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Managing overwhelm: How do you curate and consume your educational reading list?

Updated: Jul 27, 2020

This article has been written as part of a session I ran at the MAV18 Conference with Amie Albrecht and Ollie Lovell to bring together mathematics teachers who blog, who would like to learn to blog and who enjoy reading teacher blogs.

In this article, I share how I curate and consume the plethora of items on my educational reading list. If you write a blog in answer to any of these questions, I’d love to hear from you — and link to it here.

What does your average reading/watching/listening day look like?

There is a huge amount of content that I come across every day. In recent years I’ve started to refine how and when I access specific types of content, so that I’m better at retaining what I read and reading content that is more rigorous/interesting/thought-provoking.

More and more I am reading content digitally — some blogs and articles on my phone, the longer-form stuff on my laptop. On a typical day, I will spend 15–20 minutes in the morning reading different articles that are compiled in Supermemo (this is spaced practice software. I will soon be moving over to Dendro). Some days, on my way to work I will listen to a podcast. Mornings are when I am freshest, and during my afternoon commute I let my mind relax by just tuning in/out of the sounds around me and reflecting on the day.

There is a lot of online content that I don’t read straightaway but save to a list on my personal Trello board. I do this via about two clicks on my phone, or also easily on other devices. Once a month, when I’m sitting down to compile What’s News in Education, I spend a day going through that list (anywhere between 65–95 links).

I always have a few books on the go (currently: Dylan Wiliam’s ‘Leadership for Teacher Learning’, Edward de Bono’s ‘Lateral Thinking’ and a few others). This is partly because I still love the feeling of actual books and will post-it notes throughout them of thoughts I have along the way — and also because sometimes hard copy books are just what’s available. I tend to read hard copy stuff in the evenings and on weekends, especially if I am out at a cafe.

If you use Twitter, how do you use it?

Ahh twitter. I first started using twitter in 2011. To be honest, it’s taken me a hell of a long time to figure out how to use it in a way that works for me — and I’m still not there. Some of the things I now do that have really made a difference: use tweetdeck to manage multiple twitter accounts; schedule tweets when I’m putting new blogs out; and use lists. Lists are a very recent addition to my twitter experience (thanks @nomad_penguin for pointing out the value of them!) and I now have two — Maths Ed and Edu. These have really made a difference to the types of tweets and conversations I’m coming across.

For a while, I actively participated in twitter chats (scheduled at a particular time, with a host who asks a series of questions). These were fascinating to watch, often had many people engaging in a lively way, but ultimately I found these difficult to participate in in a meaningful way. If you host/participate in any twitter chats that produce more discussion than responses, I’d love to know 🙂

One other thing to note, is that a year ago I removed twitter from my phone. It makes it’s way back there for certain conferences. But otherwise I’m on it just on my laptop/ipad. I’ve found this helpful for making my engagement with it more deliberate and warding off mindless scrolling.

How do you manage your reading list, and how do you decide what makes the cut?

At the moment I use Supermemo. It’s great for collating all of the stuff you want to read (blogs, PDFs, notes from books, and even youTube clips), providing a central space to make notes and come across these notes repetitively over time so you don’t forget what you’ve read. Supermemo isn’t browser based though, so I’m waiting for the first version of Dendro to come out — it will have similar functionality but be accessible via any device.

Because there is so much content online available to read and I have a thirst for reading and learning as much as I can, I’ve needed to become discerning! There are certain sites I now avoid, because the quality of their articles tends to be quite poor. In the opposite vein, there are certain sites and bloggers I subscribe to because I love what they do (see list below).

How do you take notes and collect the gems from what you read?

See above re how I use Supermemo. I also keep coming back to this article by Piotr Wozniak on rules for formulating knowledge to think about what notes to take and how to best refine them.

Is there anything you’re still trying to work out in terms of managing overwhelm and the massive amount of edu-info that’s out there?

Although there’s a mass of content out there, one thing I’m still working on is how to keep finding new perspectives on the topics I’m interested in (or topics I don’t yet know I’m interested in). There’s an information bubble that is easy to get trapped in, and I’d be interested to hear how others manage to keep things fresh and come across new voices.

What are some of your fave tweeters/blogs/podcasts/youtubers etc. that you’d recommend to others?

Australia Policy Online: regular summary of the latest policy research across education and other sectors.Future Crunch: Fortnightly e-newsletter with “stories about scientific breakthroughs and good news from every corner of the planet”Mathwithbaddrawings: Blog by Ben Orlin, “Lover of math. Bad at drawing.”ERRR: Ollie Lovell “brings together inspiring educators for engaging discussions on key issues in education”Big Ideas podcast: The ABC brings together “talks, forums, debates, and festivals held in Australia and around the world, casting light on the major social, cultural, scientific and political issues.”

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