In "Finding Philosophy" ColinMcGinn reminisces:
... Above all, I learned a very valuable lesson, one that had hitherto escaped me: make notes. When reading a book, or listening to a lecture, or even just ruminating, put the salient points down on paper: this will fix them in your mind, give them firm expression, and provide a quick and easy way to recall what you earlier learned. Simple, I know, but even today I notice legions of my students sitting through lectures without pen in their hands. Thinking and writing should be indissoluble activities, the hand ministering to the thought, the thought shaped by the hand. Today, if I find myself without pen and paper and thoughts start to arrive, my fingers begin to twitch and I long for those implements of cogitation. With such rudimentary tools you can perform the miracle of turning an invisible thought into a concrete mark, bringing the ethereal interior into the public external world, refining it into something precious and permanent. The physical pleasure of writing, which I find survives in the use of a computer, is something worth dwelling on in matters of education.
Around this time I started to write a diary, chiefly as a way to practice my writing skills. Since there is no need to monitor the quality or interest of what is being written, the diary is an ideal form for developing the technique of writing, and for taking the anxiety out of it. No one will correct your grammar and spelling, or make fun of your naive thoughts and banal phrases, so you are free to get on to friendly terms with the language you speak. I would often try out new words I had learned --- the dictionary had become my friend, rather than a standard I was failing to live up to --- secure in the knowledge that solecism would not lead to embarrassment. A few hundred words a day, complemented by steady reading, will soon produce a passable prose style. The habit of daily reflection also fosters a critical sense, and an articulacy about what is going on; moral acuity can grow from this, as well as self-knowledge. Yes, a diary can seem like self-indulgent wallowing in the trivial details of day to day life, but it is the form, not the content, that counts. I have never read any of my old diaries, and I haven't written one for over 20 years, but I do think that composing them helped teach me how to write and even how to think. Everyone should have one, starting young.
(November 2003, Prospect magazine http://www.prospect-magazine.co.uk/; see also ThinkingToolsDefined (6 Apr 1999), AnnalsOfJournals (4 Apr 2000), DearDiary (19 Mar 2001), ZhurnalAnniversary2 (4 Apr 2001), WritingRewards (9 Jun 2001), TripleThrills (11 Jan 2003), ColinMcGinn (30 Oct 2003), ...)
Somewhere I read that the great mathematician Gauss did not allow his students to take notes, requiring, instead, that they pay strict attention. I like that idea. It is especially appealling in that in most cases there is a textbook that has at least most, if not all, of the subject matter covered. It seems to me that it might be better for students to simply listen than to have them spend their class time copying over what is already written down for them.
I understand the argument that says writing it down helps remember it better, but I would suggest pay attention in class, and then, if you like, take notes from the textbook on your own time. -Hy
Maybe the Niels Bohr comment "A great idea is one whose opposite is also a great idea" applies to note-taking, eh?! (see perhaps GreatIdeas from 3 May 1999) I personally find selective note-taking, in a simple sort of shorthand, infinitely helpful for me, but maybe that's because I often need assistance in staying focused on the speaker, and/or my memory is often not the best. But the key word is "selective" --- you're definitely right: attempts to scribble down everything that is being said tends to be quite counterproductive ... - ^z -
More on note-taking in class: My physics teacher once told the class, when he was in the midst of showing a derivation on the board, not to write down the entire derivation. The correct method is to write down the route, the conceptual steps, the methods used to find the answer - RadRob