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Dear Student: Take Notes

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In recent years, I have noticed that increasing numbers of students don’t take notes – at all.

Oh, occasionally a student will try to convince me that he is taking notes on his cell phone and will show me a line or two out of the lecture; but generally it is a key word or two, not a complete thought.

I know they don’t take notes on the computers in the lab because they cannot save the files there. They automatically erase after 24 hours. I know they are tweeting and posting on Instagram, Snapchat, etc. I’ve tried banning the use of mobile devices, but I am not always in a classroom with an instructor podium that allows me to control the desktops in the room or the room is configured in a way that makes it difficult to walk around and nail texting students.

I usually require notebooks and some of my colleagues enforce note-taking by periodically checking their notebooks to gauge their progress – mainly to see if there is a correlation between notes and test results.

According to Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science, “taking notes by hand is better than taking notes on a laptop for remembering conceptual information over the long term.”

Students who took notes on a computer scored equally well with students who took notes longhand when recalling facts, but longhand writers remembered the conceptual information longer, according to Pam Mueller, a psychological scientist at Princeton University and lead author of the study.

Students believe their young brains will retain information, especially if it seems fairly simple to understand and that they don’t need to write it down.  Then comes the quiz the following week and they remember few details and then blame the instructor for failing to be clear.

And don’t bother asking if they’ve kept up with the reading, which might also help them remember something said in a lecture.

What I want students to know is: You must be present to win.

I don’t just mean attendance. You must be an active participant in discussions, keep up with the readings – and take notes. I am more than happy to give you tips on taking notes when the conversation moves too fast. I don’t even mind if someone raises her hand and asks me to repeat or further explain information – as long as she was paying attention in the first place.

It also provides documentation if you want to make a case that a professor has failed to provide information that you can use to study for tests or help you with assignments.

So when a student is having trouble with a class, I usually tell him:

Dear Student:

I understand you’ve been struggling with the principles in this class.

Please review your notes and focus particularly on the five key elements that we discussed on Tuesday. In addition to the readings you were assigned last week, I went over additional details that were not in the textbook.

If, after reviewing the materials, you are still not clear on the basics or the current assignment, please come to my office with your notebook and your textbook so I can see what you may have missed.

 Sincerely,

 

It is probably a safe bet that most students will neither darken my door nor ever present me with notes, unless they are required to show them to me periodically. And those who take good notes probably don’t need to see me.

 

Jackie Jones is assistant dean for programs and chair of the Department of Multimedia Journalism in Morgan’s School of Global Journalism & Communication.

 

 

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