Writing by Hand and Memory, Part 1

I saw a post on Facebook that said, “For teachers, August is like a month-long Sunday night before work.” This resonated with me because I am in the process of trying to wrap up a bunch of crap from the summer (weekend) and prepare for the fall semester (Monday). In other words, my plate is full.

My view from Starbucks in Fort Worth, Tx!

But, as I work on my syllabus for my Rhetorical Theory course, I realized that I use a lot of technologies for my work. I use my laptop and Starbucks’s free wifi to research readings, resource for my students, and foreign terms I don’t recognize. I listen to music through headphones to block out conversations nearby. I have photocopied or scanned articles and book chapters in front of me. The wood pulp based paper I use is pretty recent invention. I’m using a sophisticated technology called a ballpoint pen too.

However, I started to think about why I still print articles and take notes with a pen. I realized that I remember things better when I write them by hand. I can recall the way the letters looked on the page, where my annotations rest on the page, and what marks I made next to important passages. I can see my notes in my head and make connections easily.

I began to wonder if I’m a weirdo, but then I remembered reading this article that basically affirms my experience. In their study of student who took notes by laptop and those who took notes by hand, Pam Mueller and Daniel Oppenheimer found that student who write out their notes, “had a stronger conceptual understanding and were more successful in applying and integrating the material than those who used took notes with their laptops.” So, while laptops may allow for more notes that doesn’t mean the notes are better or more effective.

So, as I take this little break, I realize that I take notes for teaching by hand because I like the ability to recall information quickly and easily in the classroom. If I’m honest, it may be because I like the ethos of just “knowing” stuff in front of students. At the same time, I hate derailing good class discussions to look something up on Google. But more than that, Theuth was wrong in Plato’s Pheadrus. Hand writing doesn’t necessarily externalize memory, but maybe typing does.

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