Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Notes or no notes

I like my students (I really do), and the classes are going well. They are largely attentive and participate in class--so why should I care whether a few don't take notes?

Most do, but some, like Planner Girl, don't. Some students claim that they can pay attention better if they don't write anything down, and that may be true for some people. That's fine unless they're leafing through something unrelated to the class and obviously not paying attention to me and to others who are speaking. This also extends to not picking up the book when I am (or their classmates are) referring to a specific passage. I'm not talking about reading newspapers; they don't read newspapers in my class, because that makes them the recipients of my full and lavish attention (questions directed to them about the book we're reading, requests to read passages from the book, etc.), which they decidedly do not want.

But why should it annoy me? It's really my problem, not theirs. They're not being disruptive. They're just not paying attention.

I keep seeing students and even some professors chime in on the Chronicle's boards and elsewhere to say something along the lines of "I don't care if you pay attention. The college is paying me to talk and impart knowledge, so that's what I'm doing, whether you listen or not." The student version goes like this: "I'm paying $$$ to go to school here and take the class, so whether I pay attention or not is really my choice." (And again: my students are nice. They're not disrespectful in this way, and this doesn't seem to be their attitude.)

Well, here are a few reasons I'd like to give them for taking notes:

  • Because even when we are discussing Seemingly Unrelated Topic, we are really discussing Related Topic, as you'll find out and be confused by in a few minutes.
  • Because you'll remember better, even if you're doodling at that particular minute. (I am a doodler as well as a note-taker, and it really does help when I'm listening.)
  • Because even if I'm not discussing something in traditional lecture format but am responding to the class, it may be important. This goes double if I say "You may want to make a note of this."
  • Because when you sit there and seem to show a lack of interest in what the class is saying, it's like having a sore tooth that you can't help testing to see if it's still sore: my attention keeps being drawn to you, at the expense of some of the energy in the class dynamic.
  • Because good stuff is being said by your classmates, and it's rude not to be paying attention to what they're saying.
  • Because when we have an open notes-no book in-class quiz or writing, you'll wish you'll had taken some.

    I still don't think I should be annoyed by their reluctance to take notes and don't penalize them for not doing so. On the other hand, there are usually advantages to taking notes (see last bullet points), and if they make that discovery on their own, so much the better.

    Anonymous said...

    left this comment about a week ago but had problems posting it

    re: taking notes in class.
    years ago my professor of sculpture decided to do an exercise. this was not a "lab" class but a lecture one. He had been giving great talks off the top of his head. The exercise, take notes, no recording devices allowed (um, this was around the time of the "walkman recorder")
    The first class I turned in notes for I just wrote, "You talked Naked Lunch." He was like WTF???
    The next class I didn't even really listen to what he said but tried to write as fast as I could what he said verbatim. went home and over the weekend, re-wrote and re-edited what I thought he said. My notes were terrible.
    When he gave me back this version of the "exercise paper" he clarified the writing and made notes regarding the written version. Best class exercise ever, helping me really think about aesthetic concerns whether he actually had talked about them or not.
    By the way, this was a "community college". I had never learned how to about "take notes" at my high-school in Texas.
    He had knowingly or unknowingly made me a better student.

    postscipt: if you did receive this last week but chose not to display it by all means please delete it

    undine said...

    That's a great exercise. I think that (as was your experience) everyone tends to assume that taking notes is something you just do, so no one spends any time on it. Your sculpture professor had a great idea with what he did.

    (P. S. I didn't see this comment before, so Blogger must not have posted it.)