In this post, I'd like to explore the topic from a little bit of a different angle. As a former high school history teacher, I was always intrigued by different formats for note-taking - particularly those that went beyond the typical bulleted or outline list of ideas. In this post, I'll briefly share three different note-taking strategies that challenge students to use a different part of their brains than the typical approach to taking notes.
When I was a high school teacher, this was my go-to strategy. It's a simple concept. The students lay out a spiral notebook on their desks. The left hand page is used to capture traditional format notes in bulleted or outline format. At strategic points in class, though, I would stop and challenge the students to read back through the notes they'd taken to that point and use the right-hand page to develop a non-linguistic representation of the ideas. It could be in the form of a cartoon, a diagram or sketch, or even the development of some kind of visual metaphor. It wasn't important to me what form this side of the page took - only that the students would have to review and process the information they had taken down to that point. This is most easily done in analog format with a spiral notebook. A similar process could probably be achieved on a computer or tablet, but I'm not sure how great an idea this would be.
Another visual approach to note-taking is through the strategic use of mind maps. Mind maps are essentially visual representations of how ideas or concepts connect or relate. I addressed this topic briefly in an earlier post on providing students with multiple means of action and expression. Timelines, flow-charts, organizational charts, and Venn diagrams are all examples of mind maps. I've also had students develop character webs as a way to conceptualize a person's achievements or contributions to a particular field. This approach can be very helpful when relationships between ideas are key. This approach only works well with certain types of content, though, and probably wouldn't be productive as a general note-taking strategy. In specific instances, however, it can be very helpful to increase student understanding. This is an approach that can be done well in digital or analog form. One potential advantage of using a tool in digital form like Mindmeister is that ideas can easily be reorganized and categorized by dragging content around the screen. This is much more difficult using paper and pencil since you have to erase and re-write elements if they need to be moved. Another advantage of using a digital tool is that maps can be developed and expanded over time and in collaborative fashion.
The last approach I'll touch on was developed by Mike Rohde to combine text and visual elements in a form he calls Sketchnoting. Full disclosure, I have limited experience with this approach myself and I've never tried it with students. It's interesting and intriguing enough, though, that I thought it was worth sharing. In Sketchnoting, the student would start from a central idea and sketch out from there. So, if the focus of a particular class is on the concept of "liberty," the student would start with this word in bold type in the center of the page. From there, she can add in definitional elements, examples and non-examples, key proponents of liberty, etc. around the edges. More important concepts are emphasized with bolder, larger, or darker text. Simple drawings or images can also help to draw attention to certain points. This creative format can challenge students to continually process and prioritize information as they encounter new ideas. Sketchnoting can be accomplished with both paper/pencil as well as with a tablet and stylus. For more on Sketchnoting, check out the Sketchnote Handbook, the Sketchnote Workbook, and examples via the Sketchnote Army.
So, perhaps rather than debating digital vs. analog note taking, an even more nuanced conversation might be to explore different approaches or strategies that fit well with different types of course content. I think that these approaches connect well with Universal Design for Learning (UDL) - particularly providing students with options for action and expression. I think these can also be great ways to support students' construction of knowledge. It may also be helpful in encouraging metacognition when you encourage students to be mindful about the strategies they use to capture and process new concepts and ideas they encounter in class and in readings.
What note taking strategies have you found to be effective with your students? What challenges have you encountered?
Please post your comments below.
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