Note taking is a skill prized by teachers and professors but the process is often disliked by students. After all, note taking is difficult work that requires active listening, the processing of information on-the-fly, and synthesizing shorter messages, sometimes involving symbols, that hopefully convey the spirit of the original, longer message. Setting our students up for success in this process is critical to their developing this skill over time. If teachers do it right, students will have a skill they can bring with them to college, their career, and beyond.
In this blog post, we will explore analog and digital note taking ideas teachers can use in their classrooms tomorrow.
The Cornell Note system has been around since the 1940s. The system was developed in response to observations a professor made of his students at Cornell University. He noticed students struggled with taking notes from scratch and studying from them. The Cornell Notes System was born!
Students are asked to draw a vertical line 2.5 inches from the left side of a notebook page and a horizontal line 2 inches up from the bottom, as shown in the image on the right.
The resulting two columns have specific roles. The column on the right is for notetaking and the column on the left is used for students to write higher-order thinking questions based on those notes. The idea is that when students study, they can cover up their notes and try to answer their questions. If they need a little extra help answering their questions, they can peek at their notes to find the answers.
The bottom section of the note page is reserved for writing a summary of the notes, which is helpful when studying but it also forces the students to go back through their notes and translate them into a shorter paragraph.
Some teachers reserve the larger column on the right for content other than notes. For example, a teacher might ask students to glue a reading passage or a list of vocabulary terms onto the page. If students create concept maps, they can draw them in this section, too.
Peer-Reviewed Digital Notes
One of the challenges teachers face when transitioning to a 1:1 classroom is what to do with student notes. Way back in 2016 BC (Before Chromebooks), teachers lectured from PowerPoint presentations as students quickly scribbled down notes into their notebooks. But in 2018 AD (After Device), some teachers found the notebook option lacking, especially with all of the things you can do with Google Docs.
The Cornell notes method of notetaking works great when students are using notebooks, pencils, and paper. Teachers working at 1:1 schools, however, may want to harness the power of Docs and transform notetaking with peer-reviewed digital notes.
Teachers can increase collaboration between students, which is one of the skills identified by the Partnership for 21st Century Skills as important for today's students to master. To get students to collaborate with one another, pair students up and make both partners peer-reviewers. Students can share their notes with their collaborative peer reviewer and help one another come up with annotations, ideas for questions, and a review of summaries.
Like the Cornell Notes setup, the peer-reviewed digital notes use columns. There is a column for higher-order thinking questions students can write based on the content of the notes and a section to write a summary of the notes. But one of the biggest differences between the peer-reviewed digital notes and the Cornell Notes setup is that the teacher provides the notes to her students. The idea behind giving the notes to the student is that this frees the student up to synthesize their own notes in the third column. Students can use the power of Docs to define vocabulary terms they might not know, and to add images, links, and additional research to their notes.
Want to make the note taking process more visual and access your students’ creative side? Sketchnoting can do just that! Mike Rhode, author of The Sketchnote Handbook, says, “Sketchnotes are rich visual notes created from a mix of handwriting, drawings, hand-drawn typography, shapes, and visual elements like arrows, boxes, and lines.” Taken together, sketchnotes can convey the overall big ideas from a lecture or reading.
Why should teachers bring the sketchnoting practice into their classroom?
When students use sketchnoting to take class notes, students become active listeners as they translate the written and spoken word into a visual representation of the discussion. Students use their critical thinking skills to do this, which is one of the 21st century skills identified by the Partnership for 21st Century Learning as important for students to be successful in college and career. Studies have also shown that “longhand notetakers outperformed laptop notetakers on conceptual understanding and long-term recall” (source).
If a teacher wanted to integrate sketchnoting in their classroom, she should start small at first. Teachers are encouraged to take it slow with students at first and model the process as much as possible. One way to do this is through a “Think Aloud.” During this strategy, a teacher explains their thinking behind why they chose a specific image to draw, or placed an arrow, or wrote text, for example.
Slides presentations are classroom staples used to transfer knowledge from the teacher to the student. This "sit-and-get" style of information input, however, can be very teacher-centered. Note taking doesn't have to be so one-sided! You can make note taking student-centered by having your students create concept maps as notes.
Concept maps help students organize their thinking, and are made up of a series of terms or concepts linked by connecting phrases. The concepts are enclosed within a rectangle, which are called nodes. Students draw arrows and create connecting phrases between the nodes.
Teach your students to build simple concept maps by imagining the two nodes and the connecting phrase are parts of a sentence. Node 1 is the beginning of the sentence and node 2 is the end of the sentence. The connecting phrase links the beginning with the end. Look at the green graphic for an example of a simple concept map. Note how the direction of the arrow tells the viewer which direction to read the concept map.
From there, students can begin to add more nodes and connecting phrases to their concept map. I tell my students to add interconnections between nodes so their concept map looks like a spider web rather than the spokes of a bicycle tire. Teachers can use the number of interconnections between nodes as a type of formative assessment. The more interconnections between nodes and the more web-like the concept map, the deeper the understanding of the content.
While concept mapping should be mastered first with pencil and paper, students can eventually transition to an online tool like Drawings or Lucidchart to create and share their concept maps.