Note taking skills aren’t just automatic. We tell students “take notes” but they have no idea what that means. What makes “good notes.” What do they write down? How should notes look?
Ever since I went through the Writing Across the Curriculum Course at my school I realized the tremendous gap between “writing” as we’ve taught it traditionally and 21st century writing skills. That frustration threw me into research about how to teach writing in my classroom (all of that research was then put into my new book Reinventing Writing — just because I couldn’t find the book I needed when I was struggling with teaching writing in the digital age.)
Now I have a new frustration that has me grappling with noteaking. I don’t just take my students into full blown digital notetaking as I discuss in Reinventing Writing. If they don’t have basic notetaking skills down in an analog way adding a new technology AND teaching how to take notes at the same time is too much.
So, now, I’m taking the approach of helping students master analog notetaking. This is for several reasons the first is just to teach the analog notetaking skills they need but secondly, I’m full out an IN-FLIP classroom. When I’m teaching concepts on the computer or anything point and click, I always do it with videos embedded in our LMS – Haiku Learning.
I want to know what they are getting out of the videos and if they are pulling out the essential questions I’m giving them. Until I know that they understand how to pull out the important points, I’m checking their notes every single day. (And don’t for one second think that my class is all videos – we have LOTS of face to face interaction – just not for certain things.)
So, here are some of the essential notetaking skills I’ve taught them so far.
Cornell Notetaking System
My favorite Cornell notetaking video is by Jennifer DesRochers. Students watch this one and set up their Cornell system on paper. I then have several lessons where students JUST using the Cornell system. I check to make sure they have summaries at the bottom of the notes, headings at the top, and that they are pulling essential points out.
This method is THE SINGLE MOST important reason (besides studying myself blind) that I graduated first in my class from Georgia Tech. I couldn’t have processed the high volume of notes without it and it is a critical method.
If you don’t believe me, look at student notes. Many of them have no dates, no topic, no teacher class information at the top. We can do better.
At this point it is likely that your students are just using words in their notes. We want them DRAWING. Why? So they can use all parts of their brain. Using symbols and notes and such can help connect ideas in powerful ways. So, at this point, I take my students on a visual notetaking journey. We leave Cornell except for the heading with the date, class, topic, and teacher’s name.
Step 1: Visual Notetaking Bellringer
I have a bellringer that I use with this and will share snippets so you can adapt it. (I don’t want to put the full one here because the digital notes I used under fair use and you’ll need to find and paste your own into your bellringer.)
The following are 3 sets of visual notes. As you look at these notes with your partners and look at these examples, fill in your answers to the questions on the back of this page.
So, students are looking at 3 examples of visual notetaking. For full impact, find 3 examples of visual notes taken related to your subject (perhaps even the topic at hand.) These should be in color if possible. Have students discuss in their small groups and then discuss as a group.
Questions to Ask As Students Look at Visual Notetaking Examples
- All three examples use a strategy called “visual notetaking” – looking at these examples (and what is shared in them) how would you define visual notetaking?
- What are some advantages of using visuals in your personal notetaking system?
- How could you use visual notetaking as part of the Cornell system you’ve already learned?
- What are some drawbacks of visual notetaking?
Then, after we’ve discussed visual notetaking from observing samples, we’ll dive deeper.
Step 2: Introduction to Visual Notetaking
This first video I have students watch and take notes any way they want. I like this video because it is showing visual notetaking as it is talking about it. Again, stress to students you don’t have to be an incredible artist to make this work and not to get hung up on details.
Step 3: How Can Visual Notetaking Be Used in Class?
In this second video, I have students watch the video and take visual notes for the whole thing. They can stop the video but for only up to 1 minute. I don’t want them sidetracked or delayed. I also want them to see how visual notes can be used in a classroom setting. I liked Rachel Smith’s approach in this video.
I follow up later with why we use visual notes and a little bit about the left brain being a center for logic and procedures and the right being a place for creativity and social intelligence. I also talk about how we all use all of our brain even though we have strengths but when we learn and use more of our brain it makes it easy to remember.
Then, I have students using the Cornell system WITH visual notetaking.
How I’m applying Visual Notetaking in my Own Life
I’m now doing visual goalsetting — I take my goals and turn it into a one page graphic drawing that helps me picture who I am and who I want to be. I’m also visually noting the books I read on one page and putting that page in Evernote. That makes it more readable.
When my students move to electronic notetaking and find that some tools (particularly on the ipad) have some of the visual notetaking tools built right in – they’re going to be excited.
Other Concepts We Will Cover in Our Notetaking Journey
- Bullet Journaling
- Notetaking Cues for Live Lectures (See this article for what I mean)
- the Charting Method
Analog Notetaking Mastery Before Going Digital
So, while I will have this year’s students at the level of notetaking prowess and using the full blown PREPS system that I share in Reinventing Writing before Christmas, I’m just finding that I need to shore up the basics. If students know WHY they take notes (the reinforcement of writing down the words helps put a nudge to the brain that this is important – and for recall later) and HOW to take notes – they’ll be better able to become engineers of their own personal learning system.
In the end, I want each students to have their own system of personal notetaking that is a combination of the best. I want them to be fluent on paper and electronically.
But this is definitely a progression of skills and best taught in small bites integrated with the content that I’m teaching. So, we learn a new technique about every week and a half.
What do you think should be included?
So, while this is on my mind (and now on some of yours) will you take time to share the essential things you think should be taught in an analog way (on paper) before taking students into a full blown digital notebook?