Back to School: Taking Notes

This month we have been thinking about ways to tackle school. We have looked at how to read, write, and even specifically, how to use our cell phone wisely. I wanted to look at one more area that I think will help you as you are either jumping back into school or are wanting to grow as a life-long student; I want to think about how you take notes. Education is largely about listening to massive amounts of information and then later having to regurgitate it and engage with it. Processing copious amounts of information define the life of a student whether that is through lectures, reading, or projects. Your ability to take notes and specifically, to take good notes, determines quite often your ability to not just get a better grade but to retain the information that you are studying. You need to grow in your note-taking. You need to develop a habit of taking good notes.

Dr. Timothy Paul Jones is a professor at Southern Seminary. In fact, he was my professor last semester. His class on Discipleship and Family Ministry has easily been one of the most helpful classes that I have taken in my time at seminary. One interesting thing about Dr. Jones, if you take one of his classes, he does not allow electronic devices in the room. Sounds crazy in the bastion of the digital explosion that we live in today, but it’s because he wants his students to take notes. He wants them to remember and retain not just regurgitate. He wrote a few thoughts on note taking on his blog so I thought we would just share his thoughts today and hopefully help you develop the habit of note-taking as you seek to grow as a student in school, in life, and hopefully of the Word.

Writing: If You Want to Remember It, Write It By Hand

by Dr. Timothy Paul Jones

Words and writing matter.

In the opening chapter of the Scriptures, God speaks, and a cosmos bursts into being (Genesis 1:3). When he constitutes Israel as his people, God speaks and writes, and a covenant is born (Exodus 31:18). John described the incarnation of God in Christ by declaring, “the Word became flesh” (John 1:14). It is by words that our souls live, and it is because of words that souls die (Deuteronomy 8:3; Matthew 12:36-37). In the words of George Will,

“Everything humane depends on words—love, promise-keeping, story-telling, democracy. And baseball.”

From an eternal perspective, what’s important is not the format of these words but the meaning that the words convey. When it comes to our capacity to recall the words we hear and read, however, the way that we write them down has a profound effect on how much information we recall.

My Journey from Paper to Pixels and Back to Paper Again

Throughout high school, college, and my first seminary degree, I kept handwritten journals, and every note I took in classes was penned by hand. In a box in the basement, I still have dozens of spiral-bound notebooks from those years.

Then, in 1999, I purchased my first laptop computer.

For several years following that purchase, I began to treat pens and paper as relics from the past. I typed everything and handwrote nothing. But then, my laptop computer ran out of power a few times, and I was forced to handwrite my sermon notes. Each time that happened, I noticed that I relied less on my notes while preaching, and my proclamation flowed more freely and naturally as a result. Over time, I found myself writing more and more by hand and even migrating into the realm of fountain pens and hardcover notebooks. Now, the first draft of nearly everything I author is handwritten, then tagged and scanned into Evernote so that I can access what I’ve written from any web-connected device.

To Remember It Well, Write It By Hand

Recently, research has begun to verify what I experienced anecdotally as a pastor: retention of handwritten content is higher than retention of typed content. As a result, I’ve begun requiring this same approach in most of the classes I teach. Here are a few of the articles that I provide to students who wonder why digital devices are outlawed in my classes:

  • A Learning Secret: “Because longhand notes contain students’ own words and handwriting, they may serve as more effective memory cues by recreating the context (e.g., thought processes, emotions, conclusions) as well as content (e.g., individual facts) from the original learning session.”
  • Can Handwriting Make You Smarter?: “After just twenty-four hours, the computer note takers typically forgot material they’[d] transcribed.”
  • The Pen Is Mightier than the Keyboard: “Even when laptops are used solely to take notes, they may still be impairing learning because their use results in shallower processing.”
  • Take Notes By Hand: “Not only do laptop-using students not perform as well academically but also they’re less happy with their education.”
  • Handwritten Notes Lead to Better Learning: “Handwritten notes involve more thought, re-framing, and re-organization, all of which promote better understanding and retention.”

This was sourced from Dr. Jones Blog: