Note Taking for Today's Students

  • High School
Mary Moser

Do you remember what it was like to take notes as a student?  Great! Well, let’s erase all those memories and start over with a fresh concept.  If we are truly preparing our students for post high school world then we must consider how they consume information while engaging with media and their world.

Our ELA standards have students navigate a culminating process of self-made synthesis and new ideas.  While we may have consumed our texts and regurgitated them diligently back into Roman Numeral style notes with bullet point after bullet point, that simply won’t hack it for today’s students.

Not only is that method devoid of original thinking, our students don’t interact with texts or even read texts the same way we did.  Jeff Utecht noted at an NCCE, a local conference for computer educators, that our students’ brains are rewired. They’ve grown up in a digitally rich society that fundamentally changes them and how they read.  We are now visual-first learners.

Sketch Notes Drawing

Example of Sketchnotes taken by me at at 3 hour Culturally Responsive training put on by WEA.

While at NCCE, I also took a moment to attend Sylvia Duckworth’s Sketchnoting session, delving into how to bring creativity and drawing into ideas or texts.  In simple terms, sketchnoting allows the notetaker to process their learning through drawing and doodling. Whether that be changing the shape of letters to emphasize the meaning of the word, doodling a picture to capture an idea, such as drawing a lion to talk about strength, or more.

These two sessions when paired with my recent years’ work with AVID strategies culminated into a more well-rounded sense of how we as educators can help students take note of their learning.

Notes aren’t for compliance.

If your students take notes because you told them to take notes then the notes aren’t going to be useful.  Take a page from AVID and think about how you could help students learn to interact with their notes during class, that day after school, in a week, or the day before a test.  The notes, themselves, are as much a source to consume as the original text or lecture. At the end of a unit, you shouldn’t see pristine bulleted notes; there should be highlighting, drawings, connecting arrows, and multiple ink colors on the pages.  (If you google AVID Cornell Notes or are an AVID school, you will find plenty of examples of how this could look.)

Don’t take notes during the actual lecture.

This one is hard for me and I think there is still wiggle room.  Jeff Utecht brought up that if you can type/hand write 60 words per minute then you are able to write verbatim notes.  Yet, if you’re getting verbatim notes then you aren’t actually processing anything. He suggests using the 10:2 rule for notes.  Talk/Lecture/Watch for 10 minutes then give students 2 minutes to process that new information into notes. While this works in a classroom with a timer, it wouldn’t necessarily work in a keynote speech or uncontrolled environment.  That's where sketchnoting I think comes in handy.

Visual representation matters.

Sylvia Duckworth’s sketchnoting work revolves around a continued building of images/logos to correspond with concept.  If you’re reading To Kill a Mockingbird, what themes or concepts will you be encountering? Those theme/concepts should each get a visual representation so that as you engage with the text and draw your processing, your mind will begin synthesize the material.  Is there a character that is really strong? Always use a lion or a muscle when note-taking on that character. This idea fits well with Utecht’s point that a picture trumps all. If you can anchor a concept to a picture, you will understand it.  Nice addition that Duckworth shares is that you can always go back and revise your notes so leave a placeholder for when you have time to revisit and make nicer.

  • English Language Arts
  • Student Engagement
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Mary Moser Board

Library Media Specialist at Clover Park School District

I work as a high school Library Media Specialist in the Clover Park School District in Lakewood, Washington. This is my fifth year as a LMS, and my tenth year as a teacher.Before switching to the library, I taught 9th grade Humanities, which is the area that I certified in National Boards in 2013.