Why students should take notes by hand

I just came across this article reporting on research that shows the benefit of taking class notes by hand as opposed to on a laptop. It boils down to the fact that most people can type faster than they can write, and so typing one’s notes means one usually gives in to the temptation to take verbatim or almost-verbatim notes. That in turn means that one becomes more of a passive hearer to the information, not processing the information, not figuring out what is the most important point, etc.

We didn’t have laptops when I was an undergraduate. But when I was a student at Fuller Theological Seminary in the 1990s, I did. I remember taking almost-verbatim notes in one of my systematic theology classes. Come to think of it, the professor actually required students to turn in typed notes (it was his way of giving us a reference work for important theological topics, for future use). Of course, that meant that most of us figured that our laptops would save us from having to type up handwritten notes after the fact. Anyway, long story short, thinking back, I get the feeling my quest for comprehensiveness may well have undermined my learning.

Anyway, the research reported in this article is enough to make me disallow students from using laptops to take notes. In composition classes they rarely do that anyway, but… AND it reminds me to emphasize the need to take a few notes (handwritten) when I’m in the (hopefully brief) lecture mode.

Here’s the research the article is based on.


“I want your essay thesis as long as it’s weak. I want it vague!”

Some comic relief for those who are grading (or will soon be). Lady Gaga’s “Bad Sentence” — “I want your wordy redundancies. I want your essay thesis as long as it’s weak. I want it vague! … I want run-ons… on, on, on, I want run-ons!” Love it.

May the FOD be with you!

I’ve been reading letters written to me by my English 090 (developmental writing) students. They are their “Readiness Letters” in which they reflect on their learning this term and make a case for whether they are ready for the next level (English 095). Yesterday one depressed me because the student pointed out how she had “learned comma splices this term.” Not the first time I’d seen such a statement in a student paper, but it’s still depressing. Clearly, she’d learned the term, but hadn’t yet got a handle on what they are or how to avoid them.

This morning, though, I read one which included this paragraph (below). Yay. A shot in the arm.

I think you also had an impact on my learning. You made the class fun and it made me want to be there to learn. Some teachers are kind of serious and you were not. I know you were serious about us learning, but you made some jokes about what we learning that I found it more comfortable to participate. I especially like your saying “May the FOD be with you!” It helped me remember that in my essays I need to be focused on my thesis, organize my essay correctly, and have good examples and details in my development stage. I have noticed that when you make up little sayings like that, it makes it easier to remember things. More teachers should teach how you do.

FOD, by the way, stands for Focus, Organization, and Development.

The Quran and critical thinking

Irshad Manji: “I’m not a moderate Muslim. I’m a reformer.”

God, I admire this woman. Or, should I say, “Allah, I admire this woman”! So brave, so right-on.

The Quran contains three times as many verses calling on Muslims to engage in critical thinking rather than blind submission. And, in that sense, reformist Muslims are at least as authentic as the so-called moderates, and, quite frankly, usually more conservative.

Why celebrate what’s working in student writing?

A review of Roger Rosenblatt’s Unless It Moves the Human Heart: The Craft and Art of Writing, written by a first-year writing instructor. The point about the need for better working conditions of writing teachers is important, of course, but I especially wanted to remind myself of this:

Wade quotes Rosenblatt saying, “If you find things you like in a student’s work, and celebrate them, then the things you don’t like — the really awful parts — will seem anomalous mistakes uncharacteristic of the writer, ones they can correct. The students will side with you against their own weaknesses. If, on the other hand, they begin to think they can’t do anything right, they will get worse and worse.”

Inside the Workshop
­By Stephanie Wade

(January 13, 2011)    Writing a review of Roger Rosenblatt’s new book on writing and teaching makes me feel like a farmer commenting on M.F.K. Fisher’s “The Art of Eating.” I know these ingredients — students, writing, teaching — but I know them in somewhat rougher forms.

Like Roger Rosenblatt, I teach writing. Unlike him, I teach writing to first-year college students who, in stark contrast to the graduate students in Mr. Rosenblatt’s book, generally disdain writing, and who, for the most part, take my classes because they must. In fact, some of my students were Mr. Rosenblatt’s students because, for a short time, we both taught at Stony Brook Southampton.

“Unless It Moves the Human Heart,” which is set in a seminar room on the Stony Brook Southampton campus, made me miss the students I knew and made me wish I had known the others. His book made me wish I had been a student in his class.

What makes good writing? What makes a good writing teacher? These two questions occupy much of the book. His answers are delicate and pointed. He has specific ideas about good writing, yet he humbly acknowledges that his aesthetics could, perhaps, deter future Michael Chabons.

Continue reading

“A college education […] significantly decrease[s] the chance of an officer using force.”

Carolyn posted this article (in a message to a few of us) on Facebook: Study: Educated Cops Less Likely To Use Force.

[…] Researchers have long argued that officers with a higher education tend to hold beliefs that are “less authoritarian” and less punitive, according to the study. Having a degree could also help make officers better at critical thinking and more fluent in test-taking, which is required to make rank, White said. 

[…] Using observational data gathered from two cities — one similar in size to Albuquerque — researchers found education has no effect on the probability of an officer making an arrest or of conducting a search in an encounter with a suspect. A college education does, however, significantly decrease the chance of an officer using force.

Makes me want to clamp down / get more serious about getting students to get serious about school.  Talk about important work.

faith is like a fire

from Islamic terror is real, as is Jewish and Christian terror.

We need to admit that faith is like a fire – it can warm a home or burn it down. It’s not the fire; it’s how it is used. We need to simultaneously call out those who use their faiths as destructive fires and also remind people that just because terror is an expression of some people’s faith, it is not the only expression of that faith, or even an essential part of it.

Reading this got me thinking about my English 101 religion theme (that I’ve taught twice — last Winter and Spring). In the last essay, students are to write a persuasive essay on the question, “What is the value of religion to society?”  The majority end up picking an aspect of religion and using that to argue that religion helps or hinders society. I want to find a way to get them thinking more of the complexity of the topic. I haven’t emphasized that enough in class before. I’ve focused on the rhetorical “moves” academic writes make (using They Say, I Say by Graff and Birkenstein).

I’ll probably use Elbow’s “Believing and Doubting Game(s)” as a way to help them deepen their understanding by doubting what they believe and believing what they doubt.

But, overall, need to do some more thinking.