The sun is shining but the air is cooler. Autumn has come. I feel anxious because I should be doing taxes.
I’ve been using the phrase “writing to learn” a few times and what I mean by it is that the simple act of writing things down by hand is helping me to remember things. I’m not sure of there’s a scientific basis to this.
This article talks about the various scripts people use. I was mostly interested because the old cursive script is no longer being taught in Swiss schools. We’re now teaching a “basic” script and the kids then slowly learn how to connect the letters. The focus seems to be on learning to read and write, however, not on retaining other information.
Mit der Hand zu schreiben, nutzt Motorik, Rechtschreibung, Merkfähigkeit und Kreativität. Doch nicht jede Schrift ist dafür geeignet, das erfolgreiche Lernen zu unterstützen. – Von Hand gelernt, von Stefanie Reinberger, für Spektrum der Wissenschaft
One of the links leads me to an article that’s more to the point. The key seems to be a study by Pam Mueller and Daniel Oppenheimer from 2014. I really need to find it. Apparently the study participants were better able to recall complex issues if they used pen and paper instead of typing up their notes.
Bei Verständnisfragen zu komplizierteren Zusammenhängen jedoch schnitten diejenigen deutlich besser ab, die Block und Stift benutzt hatten. – Merken wir uns von Hand notierte Dinge besser als getippte?
That paper is 10 pages.
Taking notes on laptops rather than in longhand is increasingly common. Many researchers have suggested that laptop note taking is less effective than longhand note taking for learning. Prior studies have primarily focused on students’ capacity for multitasking and distraction when using laptops. The present research suggests that even when laptops are used solely to take notes, they may still be impairing learning because their use results in shallower processing. In three studies, we found that students who took notes on laptops performed worse on conceptual questions than students who took notes longhand. We show that whereas taking more notes can be beneficial, laptop note takers’ tendency to transcribe lectures verbatim rather than processing information and reframing it in their own words is detrimental to learning. – The Pen Is Mightier Than the Keyboard: Advantages of Longhand Over Laptop Note Taking, by Pam Mueller and Daniel Oppenheimer (2014), in Psychological Science, DOI: 10.1177/0956797614524581
But! But! If you look for the article on PubMed, you’ll find others that cite it. Including this one, which doesn’t confirm the finding.
In this direct replication of Mueller and Oppenheimer’s (2014) Study 1, participants watched a lecture while taking notes with a laptop (n = 74) or longhand (n = 68). After a brief distraction and without the opportunity to study, they took a quiz. As in the original study, laptop participants took notes containing more words spoken verbatim by the lecturer and more words overall than did longhand participants. However, laptop participants did not perform better than longhand participants on the quiz. Exploratory meta-analyses of eight similar studies echoed this pattern. In addition, in both the original study and our replication, higher word count was associated with better quiz performance, and higher verbatim overlap was associated with worse quiz performance, but the latter finding was not robust in our replication. Overall, results do not support the idea that longhand note taking improves immediate learning via better encoding of information. – Don’t Ditch the Laptop Just Yet: A Direct Replication of Mueller and Oppenheimer’s (2014) Study 1 Plus Mini Meta-Analyses Across Similar Studies, by Heather L. Urry et al, Psychological Science, DOI: 10.1177/0956797620965541
So perhaps it’s all in my imagination.
I still think that the intent do something with whatever you’re seeing or hearing changes our stance from passive receiving to active digesting. We need to look for and extract the things that are valuable to us, right here, right now. In a comment on photography I said something similar:
I definitely agree with the eye of a photographer changing the experience. It’s like writing as learning: taking pictures puts us in a particular frame of mind when looking at things; it changes everything. Structure, colors, subjects, lines, horizon, colors, the sky, reflections – everything is interesting and different if you are thinking about taking pictures. – 2021-06-17 The Smartphone Camera
Anyway, all of that because I read a blog post about writing, and it offered a different point: instead of arguing that it was easier to retain information, the argument was that picking up a pen forces you to slow down, and that helps against anxiety.
Going first to paper helps me slow, to treat the information I’m working with as something more sacred. To seek out the details. Then, because many times that information is something I must share, I can then use my hand-written notes to capture a digital version, and share that version. The paper notes, at this point, become disposable. They are an incarnation of my process of synthesizing, but that synthesis now exists in me and in the shared digital version. – Writing it Down to Quell Anxiety, by Jeremy Friesen
Inspired by this post:
“Calm down, breathe, and write something, Arit” I told myself. – Handling Anxiety’s Destabilizing Impositions, by Arit Amana
Ah… Perhaps I had trouble doing my taxes when I was younger because I could fill in some paper forms with a pen instead of filling in forms online. Or perhaps there simply was less to fill in. 😼