Thursday, January 30, 2014

Writing It Down... on Paper

Here’s some good advice for the students among you. If you want to improve your academic performance, you do better to take handwritten notes than to take notes on your computer.

Moreover, you will learn more if you add an occasional thought of your own than you will if you merely transcribe the reading verbatim.

By writing it out with pen and ink you will retain more of what you learned. It’s not just that you will better remember the facts. Writing it out will help your conceptual learning, too.

Wray Herbert reports on the most recent studies:

Those who took notes in longhand, and were able to study, did significantly better than any of the other students in the experiment -- better even than the fleet typists who had basically transcribed the lectures. That is, they took fewer notes overall with less verbatim recording, but they nevertheless did better on both factual learning and higher-order conceptual learning. Taken together, these results suggest that longhand notes not only lead to higher quality learning in the first place; they are also a superior strategy for storing new learning for later study. Or, quite possibly, these two effects interact for greater academic performance overall.

Of course, studying and writing reports does not stop when you graduate. Surely, the same rule applies when you are doing research for a presentation.

Many first-rate writers insist that they do better when they write out early drafts in longhand, only later to retype them into a computer.


Lindsay Harold said...

I always took handwritten notes when I was in college and it served me well. Even when the "notes" were available to download later, I always took my own notes during class. Too many of my fellow students thought they would just get the notes later and then did poorly on the exams.

When I started teaching college classes, I did it the old-fashioned way by writing on the board and not making my notes available outside of class. This forced students to come and take notes during class and they did far better that way (even though they complained about all the writing in class).

Unfortunately, when I changed schools, the new classrooms were very poorly designed - i.e. it were almost impossible to write anything on the tiny chalkboards they had, and all that was really available for use was a huge projection screen which was placed directly front and center of the chalkboard. I was pretty much forced to convert my lectures to powerpoint. And the students did not learn as much. It was obvious. Grades were poorer, classroom engagement was down, and students paid less attention overall. Furthermore, I noticed that students tended to try to memorize the words on the screen rather than understand the ideas and this gave them a much shallower understanding of the material.

Technology is useful in some ways, but sometimes the old methods work better. Too often technology is used to substitute for hard work. In the realm of academics, this does not produce good results.

Unknown said...

Not only did I handwrite my notes, I rewrote them in a notebook later, and in outline form. I studied the outline for all test.

JKB said...

Apparently students are going the other direction. You Suck, Sir is a website where a Canadian high school teacher posts anecdotes. Not long ago, he posted about confronting a Jr. girl who was not taking notes like everyone else. She showed that she had take pics of the board with her phone.

I wish I'd been better at taking notes those many years ago, but, it is a skill that require real instruction which seems to have fallen by the wayside. A couple years ago, I came across 'Freshman Rhetoric' by Slater (1919). It basically was a text book to teach incoming college students school skills. In addition to composition, the book has several good chapters on taking notes, from books, lectures and talks. Also, how to organize the ideas, which requires thought about the ideas.

This fits in with another text I found, 'How to Study and Teaching How to Study' by McMurry (1909). McMurry lays out 8 factors of studying:

The factors of studying:
1. Provision for Specific Purposes
2. The Supplementing of Thought
3. The Organization of Ideas
4. Judging the Soundness and General Worth of Statements
5. Memorizing
6. The Using of Ideas
7. Provision for a Tentative rather than a Fixed Attitude toward Knowledge
8. Provision for Individuality

Factor 3 requires good notes and factor 4 requires giving real thought to those notes.

(both texts are available scanned online)

Oddly, although these texts are over 100 years old, I googled up "How to Study" and "how to take notes". Many schools have advice but it generally leaves the student staring at a book with no instruction on how to process it other than read, reread, reread. Same with notes, some examples but not good instruction on how to extract good notes from a talk or book.