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In this issue: Note-taking

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Note-taking serves a single purpose: to aid in the recall of information, which can be a vital component of effective learning and cognition. But did you know a vast number of students might be doing it wrong? And by wrong, we’re talking about taking notes on a laptop or tablet.

According to several recent studies, students who write their notes on paper actually learn more than those who take notes by typing. Although students who use a laptop or tablet tend to take more notes, the notes aren’t necessarily better when it comes to their effectiveness in comprehension and recall. Because handwritten note-taking is generally a slower process, it requires students to listen, understand and summarize what they are hearing. Thus comprehension is greater and so is retention. For some tips you can share with your students on effective note-taking, keep reading.

The best ways to take notes

Although one size doesn’t necessarily fit all when it comes to note-taking methods, here are some general best practices your students can use:

  • Help students uncover a method that works best for them: There are numerous systems and methods available for taking notes, and what works best depends on each individual. For some, it may be notes structured in outline format. For others, notes may be more effective in mind map format. And for others still, an organized chart could be most useful. Show your students multiple methods and allow them to pick what works best for them.
  • Encourage students to use their own words: Writing notes verbatim, as often happens when using a laptop or tablet, is associated with lower retention. Encouraging students to write notes in their own words not only helps improve the information stored in the memory, but can also stimulate the brain to aid in recall. An Outburst Notebook and matching sticky notes can be an inspiring way to jump-start the handwritten note process while driving home the concept of using one’s own voice. You may also find it helpful to push active listening with a little experiment. Divide your group in half and allow one side to use a laptop and the other a pen and paper to take notes while listening to a lecture. Then, quiz them on their retention. If your results match the latest research published by Scientific American™, the long-handers will perform better. Share your results with the class and reward all students for participating in your mini-study. A multicolor pen makes a nice prize and can add a little color to your students’ notes.
  • Help your students put their work to use: As an instructor, there are things you can do to help students take and use notes more effectively. Consider providing an outline of your lecture ahead of time and highlight items of importance. And try taking frequent pauses during lectures where students can review and either rewrite or paraphrase significant examples, events or definitions. You may want to have erasable highlighters and Post-it® Flag Pens to help. It may also aid in retention and comprehension to break students into small groups and ask them to explain their notes to one another. Remember, note-taking is a great way to encourage active listening and critical thinking, so taking time out of class to work on this important activity is perfectly acceptable.

When it comes to taking notes, students need to find their own fit. It is, however, important to remember one thing—handwritten notes take the cake when it comes to retention and comprehension. Share this information and the helpful tips above with students and staff alike. They’re sure to thank you!

May, Cindi. “A Learning Secret: Don’t Take Notes with a Laptop.” Scientific American Global RSS. N.p., 03 Jun. 2014. Web. Retrieved 19 Oct. 2014.

Klosowski, Thorin. “Back to Basics: Perfect Your Note-Taking Techniques.” Lifehacker.com. N.p., 30 Apr. 2013. Web. Retrieved 20 Oct. 2014.

“Teaching Students to Take Better Notes: Notes on Notetaking.” University of Nebraska–Lincoln. N.p., n.d. Web. Retrieved 27 Oct. 2014.

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