Teh Squeaky Wheel
So, in my last story, I mentioned something regarding how the nature of a man is not so much what he is as much as what he does. I also mentioned that therein lay another story I’d tell you all at some point.
This is that point:
Some years ago, while attending a University, I took a lecture style Music History course. I was a little nervous about it because, at the time, I had a very high grade point average, and I have, in the past not been so good at passing courses which had non interactive style content.
But… it was part of the degree program in which I was involved, so it was more or less a required course I needed to complete at some point.
Now before I get into that, let me turn back time a few decades and give you some background:
In all the schooling in which I had ever been involved, I had never taken notes. I had instead always preferred to listen intently to the lecture and think about what I was hearing. Now, maybe that was laziness, or just a desire to pay attention to the lecture. I’m not really sure.
Doing this, I had never gotten better than a C as a grade in a lecture style course. And, in what I thought of as an unrelated note, years later, I always retained quite a lot about any such course even though I took no notes.
People I know well, have always marveled at how much I retained of very difficult material many years later--even if it was information I didn’t engage with in my life that often.
Now, most people tell me they don’t retain much of their course content after finishing the final exam. I noticed that about people. While I could never get an A on a final, I always seemed to retain what I did learn about the subject for a very long time.
To be honest, I never connected the two things. I never thought that they were related. I just thought that perhaps my memory was, if not better than average, perhaps different from other people’s ability to retain things.
Now… lets get back to the Music History course:
Well, the fact is, I didn’t want to get a C or a D in this course. I wanted to retain my high GPA, for whatever reason. Perhaps it was matter of pride. I don’t really remember.
Here’s where the note-taking comes in:
So, a few years prior, I had told a good friend, who has several advanced degrees, and who had been a very good student when she had been in school, that I was going back to school. And that I was kind of nervous about it because I had not always been the best, most focused, student.
I remember, at the time, that she told me about her awesome, fail safe, note-taking technique.
Now, even though the technique is not important to the story, I’ll share it with you all anyway, because it was, well and truly, an awesome technique:
My friend explained it this way:
“Use a spiral notebook and only write on the right hand page. Write as fast as you can not worrying about space, Keep turning the pages and writing on the right side. Don’t worry if you write too big or sloppy. Just go as fast as you can and keep turning the pages and writing on the right hand side.
“Then, after the course is done for the day. Sit down somewhere, and, on the left hand pages, number and write the questions that the things on the right are the answers to. Then you’ve created a study guide. Now you can go over it, and even have someone else ask you the questions on your guide.”
In doing this, she was able to retain answers to some questions that other students didn’t even realize were going to be included on the various tests or final exam. It sounded like an awesome technique, so it really stuck in my mind.
So, when it came time for a real lecture style course, I was prepared to try out my friend’s note-taking technique.
Well… long story short. It worked great! And, while I didn’t get an A in the course, I did get a B+ mostly because my final project was late. I did get A’s on the midterm and final exams.
Now, here’s the point of the whole story:
Less than a month later, I realized that I remembered almost nothing from that Music History course. Of course, decades later, I still remember very little from that course. It’s almost as though I never took it.
It was then that I realized that maybe my lack of taking notes was involved in my long-term retention of information--that maybe the same thing that caused me to get bad grades on tests, also helped me remember more in the long term.
Thinking about it more in depth, I started to realize that, although I didn’t remember details of courses during which I didn’t take notes, I did integrate the spirit of the course material. I could still explain what the course was all about, and even talk about some specifics even if I didn’t remember all the names and dates involved.
Perhaps the distraction of note-taking interfered with my integration of all the material into a unified whole. Perhaps, I thought, that might be true of anyone. Not just me.
Perhaps the general rule might be:
Take notes, get good grades, remember very little later; don’t take notes, get bad grades, remember much more in the long run.
Perhaps, my brain is not all that unusual. What IS unusual is what I generally chose to DO.
Not take notes. Just listen. And think.
But the main takeaway, is that if I do what everyone else DOES, I get the same results as everyone else HAS.
And I guess that’s the story.
And this is the video of it:
Will there be a test on this? Should I take notes?
It depends on whether you want long term retention or a good grade : )
Hey, Jerry! How’s the roof rash?
I don’t think a change in technique would have helped with Chinese Art History. Ask me how I know!
Good morning, TeX! How is the menagerie? How is the water situation so far this year?
Ok, I’m asking : )
That is very interesting, dv8, Thank you.
Good morning Mac!! I’m glad you found it so. I’ve been playing with editing lately. I’m still not that good at it. But It’s fun to do.
I love the insight.
Happy Some-Day-Or-Other, GN!
Hi, dv8 and Mac!
I found that interesting, as well.
