One of our students, Julie, was almost in tears. "I know I'm going to fail psychology!" she told her Evelyn Wood instructor. "I can't understand a thing the lecturer is saying in this course!"
To get a better idea of the problem Julie was facing, the reading instructor, Bob, made an appointment to attend the class with Julie. Just before the lecture began, they took seats together at the back of the room, and when the teacher arrived and began speaking, both began to jot down notes.
By the end of the class, Julie had filled four-and-a-half word-packed pages with paragraph after paragraph of sentences. Bob, in contrast, had constructed a slash recall pattern on one page.
As the other students were getting up to leave, Julie looked curiously at Bob's notes. But before they could really get into a conversation about his evaluation of the class or his technique, they looked up and found the lecturer standing beside them.
"Please sit down," the lecturer said, and Julie and Bob immediately fell back into their seats, expecting a reprimand. After all, Bob was something of an interloper.
After looking the instructor up and down a couple of times, the lecturer asked, "Okay, who are you?"
Bob gave his name and said he was from the Evelyn Wood reading program. "Julie's taking my class because she's afraid she's going to fail yours," he continued. "So I told her I'd come here and listen to you and try to help her with note-taking techniques for the lectures."
"What's that?" the psychology lecturer asked, pointing at the slash recall pattern.
"My notes," the reading expert said. Then, he proceeded to explain how a slash recall was structured and showed how the psychology talk fit on the different branches of the outline.
"When you began the lecture, you said you were going to talk about emotions," Bob said. "Then, you said you weren't going to talk about emotion, but you were going to cover motivation and eating, including why people are overweight. You can see that here, here and here, I wrote down key words to remind me of what you were saying."
Bob's explanations were quite civil and polite. But as he talked, it became clear to all how disorganized the lecture had been.
Finally, the psychology lecturer, who was actually a teaching graduate student, broke in with some disarming honesty: "I wasn't very organized, was I?"
"Can you show me what I can do to give more organized lectures?"
That was a totally unexpected response. Bob recovered quickly and described how an organized talk might be constructed with a slash recall pattern. The lecturer listened intently, asked a number of in-depth questions and actually practiced drawing several rough recall patterns, which Bob critiqued. As for Julie, she picked up the essentials of the slash recall, which she resolved to use in future note-taking.
After this incident, the lecturer's performance improved markedly. And Julie began to get much more out of the course—both because she was now employing the slash recall and because her lecturer was using it. Bob, the Wood-Britannica instructor, never did learn how well Julie did on her grades, but apparently the problems that she had been experiencing with incomprehensible lectures were no longer a concern.
When I first heard this story, I had some trouble believing that a lecturer would have been so open about his deficiencies and so ready to alter his own note-taking and lecture style. Most teachers I've known would become rather defensive when confronted with even the indirect, gentle criticism that was offered in this encounter.
But this psychology lecturer really did want to improve, and his willingness to acknowledge his own flaws and try a new approach to organizing his lectures paid off.
Even if your teacher fails to change his or her ways in the classroom, you can still maximize your understanding and recording of key oral information. The secret: Simply employ the recall pattern techniques that Julie's reading instructor used.
How does this work? Much of what you've learned about using recall patterns with written materials will apply to lectures, but there are a few distinctive features that bear further discussion.
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When parents help their children learn to read, they help open the door to a new world. As a parent, you can begin an endless learning chain: You read to your children, they develop a love of stories and poems, they want to read on their own, they practice reading, and finally they read for their own information or pleasure. They become readers, and their world is forever expanded and enriched.