These days it is so easy to get a copy of the teacher’s PowerPoint slides that many students don’t bother to take notes, unless it is explicitly required. However, as a professional adult, I take notes all the time. So, over time, I have developed 5 compelling arguments to get students to see the importance of note-taking.
- Note-taking helps you pay attention. Have you ever seen the sensory or motor homunculus? (Very educational but the image is naked, so we won’t be linking directly to it.) Besides being creepily fascinating, these images show how much brain power is linked to the use of our hands. When students tell me that they are having trouble paying attention, I ask them, “What are your hands doing?” When you are taking notes, you have to pay attention with your eyes, your ears, and your hands, so you are much more likely to stay focused. This is critical for students with ADHD.
- Note-taking helps you understand. When taking notes, students have to restate the information in their own words. This sort of active learning boosts comprehension. Also, if students take notes in an organized way, such as three-column or bulleted notes, they are engaged in identifying main ideas and details. Finally, by restating the information in their own words, students can identify areas of confusion much more quickly than if they are only passively listening.
- Note-taking helps you remember. I love to tell students, “You only remember what you have a memory of.” Of course, that usually gets me blank stares and furrowed brows, but I say it anyway. My point is that the best way to remember something is to create a memory of it. By taking notes actively, you are creating a deeper memory and are more likely to remember what you learned because of it.
- Note-taking gives you a study tool. When it comes time to study for a test, your notes are one of your best study tools. Since you created them yourself, your notes will make more sense to you than the textbook. Also, by reviewing your notes and adding to them in different colors, you can prioritize important information for review, identify areas of ongoing confusion, and even add memory strategies to help you remember difficult information when taking a test.
- Note-taking makes you look like a pro. One of a teacher’s deepest fears is that no one in the classroom is listening or paying attention. When a student is sitting up straight and taking notes, however, the teacher’s fear is quelled. Students who are taking notes look like students who are on top of their game—a great way to get on your teacher’s good side!
Of course, it’s important to do more than simply convince your students that note-taking is a good idea. It’s also important to teach your students HOW to take notes. That’s why I love Lessons 8 and 9 in Unit 4 of the SMARTS program. These lessons review the qualities of good notes and then teach students strategies such as the Triple Note Tote, a three-column note-taking template that helps students visually understand how to organize main ideas and supporting details. This template also includes a critically important third column for students to develop personalized strategies that will help them remember important information.
Technology certainly has its role in note-taking. Students may benefit from taking notes on a computer or tablet, or they may use a recorder if they have slow processing or simply cannot keep up with the teacher. However, there are at least 5 excellent reasons why we should not stop teaching note-taking in school.