Taking notes

Take notes! That was my mentor Greg Ulmer’s two-word answer when asked, “How do you write a book?” Like any good academic, Ulmer offers a longer explanation, too. He recommends taking notes on your own notes recursively as a way of making a pile-of-ideas-and-reading smaller.

I’ve been a note-taker since I started undergraduate work. I have used a variety of approaches: longhand; longhand, recopied (suggested by a chemistry professor); longhand, typed into the computer afterward; direct entry on a Palm PDA with portable keyboard; and now direct entry on a laptop. For a while I used Markdown, and then a simplified version of LaTeX, to format my notes, and I used to be very careful about noting subheads, chapters, and the like. But these days I don’t worry about formatting. One exception: I use braces {} to distinguish comments I’m making from the text. Other than that, I just type, having realized that having notes is much more important than having pretty notes.

Since I’m on sabbatical leave, I’m reading a lot and taking a lot of notes of my own, and I’m going back to some old notes as I work on some articles. That was one of Ulmer’s favorite things to say… ten years later, you can go back to notes and the text comes right back to you. Certainly, I feel the same way. And that’s one of the reasons I was disturbed to see reading notes so far down the lists in WIDE’s “Revisualizing Composition” study. Apparently, my engagement with notes is by no means shared with contemporary students; they don’t take notes often, and don’t value them, at least not enough to make the top 10.

Add this to some of the implications about reading from last week’s visit from Sandra Jamieson, and I’m ready to engage notes more directly in courses. For the past few years, I haven’t assigned it, recalling fierce resistance to compulsory note-taking in some of Ulmer’s seminars. I’ve encouraged it by allowing students to substitute notes for reading quizzes, and by modeling–keeping my notes handy in graduate seminars, for example. But it’s been a while since notes were a core requirement in my courses. Time to change that–though I’ll need to think hard about assessment. Fortunately, I’ve got plenty of time to work out the specifics.

This entry was posted in Teaching, Writing and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Taking notes

  1. Pingback: stevendkrause.com » And in more link catching up news

Comments are closed.