Students get vital lesson in note-taking

It’s midterm season, and most students are reading their notes from lecture for the first time. All too often their response is “What was I thinking?”

For the majority of college courses, students rely on listening and taking notes in lecture, but many of them have never really learned the basics of note-taking. To address this problem, Dean of Academic Affairs Mark Schenker held a workshop on listening and note-taking skills Thursday.

The majority of the 70 people in Linsly-Chittenden 101 were freshmen adjusting to college classes.

“It is a big transition from high school, where I didn’t really have lectures.” Justine Isola ’05 said.

Often students simply write down everything a professor says without thinking about the material, the students in the workshop agreed. Better note-taking would mean less stress and less cramming for students before the exam.

“There is much more learning outside of the classroom than there was in high school,” Schenker pointed out. “So people forget that there is learning in the classroom and go on autopilot during the lecture.”

When the audience was asked why they were there, a voice from the back of the room responded, “It’s required for the swim team.”

Later, Schenker asked members of the swim team to put up their hands. About 20 of the 70 present did so.

There were many serious problems discussed in the workshop, however.

These included concerns about writing what is relevant, confusing PowerPoint presentations, keeping up, and the all-important issue of “zoning out.”

It was clear from the workshop that everyone has room for improvement. About half a dozen upperclassmen and one graduate student attended as well.

“There is always room for reforming your ability to take away what is important in a lecture,” Steve Dougherty ’04 said.

In his workshop, Schenker used videotapes of professors giving lectures to help identify problems and come up with strategies to solve them. He stressed the importance of rereading notes before classes and paying attention to the relevance and context of information.

Students said they found the workshop helpful and would like learning enhancement workshops focusing on other skills, like skim reading or time management. But this is the only workshop of its kind offered at Yale.

Yale — unlike Harvard — is also one of the few schools that doesn’t have a learning center, Schenker said.

“The biggest assumption students and professors make is that note-taking is something they should know how to do naturally,” he said. “Ninety percent of the target of this workshop is to tell them that it’s OK if they don’t know.”

Students are often embarrassed to admit they do not know how to write notes, and would much rather admit to not understanding a formula in class, Schenker said.

He added that if a student is doing the work and paying attention in class but still has a problem with their notes, they should put their embarrassment aside and talk to a teaching assistant or the professor.

The workshop has been running for seven years, and Schenker said he has had a positive response from juniors and seniors who have attended it.

Eugene Gelfand ’05 said he found the workshop engaging but is not about to take notes very differently.

“I’ll try to make notes on my notes, but I won’t make any drastic changes,” he said.

Most of the students who attended the last workshop during international orientation said they found it extremely helpful, but few implemented the strategies discussed.

“It’s like a diet course. You suggest that everyone walks two miles every day, and they all think it sounds good. But only half of them will actually try it, and half of those will give up after a month.” Schenker said. “As long as the students took away one thing from the workshop, it is helping them.”

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