As if high school isn't awkward enough already...
October 7, 2006 6:35 PM   Subscribe

Can someone explain French lycée-level notetaking to me? Is there some kind of secret system?

My roomate and I spent some time studying in France while in high school (a semester or less). We both remember being completely amazed when come note-taking time, all our classmates suddenly whipped out something like 15 different colors of erasable fountain pens, rulers, and who knows what else. There were underlines and double underlines, and some kind of color coding. We both tried to fake it, but were entirely lost.

Is there some kind of special system, or are French kids supposed to make up their own fancy note style? I've been unable to find anything on Google, and while I am certainly a nerd, it's just not a topic that ever came up with French friends. None of which, unfortunately, I'm in touch with anymore.
posted by ruby.aftermath to Education (11 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: As I realize I just posted this at some ungodly hour in the morning for any French mefites that might be able to shed some light... Gah.
posted by ruby.aftermath at 6:48 PM on October 7, 2006

This sounds like my best friend in law school. She had to special order certain colors of highlighters because office supply stores didn't regularly carry them. She finally went to a 64 color box of crayons. She used a ruler to guide all of her highlighting, color coding to determine the part of the case she highlighted, underlining in various colors of pens to determine how she would use the information. I know she also studied in France in college, so perhaps she picked it up there. I never saw a key or anything so I don't know what her various colors meant, but I expect you could make up whatever you'd like.
posted by Not in my backyard at 6:58 PM on October 7, 2006

Any decent French people should be getting up soon to watch the Grand Prix anyway :) That said, I have seen extreme note-taking like this in the UK. Perhaps us Europeans just like to use more colors?
posted by wackybrit at 7:08 PM on October 7, 2006

I studied in France for a while, and they still do this in college. I was told that they learn to take notes early in school and they do learn a sort of system, although I don't think it's standardized across the country. It is definitely intimidating to sit in class with your one black pen whilst everyone around you highlights, underlines with rulers, and uses six different colors for six mysterious categories. From what I observed, though, it actually detracted from their learning experiences- many students concentrated so hard on making their notes look perfect they forget to master the concepts.
As a side note, the French are generally like this, that is, much more concerned than Americans with the appearance or structure of things. Looking good is often more than half the battle, not just with personal style but also with power point presentations, book covers, etc.
posted by ohio at 7:10 PM on October 7, 2006

French education depends more on memorization as opposed to the US emphasis on explanation.

In college I took notes - attempts to render my explanation of what the lecturer meant - often lots of labled arrows connecting things.

The strange thing is that I rarely looked back at my notes. Either I had come to some understanding, or I hadn't (in which case it would be very hard to figure out what was meant from my mis-explanations).

Anyway, if you want to memorize or access a bunch of seemingly unrelated facts then elaborate coding systems can help. I prefer to understand things. Then again some parts of law and medicine depend on memory.
posted by MonkeySaltedNuts at 7:17 PM on October 7, 2006

Screw the French. The Cornell note-taking system kicks ass and uses only one pen.
posted by frogan at 8:12 PM on October 7, 2006

I was "forced" to use what you describe as lycée-style notetaking from about CM1 (4th grade?) until Terminale (12th). Some teachers were more inclined to force a certain system on the students, others would let you take notes as you liked with or without color-coding, use of ruler etc... I don't think there is any universal french lycee note taking system, however I recall that science and geography teachers were particularly obsessed with correct note-taking methods.
posted by fondle at 8:30 PM on October 7, 2006

