Friday, December 26, 2014

The beauty of a notebook

I was talking with a friend the other day about the excitement and beauty and potential and pressure that go along with this:


... a new, crisp blank notebook.
So much potential, what a future. It's a clean slate, history waiting to be written, but there's also a lot of pressure there to live up to those empty pages, to do them justice, to give it purpose.
I always feel that way when I get a new notebook, and every so often I'll buy a few with zero purpose in mind, just to keep around. You never know when you might need one.
People have different preferences for their notebooks. As much as they're a pain to turn pages of, and as difficult as it is for them to store or label, I prefer spiral bound notebooks, even with the confetti left from torn out pages (which I don't often do) because they lay flat and I can write as close to the margin as possible. I hate smaller notebooks with spines that won't lay flat or break in and then it's a pain to keep them open and stuff.
But this isn't really just an article about my preference for notebooks or how excited I get when I go buy office supplies. It's about the notebook as a tool, one of the simplest and most straightforward and reliable forms of technology, developed a few thousand years ago, and I love it. Don't
get me wrong, I've got an iPad (two actually), an iPhone (two actually), an iPod and a Macbook Pro (two actually), and I have atrocious handwriting, so those are all pretty convenient devices, and they usually connect to the internet better than paper. But despite the chicken scratch, there's nothing better than sitting down to paper and writing something out in my own hand. Why?
It's part of the learning process. Sure, you could just take a picture of that chart on Wikipedia, or listen to that lecture a few extra times, or save a document, but when you take the time to write it down, it sticks with you better, even if it's word for word. And that page turns into this:


Even better is when it (whatever it is) is not in a chart or easily organized form, because it's then that you must digest the material, process, find relationships, organize, and then commit to that idea and write it down. This is often better done in pencil, because even the sizes of your columns or rows need to be right, but I find that process extremely important to the learning experience. I've found myself wondering at times if I'll even look back at what I just wrote down. Will I refer to this? Will I use it, or carry it with me, or will I just take a picture of it with my phone and pull it up when I need it? But it doesn't really matter. You've done the work.
And this, I think, is integral to the learning process. Learning yourself requires experimenting, playing, adjusting, trial and error, and perhaps even inventing ways that work for you. An argument could be made that this is the concept behind homework in school, but it depends on the assignment, I'd say. The participation, the activity, the hands-on-ness is so important to learning and memory, at least for me, and there's something just kind of satisfyingly tactile about taking real notes with pen(cil) and paper.
And the same goes for a course of study. I mentioned in our last post that I am on a quest to try to find a method of study, a series of steps or goals that could (with some adjustment) lead anyone to learn any language, and I think that hands-on-ness bleeds over into finding and producing your own materials, digging up your own reliable resources, doing your own research, and not just being spoon fed what someone else has prepared for you. The experience is then real, customized, personal, and far more in depth, and the notebooks are there to prove it. It's rewarding to go back and look at the notes you've taken about your language (or anything else) in the past, and can even motivate you to pick back up if you've slacked off.
There's nothing better than a notebook and what you can do with it. You need one (or many, eventually) for language study. And post-it notes, but that's for another day.

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