In order to better understand and retain material, we take notes. From notes about how to perform a new job, or notes on new material needed to pass a course in school, to something as basic as a shopping list; we need notes to commit information to our memory. Some high school students may not feel that it is necessary to take notes in class, but it has been proven that effective note-taking leads to better retention (Faber, Morris, & Lieberman, 2000) . This summary references some of those studies as well as links to tips for effective note-taking, and even a video for those of you who would rather watch a quick clip than read for yourself. Adolescents need to know how to take effective notes, no matter what their endeavors, and the following gives teachers some resources to help them teach this skill.
Many of us acquire note-taking skills throughout our school careers, but some are not so lucky. As teachers, we should help our students understand the importance of effective note-taking. In the article "The Effect of Note Taking on Ninth Grade Students' Comprehension," Faber, Morris, & Lieberman (2000) report, "After a group of ninth-grade students received instruction and nine weeks of practice in a note-taking technique that sought to actively involve them with the material, their scores were significantly different from the group that did not receive the training," (p. 266). This study (Faber, Morris, & Lieberman; 2000) proves that students who are taught effective note-taking skills perform better on subsequent tests. In the article, "Notetaking in College Classes: Student Patterns and Instructional Strategies," Williams & Eggert (2002) suggest, "The process of taking notes, independent of reviewing the notes, presumably increase students' attention to a lecture and helps them encode ideas in an understandable fashion," (p.180). Attention to the lecture along with encoding leads to better retention, and effective note-taking requires both.
Note-taking does not mean copying down every single word the teacher says in class, but rather filtering out the essential information and relating it to previous knowledge so that it makes sense to the individual. Faber, Morris, & Lieberman (2000) explain, "This facet of note taking, the encoding function, is the process by which a learner abstracts and assimilates material in order to make it personally understandable. When the material is integrated with prior knowledge and is internalized, encoding is said to have occurred," (p.258). In other words, if information can be related to previous knowledge, then it will more likely be retained, or encoded. Then this new knowledge can be built upon, scaffolding a new construct of knowledge.
In Improving Adolescent Literacy: Content Area Strategies at Work, Fisher & Frey (2012) explain the difference between note-taking and note-making. Note-taking is jotting down notes in a lecture-type setting where one is taking the notes for another individual. On the other hand, note-making is jotting down notes as one reads a text, or in other words, making your own notes. Both are important skills to have to create meaning for an individual when learning a new text.
One strategy to use when "note-making" is annotation. As one reads a text, he makes notes. The notes could be as simple as highlighting a point that stood out to the reader or as complex as how the reader relates the material to a personal experience. Placing notes in the margin of a text helps the reader to remember points that stood out to him while he was reading. Many teachers may be thinking right now, "but my students cannot mark in their texts." The solution to this is using sticky notes. This method is the same as making annotations in the margins, but students write their notes out on adhesive note pads and affix the note to the page beside the passage that stands out to them.
While teaching "note-taking" teachers should outline an example of effective note-taking at the beginning of the course for their students. One suggestion would be to have a specific notebook for each subject. A three-ring binder with loose leaf paper is a good choice because worksheets and other handouts could be hole-punched and added to the notebook along with other related notes taken in class. Teachers should demonstrate how to label notes by placing a title at the top of the page, along with the day's date. The title could be the title of the chapter covered or the essential question of the day. As the students take notes they should leave room to make notes later. They could either skip lines as they record notes or only record on one side of the page. The reason for the extra space is to leave room for further notes when reviewing their notes later.
Note-taking should not end when class is over, rather notes should be reviewed as soon as possible after they are taken, and additional notes should be made. These additional notes help the student to remember what was covered in class, while allowing think time for the student to make connections to the content. One suggestion to ensure your students are following through with this review step is to check notebooks. This could be done daily or weekly, but should be done often to make sure your students are going back and thinking about the material you covered in class beyond class time. Time is limited in class and a lot of material is covered, so students need to take time outside of class to review content covered in class.
As teachers we should create a welcoming environment where students feel comfortable asking questions, but many high school students are not willing to admit that they needed help. This is where I believe setting up daily notebook checks would be more valuable than weekly checks. The extra space provided in the notebooks allows for students to make sense or ask questions about material that did not make sense. If you do daily checks of notebooks, you could see where the students are struggling making sense of the previous day's lesson.
Many teachers may wonder when they are suppose to have the time to check these notebooks. This could be accomplished in several ways. You could come up with another assignment for your students to do on their own or in groups, where you are not need for direct instruction, and use that time to look through their notebooks. Another idea is to have students get into small groups or pairs for a few minutes at the beginning of class to review their notes from the previous day. If this is done, then you need to be circulating the room to make sure they are reviewing notes and answering questions. Another way to do this is to have the students exchange notebooks and make further notes for their peers and allow them time to elaborate.