anything bad about you
  • You don’t have to be a super accomplished superhero to have worth as a person. Don’t hold yourself to that standard.

Spending more time on things you like helps:

  • People who struggle with school are often taught that anything they like is a waste of time, and that they should stop doing it and spend more time banging their head against impossible or barely-possible assignments
  • That’s really bad advice; you can’t develop your interests and abilities by renouncing everything you like
  • Finding stuff you like and are good at is more important than faking normal at school.
  • If you like video games, play them
  • If you like TV shows, watch them
  • If you like cooking, cook things
  • If you like talking to people online, find people to talk to
  • Etc etc. These are just some examples of things some people like, not necessarily things you do or should like. Do things that *you* like.
  • Doing things you like is important. Even if they’re activities other people don’t value very much. You have to explore to find out what you like and can do well. And you need space to do that in. So, take some space.

Acknowledging limitations creates abilities

  • People with disabilities are often taught that if we don’t acknowledge limitations, we won’t have any
  • And then we are forced to spend lots and lots of time and effort pretending that this is true
  • We spend so much time pretending that we can do things and forcing ourselves to do things that are barely possible, that we don’t have much available for anything else
  • If we acknowledge limitations and stop doing that, then all that time and energy becomes available for doing other things
  • And then we can actually start doing things well and succeed at things
  • Acknowledging and understanding disability is one of the most important life skills anyone with a disability can develop.

Connect with other people with similar issues:

  • Special ed teachers and other alleged experts often don’t know what they’re talking about
  • They will often advise you to do actively harmful things
  • Peer support from other people with related disabilities helps, because they often know what they’re talking about and have strategies for dealing with it.
  • In any case, judge for yourself and do what you think will help you. No one else gets to tell you what your coping strategies have to be.