As a kid, I was never very diligent about taking notes in “lecture-y” situations. Until my 8th Grade Civics class, where the teacher told us upfront that we’d be required to take notes, which we’d have to turn in for review every quarter and that our notes would count toward our grades.
(He was an excellent teacher who presented amazingly engaging lectures on a rather dry topic.)
So I got in the habit -- in his class -- of taking pretty detailed notes and found that as a result of doing so, I didn’t need to study very hard for quizzes and tests to get good scores. (I’d been worried that taking notes would be distracting from his rather info-dense lectures; turned out the opposite was true for me…I actually retained quite a lot.)
That was a “lesson” which bore me in good stead ever after.
Mr. Ed Roach is largely responsible for getting me interested in politics at a fairly young age and have oft wondered if -- given my libertarian / constitutionalist bent going back to my teens -- he’d consider that a feature or bug. 🙂
Thus far, it looks like opening-up GA is working okay. Grudging kudos to our Goobernor -- of whom I’m not a fan -- for his relative lack of panic and/or tyranny.
very interesting, Fatwa. Perhaps, it is my short attention span that affects my long term retention regarding whether or not I take notes. Perhaps it is harder for some people to divide their attention than for others.
I have always felt like if you could get as many modalities going as possible it would be awesome for overall retention.
Some people, for example, record the audio during a lecture, and then go home and take notes from their recordings, and then, they do similar stuff with their notes as what I described. I feel like, if I had done that also. I would have gotten the A in that course and also retained a lot more.
Considering it was a topic I was generally very interested in, it’s noteworthy how little I retained of it.
As I have been sleeping on it, I’ve been wondering if especially your long term effect of note taking is unique to you. I say this because, as in my above story, most people I come across, show or tell me that their long term retention rate is not very good.
Maybe you are more an outlier than I am.
In any case, I kinda wish I’d thought to record my lectures like some people do, and then apply the awesome note-taking technique. Perhaps I would have gotten the best of both worlds: Both paying attention intently, and writing and processing notes. It would have been well worth the extra time.
I’d certainly know more about music history now.
I remember one particular class in graduate school on organometallic chemistry. It was the first graduate-level course the new professor had taught. He drew structures and wrote with chalk in his right hand, and erased with his left. You could either listen/watch the lecture and understand, or you could take notes without stopping to understand what you were writing -- you couldn’t do both. It turns out about half of the class chose each option. We made copies of everyone’s notes and handed them out, then gathered to discuss what was presented. The next day, the professor confessed that he was very nervous and had given us the entire week’s lecture in one sitting (four hours worth in one hour).
Belated “Hi, Jerry!”.
(That’ll learn me to refresh before posting my typorrhea. Or not.) ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
Good morning --
So is the choice between getting a good/passing grade or learning something or can both be achieved? It is an interesting note taking process, one that I haven’t come across before -- I’ll try it out during an online course. Thanks, Dv8!
And good morning, GN!
Happy Tuesday, Gerbil Nation!
Good morning, dv8, Mac, Jerry, Fatwa, and Sven!
dv8 -- interesting insights. I’ve always struggled with note-taking. In technical subjects, like science and math, I copy down what the instructor puts on the board, while listening to the explanation. I find it hard to write both down, as they are usually presented simultaneously. In literature classes, I find that I take relatively few notes when the class involves discussion. Later, when getting my teaching credential, I found that I took very few notes, preferring instead to listen and absorb the material. My notes were generally lists of techniques. At the brick-and-mortar school I taught at, the students were taught to take Cornell-style notes. The idea is to write the main idea at the top of the page in big, bold letters. On the left one-third of the page you take your standard notes. On the right two-thirds you write questions that you have about the material. At the bottom of the page, you summarize what’s on the page. Every time a student started a new page of notes, they’d take out a piece of paper, carefully fold it into thirds, then draw a line across the top and at the bottom. Of course they needed me to stop my lecture while they did this. In a course like chemistry that involves lots of formulas and math, the one-third, two-thirds structure doesn’t work very well, but they had been taught to follow instructions, not think.
Well what could possibly go wrong? “The emergency Safer-at-Home orders in Los Angeles County that have humbled the economy and pressed the pause button on daily life will “with all certainty” be extended for another three months, Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer told the county Board of Supervisors on Tuesday, May 12.”
I think you’re being too kind.
Maybe you are more an outlier than I am.
I think you misspelled “outlaw”.
Maaaaan, I’m pissed about the continued lockdown in L.A County.
WTF is up with giving Barbara Ferrer -- a Ph.UD in freaking Social Welfare from Brandeis -- that kind of authority?
I’d really like to be able to schedule a start date for that large job; wonder if we’ll ever get to do it. 🙁
Probably when the rain season starts up again in 6 months cuz then roof repair will be deemed “essential.”
I think you’ve got that completely right.