Best answer: I can't say anything about a secret system, but I'll agree with others that the practice begins before lycee. I taught some of the CM (and CP & CE) grades for a while and agree with ohio that, if anything, this peculiar habit was detrimental. Any time I made even the slightest move towards the blackboard, the students became excited, anticipating note-taking. When I'd actually write something, it was a cue for them all to get out their cahiers, papers, multicoloured pens, flourescent markers, rulers, etc etc, and begin making lines all over the place, colour coding things, erasing things willy-nilly, sharpening pencils, daubing white-out here and there, rummaging through their pencil bags, and so on. It would take fifteen minutes to write one line, which would be forgotten the next day (if not ten minutes later). If I circled things, I actually saw kids digging out compasses.
As a side note, all the other teachers in the school did the same when preparing lesson plans or when making up recess-duty schedule or the list of those who hadn't chipped in for breakroom coffee and gateaux yet. They all expressed shock and surprise that I would allow myself to take notes on the backs of paper scraps and was able to make reasonably straight lines without rulers.
posted by baklavabaklava at 10:11 PM on October 7, 2006 [4 favorites]

I learned a relatively simple four colour system from an exchange student I knew in high school. I have no idea if it was an official lycee thing, or just her personal choice. I used one of those four colour pens with the clicky colour changes to keep notes in that particular style.

The key was (keeping in mind that my clicky pen wrote in somewhat non-traditional colours):

Pink: specific terminology and vocabulary terms, as well as definitions if they were provided.

Lime: Objective facts, such as dates or formulas.

Cyan: Other general notes, including opinions, impressions, interpretations and other subjective information.

Violet: Meta-notes. Homework, references, stuff that was going to be on the exam.

Key words within all of these were underlined in whatever colour the note was already in. The system was relatively useful in high school classes (that weren't math) because of the focus on information dissemination. It was vaguely useful in some of my lamer college classes (Intro. Psych. for example) and not at all useful in any of my good college classes.
posted by jacquilynne at 10:25 PM on October 7, 2006 [4 favorites]

Best answer: As a side note, the French are generally like this, that is, much more concerned than Americans with the appearance or structure of things. Looking good is often more than half the battle, not just with personal style but also with power point presentations, book covers, etc.

Exactly. Structure is extremely important. I'm French and I went to school in France from 3 to 21. In France, students are taught how to organize their ideas in essays and they're constantly told that the structure of an essay is as important as what they say in a essay. Organizing ideas according to their level of importance, not repeating the same idea twice, etc, helps the reader understand you, and that's why it is so important. I've been studying in England for one year now, and I find most of my teachers very disorganised... certainly because of my French school background.

As for colours, rulers and stuff while taking note, there are no national rules for that but when I was in primary school, my teacher told my class how to present our notes:
TITLE (written in red)
I) First part (red)
a) First part in the first part (green)
1) First part in the first part of the first part (black)
2) Second part in the first part of the first part (black)
b) Second part in the first part (green)
1) First part in the second part of the first part (black)
And so on... You use a blue pen to write information in all the different parts.

Also, the perfect pattern for an essay in French is to have three main parts (three main ideas) with three parts within each main part (three ideas to explain your main idea).

Using a ruler or a highlighter is up to anyone. Some teachers advise students to highlight important information when they read their lesson at home.

Students tend to use only one or two colours when they go to college and create their own rules for note-taking. Though I was surprised to meet a French girl in my class this year who keeps on highlighting words or ideas while taking note.

I also wanted to say that in high school, there is no real note-taking. Everything is so organized that teachers dictate their lessons (especially in History, Geography, Economics) and wait for the students to write everything down. We're not really trained for taking notes.

And I also wanted to add that when we're in secondary education, at the beginning of each year, we are given a very long list of things to buy (one blue pen, one green pen, one black pen, two small notebooks, four big notebooks, two HB pencil, one 2B pencil, etc.). I don't know how it works in other countries but it's a problem in France. Each year, parents protest against the amount of things to buy (it gets too expensive).
posted by celine at 3:58 AM on October 8, 2006 [11 favorites]

Suddenly, I understand the French guy in a couple of my (American high school) classes so much better. I just figured he was a perfectionist. Although he doesn't actually lunge for the ruler when he has to underline something, he is very exacting and detail oriented. I can so see why, now that I know what kind of school system he was in before he moved here.
posted by MadamM at 4:22 PM on October 8, 2006

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