Student note-taking workshop: Recap

Last week on February 10th two of our WAC fellows, Jake Cohen and Louis Lipani offered a free CityTech-wide student workshop regarding effective note taking strategies which can be found HERE. They introduced the Cornell Method to students and thoroughly explained the reasoning why this method is so useful to many people. Often students are not taught how to take notes, though this is a learned skill that is clearly pertinent to their success within the educational context. We view note taking as one of the many necessary skills college students need initial guidance on and which they can eventually master throughout their undergraduate careers. Therefore, feel free to provide the information offered here based on Jake and Louis’ efforts to your students. Better yet, take a little time within your own classrooms to discuss the importance of note taking and the empirically-based strategies mentioned in this blog. Doing this will likely allow students to realize they are not alone in being concerned about note taking or that they have not been taught this information in the past. We hope that offering this information to them will give them an understanding of how to best utilize note taking towards better comprehension and ultimately better grades in their courses. For us instructors, note taking is one more way to implement informal writing into our classrooms, which is a strategy towards increasing the amount of low-pressure writing students are doing in order to have them better learn and internalize the material.

Note taking “best practices”:

  1. Write it down: Empirical evidence based on neuroscience research suggests handwriting notes allows for better retention of information and a higher-level of understanding for the content (Jacobs 2008; James & Englehardt 2012; Mueller & Oppenheimer 2014).
  • Differentiate important from non-important information
  • Summarize and paraphrase (students should do so in their own words)
  • Use symbols, abbreviations, lines, etc. in order to show importance and speed up the writing process for notes (whatever key or style works best for an individual student)
  1. Question/Context: Questioning and putting information into context is a way to ensure deeper critical thinking. Students that feel comfortable acknowledging their questions on course content and who attempt to put the information into context will likely understand the material at a higher level later.
  • Write down questions but also your own thoughts about the material that are supplementary from the instructor’s lecture
  • In order to have better recall course information later, indicate your feelings, opinions, or simply what is occurring around you during a specific portion of the class
  1. Reflect/Summary: Reflection is a way to ensure you remind yourself about the content a second or third time and summarizing ensures you can grasp the most important parts of the class and piece them together.
  • Fit content into your previous knowledge related to it
  • Attempt to identify the themes of the lecture (overarching important aspects)
  • Reflect and attempt to summarize the class content after the class but before going to sleep that night

Technological advances to support students in handwriting notes or annotating readings:

  • Styluses and smart pens now allow for handwriting on our beloved digital devices to help bridge the gap between students’ tablet/laptop usage and the beneficial effects of handwriting (see Stern 2015 for more information on this technology which is the last link in this blog below)
  • The GoodReader App is an inexpensive ($5) way to organize PDFs and take notes on them, make annotations, and write comments

Helpful links to additional relevant sources

Cornell method of note-taking:

Relevant studies: