Most people who have attended school can identify with this classic note-taking scene. A teacher stands in front of the classroom lecturing, and either shows a slideshow or writes notes on the board. Students listen from their desks and dutifully copy the content into their notebooks. The notebooks are then closed, and the students leave for their next class to repeat the process with a new subject.
There are multiple problems with this scenario, especially when we consider a remote learning context.
- Remote teaching and learning will not look like this.
- Digital content will be delivered in many different formats, but probably not this one.
- Students must be more actively engaged in the learning process.
- Learning must be much more student-centered and allow for student voice and choice.
To set students up for success in a remote learning environment, teachers should design engaging, student-centered learning experiences. But even when students are given voice and choice in their learning, there will be times when they need to consume information and take notes from materials presented in a variety of formats. For students to be successful, note-taking must become a “sustained process,” not a robotic, one-time recording of words. The following key concepts can be used to help guide teachers as they design online learning experiences requiring student note-taking.
Content will be delivered in multiple formats.
In a remote learning environment, teachers will almost never deliver a lecture face-to-face in real time, and teachers will probably not be immediately present to answer student questions either. While a lecture could conceivably happen over a live video meeting, it is not usually the most efficient or effective use of either student or teacher time. More likely, content will be shared asynchronously with students through a learning management system or class website. Teachers often post video lessons by recording themselves narrating over a slideshow, or they might link to articles and websites for students to read through. Teachers may also choose to provide videos created by someone else, or they could ask students to conduct their own research to answer leading questions or study prompts. These are all reasonable ways to have students acquire new content during remote teaching and learning, and in each of these examples, students will benefit from good note-taking skills. The screenshot below (taken from a learning management system) illustrates the variety of formats a teacher might post for students. This example includes PDFs, videos, websites, slideshows and word processing documents.
Quality note-taking is a process.
So what does effective note-taking look like, and how can students best take notes in a remote learning environment? In short, good note-taking requires an engaged and sustained effort by the student, and it’s the process that matters much more than the actual written or typed notes. To clarify this process, let’s look at the five steps of the AVID Focused Note-Taking Process as a great example of active and engaged note-taking.
Quality note-taking is sustained over time.
The success of this process is rooted in a sustained connection to the learning. It is not a one-and-done event. Notes must be revisited and reviewed multiple times, and each time, the students need to interact with the notes. This is when the real learning happens—after the notes have been written down or typed.
The following two models can be helpful in guiding teachers and students through the processing of notes.
In this model, students take notes for 10 minutes. They then spend 2 minutes collaboratively processing notes (if they do not have access to a learning partner, this can still be done individually). Once they have discussed their notes with someone else, they process them individually for 2 minutes. This process is then repeated after each 10 minutes of new content. During remote learning, this process could be facilitated through posted materials interspersed with discussion boards, digital notebook or eBinder tasks, or a submitted digital assignment.
- 10 minutes of note-taking
- 2 minutes of collaborative processing
- 2 minutes of individual processing
This model reinforces the need to sustain the connection to notes over time. In the 10–24–7 model, students review notes for 10 minutes immediately after taking them. Then, 24 hours later, they revisit these notes for another 10 minutes, writing higher-level questions about what they had written down. A week later, students should again return to their notes and revisit them for at least 5 minutes. They might write a summary, star possible test questions, or study the notes in general. This process of coming back and interacting with the notes is what increases retention of content.
- 10 minutes of review immediately after taking notes
- 24 hours later, notes are reviewed for another 10 minutes
- 7 days later, notes are processed for at least 5 more minutes
Leverage the benefits of digital notes.
Taking notes on paper is very common and can meet many of you students’ learning goals. However, digital formats for note-taking are often more convenient in virtual teaching and learning environments since much of the work is done at a computer. Additionally, digital formats can offer a few unique advantages over paper notes. As you design your note-taking system, consider how you can take advantage of these four key benefits of digital note-taking.
- Editable: Because they are digital, students can easily cut, copy, paste, reformat, or revise their notes. When notes are taken on paper, this process is more difficult, and students may be less inclined to revise.
- Shareable: Digital formats can be shared with others. This can facilitate collaborative note-taking or feedback from peers or a teacher.
- Searchable: Digital documents can quickly and easily be searched, bringing new functionality to notes and improved access to key ideas. This searchability can lead to students making more connections between ideas that they might otherwise have missed.
- Accessible: Digital notes can be stored in the cloud, making them easily accessible anywhere with an Internet connection. Notes can then be conveniently organized into digital folders. Text-to-speech and speech-to-text tools provide additional power to digital formats, making notes more accessible to students with limited language skills.