Taking Note

I’ve stopped creating formally-prepared lectures in almost all of my courses. This means a lot of in-class discussion of reading and writing students have done outside of class, without anything online that resembles a lecture for students to watch or listen to. I see no point in regurgitating concepts from readings that the students are supposed to independently write about at home and then discuss among themselves in person.

But I’ve noticed that students are not taking notes as a means of identifying and retaining important ideas, whether I’m leading the discussion or students are talking with their peers. If I’m the sole person talking, I can say “that’s important, write than down,” but I don’t think I should have to do this, and if several groups are simultaneously conversing, it becomes impossible.

Burma NotesA two-fold problem exists: first, students don’t recognize why they should take notes in a non-lecture environment (many don’t even take notes during lectures). Second, any notes they do write are likely to be ineffective because they don’t know how to identify what they should remember — whether because it’s useful cultural capital, a disciplinary-specific concept that will show up on a test, or some other reason — nor do they know how to mechanically record notes in a manner that aids memorization and recall. These subjects are more fully examined by Boch and Piolat 2005.

I poked around online a bit for help and found some advice for students. University of Surrey has a great online guide to study skills (likely part of Susherwood’s plot to achieve world domination). Cornell College has some tips on taking notes during class discussion. And then there is the Cornell (University) Notetaking System. None of these resources satisfactorily address both aspects of my problem, however.

Most students at this university will learn to take notes only if I somehow explicitly incorporate notetaking into the course grade. This could mean looking at and evaluating each student’s notes periodically, but I’d like to avoid that. I prefer to keep things simple on my end with as much responsibility as possible remaining with the students.

I thought about passing around 3 X 5 note cards for students to write on during class discussions, then letting each student refer to his or her note cards during in-class quizzes. But then I’d need to design, distribute, and grade the quizzes. So I’m still trying to think of possible solutions. Any suggestions are welcome.

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