by Linda Stine
What role does note taking play in student learning and retention? This is an issue I keep changing my mind about.
In my early days of teaching, at the beginning of each semester I would show my students the Cornell method of note taking: write the notes in the main part of the page, highlight main topics/key words in the left margin and save room at the bottom of the page for summary and application. I preached the SQ3R gospel (survey, question, recite, reflect, review). Then after awhile I went with the “don’t divide your attention by listening and writing at the same time” approach, encouraging students to focus on hearing and understanding and participating, just jotting down a few main points if they needed to and using available technology to record the rest for review if they felt that was necessary. Then, with the growth of PowerPoint, I found myself printing out lecture slides for students or posting them online, again thinking that it made more sense for students to watch and listen and think and participate than to spend their time and energy scribbling down verbatim what I could provide them either in print or digitally. Then, with an increased focus on active learning and workshopping, note taking did not seem to be needed; retention came with the doing rather than the recording.
In an article in the Teaching Professor blog, however, Maryellen Weimer suggests that students learn two important skills from note taking: learning to listen effectively and being able to make the material their own by translating it into their own words. She lists some small steps teachers can take to encourage good note taking:
- Identify key concepts in the day’s lesson specifically, telling students when you get to it that what follows is important and should be written down;
- Challenge students to retrieve things from their notes to add to the present class discussion;
- Pause after giving a definition and tell students to write it in their own words, not yours;
- Give students a few minutes in the beginning of class to review the last class’s notes and have a few summarize;
- At the end of class have students trade notes with somebody sitting near them discuss what was similar and what was different
- When a number of students miss an exam question, ask them to find what they have in their notes that relates to the question and compare their notes with those of a student who got the question right;
- Tell students they may use notes during the next quiz and talk with them about how that changes what they write down.
What are your thoughts about whether students should take notes in class, how they should do so, and what role, if any, you might play in helping them to learn this skill? Has technology changed the way you think about note taking? Has the new world of active learning and “flipped classrooms” eliminated note taking, at least within the classroom setting itself? I’d love to hear your thoughts on this issue.