Note-taking Results in Increased Student Achievement
When asked, memory researchers reported the number one “memory aid” which they
themselves use is write it down – educators call that note-taking. Teachers should require
students to take notes in all classes. Note taking keeps students engaged in learning, helps them
complete their daily homework assignments, enhances their study, acts as a foundation from
which to prepare for unit tests, allows students to review for higher stakes semester or end of
year exams, and expands opportunities for increased family engagement. Also, since students
are not allowed to keep their textbooks, the student notebook is usually the only mechanism
available for review in later years for high stakes tests such as college entrance exams.
Note taking is a process used by students to record important information that they are trying to
understand and need to remember. Notes should usually include a title, the date they were taken,
objectives, definitions, English-math translations, how to say it, identifications, pattern or
concept development that leads to some conjecture, a formalized rule or algorithm, and an
number of example problems used in guided practice. Notes should support and reflect
Teachers should also encourage students to write an explanation of what led to the procedure
being used to manipulate or solve problems. Explanations are especially important when a
problem-solving method might be construed as a ”trick” and whose rationale would not be
immediately obvious to the student when reviewed at some future date.
Additionally, teachers should direct students on how to record their notes. Having students
center and underline new topics, skipping lines, placing boxes around important information will
assist students to study more effectively and efficiently. It is important that students can find
information quickly, that the notebook has white space so students do not experience visual
overload and students can quickly sort through their notes to find information.
In other words, a student taking notes in the first row – first seat should have notes pretty
identical to a student sitting in the fifth row-fifth seat. An old axiom in education is “expect what
you inspect”. If classroom teachers do not take an interest in student notebooks, they may be
missing an important factor in determining why some students are not achieving in their
Too many students really don’t know how to take notes. To address this, some schools have
purchased notes and some teachers make daily handouts containing the day’s notes. This is a
mistake! We would better serve our students for the long run by teaching them how to take
notes. By providing students feedback during the year, teachers would see the notes the students
are taking at the end of the school year are far superior to the notes the students took in the fall.
It should also be noted that the research suggests when notes are handwritten, students learn
faster and are able to recall the information for longer periods of time. In the community, that’s
translated to learning.
While note taking is a student responsibility, teachers need to hold students accountable for
taking notes. This need not be complicated or time consuming, but it must be done frequently
and consistently to further encourage students to take notes.
By the same token, if building principals do not check to ensure students are taking notes, then
classroom teachers may not have a high expectation their students take notes either.
Bottom line – good handwritten notes will help students complete their daily homework
assignments, study more effectively and efficiently, prepare for tests, recall information for
longer periods of time, and provide students a way of doing long term reviews and refreshing
their memory while preparing for high stakes tests – resulting in increased student achievement.
Student notes also allow for greater family engagement by providing parents an opportunity to
see the work done in class so they can better assist their students doing homework, studying and
preparing for tests.
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