Note taking is a memory technology used to create external storage of events or texts by rearranging key details with previous knowledge and encoding this meaning in a new text or layered on a text through annotation.
As we read, listen to live events or reflect on details in recent memory we know notes help. In terms of academic studies on reading comprehension Notes become essential for studying later (Armel & Shrock, 1996; Czarnecki, Rosko, & Fine, 1998; Ganske, 1981). You can, for example, return to notes while cramming for that certification exam.
Notes act as a tool for external storage (Ganske, 1981). Information Processing theories suggest memories live in long term storage and notes provide a stimulus to activate prior knowledge and then bring ideas into working memory. Situated Cognition, which does not separate memory from the act of doing would suggest that memory lives in both the notes and the reader. No matter the theory notes act as an “outboard brain.” A phrase Cory Doctorow used for his blog. Having access to memories, and then indexing them on a blog helps us understand situations,
We know effective note takers are better at comprehension (Quade, 1996; Rankin, 1999)or at least we make this assumption given that those who score high on measures of effective note taking strategy outperform those who use less effective strategies on measures of reading comprehension. The act of encoding notes requires people to use reading comprehension such as monitoring, summarizing, and questioning.
When teaching comprehension learners need to understand both content and organization. Note taking does both and much like reading comprehension research, which copied the problem solving research in expert chess studies, researchers began by asking what do good note takers do.
Good note takers produce effective and organized work. This often involves matching the [text structure] to a note taking technique. The notes are often easily accessible and legible after the fact.
Good note takers use notes as a memory tool. They do not stop once done recording the work. They refer back to their new text during an activity such as studying or writing.
Good note takes question the text as presented. This helps to build and utilizes the comprehension strategy of questioning.Notes provide an almost dialogical conversation between the reader and the text or the author.
Good note takes make connections to information they already have from background knowledge or other texts
If you ask a room full of students to reflect on how they learned note taking in school one or more may refer to a specific note taking method and shout out, “Cornell Notes.” Often you hear nothing. Much like the comprehension strategies, or background knowledge of students, Too often teachers assume someone else teaches note taking.
Teachers often assume students can quickly identify the main idea of the text. This tool comes from the strategy toolbox and students must learn how to apply text structure to skim a text before taking notes. They must learn how to identify implicit and explicit main ideas in a variety of genres. Students need to build background knowledge. By teaching note-taking, however, you get explicit evidence of students growth in their ability to find a main idea while using research based methods to increase retention of knowledge. You basically teach students the “words” and “strategies” of notetaking by teaching notetaking.
Educators also assume students know key academic terms such as justify, rank, therefore, median, and compare. Writing down words without knowing the meaning does not increase comprehension. As an educator note important academic language in the text. You may want to include a vocabulary work bank to fight this assumption. Highlight and explicitly use and require use of these key words in student notes.
High school and college classrooms often rely on oral lectures. Students do not identify important details in oral lectures. In order to teach students to take notes during lectures educators should use a predictable text structure in their talk and audio cues when getting to key details. Make sure to always define key terms.
People often assess note taking skills incorrectly. Simply requiring a note-book check in NO WAY models, teaches, or requires the use of note-taking skills. When educators collect notebooks and grade them on a checklist of required papers in a specific order the assessment lacks validity. It grades organization and not notetaking. Some note takers do not effectively organize notes. This may be part of an assessment criteria but it should not be the goal of the measurement tool.
Recording information from board, PowerPoint, or Interactive White Board eats up instructional time.It also does not provide much more instructional value than copying and pasting the notes without any reflection. Note taking must occur before, during, and after reading with a purpose in mind. Overall taking notes does not equal learning.
First you Introduce students to multiple methods. Over time allow students to develop their own system. Encourage students to think about text structure when scanning the text before reading. Provide them a purpose for reading any text assigned in school. The organization and content will dictate the types of note taking structure you teach.
Model note taking and do think-alouds as you take notes. Make the connections back to comprehension strategies.
Collect exemplars of notes/. This includes examples of your own notes or examples from other peer students. Have discussions about the text structure and choices people made when taking notes.
Collect and measure note taking but provide feedback and assess for growth. This often means having students reflect on note-taking highlighting, conferring with students, or having students count their specific use of note taking strategies.
Take advantage of technology. Some really great collaborative note taking tools work. You can use Google Docs to write collaborative notes together or have small groups of students take notes while reading multiple sources.
Provide explicit comprehension instruction and use notes as way to assess strategy use. Yet also connect lesson in the identifying of explicit and implicit main ideas to note taking.
We often assume note taking as a set of hegemonic skills that cut across the content areas. Yet recent work in the field of disciplinary literacy has demonstrated the unique ways of meaning making in science, English, mathematics, and histories (Moje, 1999).
When it comes to note taking we must “choose a different path than the one it has been on” (Hinchman & O'Brien, 2019). We need to move beyond the single text book and get studnts writing and reading texts of the discipline.
Journaling provides a way to scaffold these unique reading and writing practices so as to reinforce rather than detract from the content taught in the class.
7 Minute Teaching Tips