The Importance of Taking Notes

I came across the article “Can Handwriting Make You Smarter?” a week or so ago, but I didn’t actually read it until Dr. Bill Coons sent it to me earlier this week.  Basically, research indicates students who take handwritten notes score better on tests given directly afterwards than those who type their notes.  This is no surprise to me as we have been trying to teach our EDUC 1300 students that if they take notes, and review them, that they will remember the information better than if they simply take a photo of the notes with their phones.  It’s basic “How Memory Works 101”.  Students need to interact with the material in order to move it to short term memory.  Then, they need to review the information utilizing retrieval and rehearsal in order to encode it in long term memory.  So, while hand writing notes is much better than taking a photo or typing them, it still doesn’t solve all of our problems.

First, many of our students don’t know how to take notes.  They merely try to transcribe everything that a professor says verbatim.  I like to think that they do this because they truly value every word that we say.  However, the more realistic side of me knows they simply don’t know how to abbreviate and condense the information we give them into their own words.

Another important issue is that students often have problems identifying the main ideas or organizing the information correctly.  They simply see the concepts as individualized pieces of information without seeing the big picture or how it all relates.

So, how do we fix these issues?  Many instructors simply provide a copy of the lecture notes to the students.  This is often done to either help the students prepare for the lesson ahead of time or to help students who have to miss the class for some reason.  In reality, all it usually does is reinforce the belief (on the students’ part) that they don’t have to actually attend class because they have all of the important information.  And, as a side effect, it doesn’t help students learn how to identify the key ideas or see how the ideas relate to one another.

One solution to this problem is to provide guided notes.  These are outlines of the material with key points missing, or blanks inserted in random places.  The ideas is that this helps students both see the organization of the content and identify the key points.  Plus, they have to actually attend class in order to fill in the gaps of the missing information.

Another way to reinforce the idea of retrieval and rehearsal is to require students to do something with their notes after class.  This could be summarizing the information in their own words or creating a concept map of the ideas and how they relate.  Then, at the next class, informally “quiz” the students on the concepts covered.

There are many more ways to engage students in note-taking as well as help them remember the content.  What are some of the ways you have used that have proven successful?



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