In one of my classes recently there was a bit of discussion because some kids didn’t want to take notes on a movie we were watching. Our teacher said they should if they hoped to do well on our upcoming test, so some of the students asked if it was for a grade. They were honest and said they wouldn’t take notes if it wasn’t for a grade because they know that if they do take notes they will end up never looking at them again and they would prefer to just watch the movie itself.
I’m not going to lie, at first I was a bit annoyed with why the argument was happening. I’ve always been that student to take immense notes all of the time, so at first it only seemed logical to take notes; you will almost always do better on assessments if you take notes in class.
Then I took a moment to think deeper about the situation.
Why do we take notes? To do well on assessments.
What is happening while I take notes? Well let’s see, my head is down in my notebook and I’m writing things down like, “Because technology advanced people were now able to send letters to their loved ones from the front lines.”
What am I missing out on while taking notes? While I write about what happened, I’m missing out on what that letter actually was about or looking at the video itself to see the emotions of the people and get a feel for the time period.
The whole time I was watching the movie all I could think about was, “Do we take notes for the right reasons?”
I mean sure I don’t take notes just to get a grade, but I also only take notes to get a good grade later on. Why is it that everything is focused on the grade? If not at first, then eventually it is.
I want more than a grade out of my classes.
Why is it that we learn history? I’d say it’s because history is the foundation to decision making; history is everywhere! We always are having to research the past in order to inform our future, so why is it that in history class we only test on the past rather than actually using the past to create our future?
What if history class was about more than just testing how well we can learn and regurgitate facts about the past? What if history class actually involved solving problems by focusing on how we have solved similar problems in the past in order to influence decisions today?
I don’t hate history. In fact, I think history is enormously important and can be extremely interesting when you focus on detailed stories. However, history classes often make me disgruntled because I just see so much untapped potential in the way we run history courses. And I don’t think this is something a single teacher can just change, I think it needs to be a wide set mind-shift change where we consider how we think about history class. Information is all online, but what use is it if we can’t interpret it to actually use in our lives?