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Student Case Studies: Reading, Research and Composition

Rebecca

Rebecca is a final year Engineering student who has recently been diagnosed with dyslexia.

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Having initially struggled with her learning experience, and taking notes in lectures in particular, Rebecca became despondent, missing lectures and falling behind on her reading and writing tasks for her course during her first semester at university. As a result of her challenges and in response to a suggestion from another student, Rebecca sought a diagnosis of dyslexia and having received a report confirming this (see Case Study Four) her tutors have better accommodated her needs. Rebecca has now also accessed some assistive technology to help her note-taking and meets regularly with a specialist study skills tutor who has helped her with her note-taking strategies and structuring her study.

Rebecca’s note-taking in lectures has improved a lot, particularly now she uses her specialist note-taking software (Audio Notetaker). However, she has carried over these techniques to her reading and research note-taking and this has resulted in some more comprehensive notes, particularly during the second semester of her course.   

Rebecca has some examinations at the end of her first year and her specialist study skills tutor has helped her with chunking and planning her revision activity. When Rebecca begins revising, she finds her semester two notes quite useful in helping her to focus her revision. However, due to the lack of notes taken during lectures in semester one, and her unstructured approach to reading, research and note-taking in that semester, Rebecca finds herself having to go over primary resources again, taking valuable time to make fresh notes that support her revision activity. Though she finds this frustrating and it takes her a long time to work her way through these, she consoles herself with he thought that her newfound note-taking skills mean she will be more efficient when revising in future.       

Pause for thought

  • What do you think are the issues Rebecca faced before she received a diagnosis of having dyslexia?
  • What could Rebecca’s tutors have done to support her more effectively when she first started her course?
  • Would other students also benefit from the adjustments made in response to Rebecca’s dyslexia? How might they benefit? How might this be achieved?

Francesca

Francesca has anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and chronic fatigue syndrome/ ME.

Read Francesca’s case study

Despite doing extremely well in her qualifications at college, she has delayed attending university for a year, due in part to the anxiety she had faced in trying to meet her grade expectations in the face of her physical and mental difficulties.

The impacts in Francesca include fatigue, despite extensive sleep, lower concentration, memory issues, headaches, low mood, impacted concentration and raised anxiety and occasional intrusive thoughts. These impacts vary day to day which makes it hard for Francesca to plan effectively. When she is feeling well, she is a highly motivated and organised student. However, anxiety/stress and fatigue both have an impact on this and problems “pile up really quickly”.

Francesca feels that she has good study skills and is mostly confident in her ability to read and research. She recognises the importance of using a mix of environments in which to study to maximise access to various resources. Francesca therefore plans to use study areas and library space for reading and research as well as her home environment. However, often anxiety, which can be brought on by busy spaces or concerns about her academic progress, means Francesca has to study at home. As Francesca likes to print off and annotate resources to support her note-taking and understanding, not having access to the university library and photocopiers can present an additional challenge for her impacting on her study more generally.   

Anxiety and fatigue both increase the mental load on Francesca, and this sometimes impacts on her ability to retain and recall the information she has read when undertaking research for essays and other assessments. She can find it difficult to maintain the necessary concentration for effective research and her study sessions can become disjointed due to the disruption anxiety and/or fatigue cause to her studies. Francesca’s note taking in these periods is not very effective and she does not have a clear strategy for this. Due to her perfectionism and desire to maintain a high-grade average, Francesca also has a tendency to over-read which causes further time challenges for her.

Francesca makes reading and study plans but doesn’t find it easy to stick to these because of both her stress and anxiety or low mood and energy. She can find tasks overwhelming when in these situations and struggles to break down her work plans. This can mean that she loses momentum with her reading and composition, leading to time delays and additional pressure.

When Francesca needs to take either breaks from study due to chronic fatigue or anxiety, she naturally finds it hard to re-engage with her research and reading and composition tasks. This means that she not only takes longer to complete tasks than some of her peers, but also faces additional stress and anxiety as she perceives that she is falling behind, and her grades are being affected.

After a good first semester at university, Francesca’s chronic fatigue flares up at the start of semester two resulting in Francesca taking several weeks off followed by some additional periods where fatigue means her study productivity is affected. Francesca sees that she is not making progress and having got good grades in her semester essays and exams, gets increasingly anxious about her studies. A friend, who has been helping Francesca by providing notes and keeping her abreast of what is happening on the course, suggests that Francesca speaks to her course tutor about what can be done. She agrees and arranges a meeting.

Pause for thought

  • What do you think are the key issues for Francesca here?
  • How might these be resolved?
  • What might Francesca learn from Rebecca’s experience?
  • Could this also help other students?
  • Where might the course tutor look for additional help and support for themselves and Francesca?

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