In high school I had two classes that asked me to use notes that influenced the way I use note taking in my own classroom. My psychology instructor expected us to have two notebooks for notes. The first notebook was used to take notes during class lectures and during reading assignments. The second notebook was for us to organize and rewrite our notes into a formal outline. The second notebook was handed in about every two weeks. I will admit that I didn’t like rewriting my notes but soon discovered that I was remembering the content for class pretty easily.
My English class notes were actually filled with doodles, poems, and story ideas, with notes about class content. My English teacher fostered individual expression. I did well with the creative assignments in class but would find myself rewriting some of my notes to help me remember content for exams.
Throughout college, and even today, my note taking is a combination of the expectations of my psychology teacher and English teacher. I doodle while listening, but also rewrite parts of my notes for important topics.
Note taking skills are a hot topic in educational research, especially focusing on digital versus handwritten notes. This post is not about that topic, I will share ideas that use both techniques. Note taking is an important learning skill our students still need, so let’s look at some note taking activities.
This is my favorite note activity. It is pretty simple. I ask the students to just doodle what comes to mind as I cover content. I instruct them that it is OK to get lost in their drawings or doodles. Now, most of the time the content I am covering has more emotional appeal than academic. For example I use doodle notes to cover chapter 10 in Frederick Douglass’s autobiography. That is where he gets assaulted by Mr. Covey and almost just gives up. The reading section theme connects to earlier readings, and I want the students to focus on the emotions and themes. Doodle Notes take away the pressure of getting the content down on paper, but the action of doodling keeps their mind on the lesson. I will follow up the doodle notes with a reflective paragraph assignment that we use for class discussion.
This technique is more of a philosophy than a specific activity. I know now that my psychology teacher was influencing our time with the content. I don’t ask my students to rewrite all their notes, but I ask them to use them in different ways. For example, with every book we study I have a chapter note activity. The purpose is for students to use their notes to complete an activity that can range from providing a mind map to creating a crossword puzzle. The main purpose is to get the students to interact with the notes in a new way and to get them to spend more time with the content.
One of my favorite web applications is VideoNot.es. I use video in my lessons on a regular bases. Getting students to take notes on the content of the video is difficult. That is where VideoNote.es comes in. The application is connected with Google Drive. Students copy and paste a URL for a video on the left and take notes on the content on the right. See image below.
If you will notice the yellow highlighted time stamp on the left side of my notes. When a student goes back to their notes and clicks on something they typed, the video will jump to that time on the video. The VideoNot.es file is saved on your Google Drive and can be shared just like any Google Doc. No, it doesn’t work well having a class on a single VideoNot.es, trust me. However, it is a great tool for students to use with video.
Collaborative Study Guide
I worked with this idea last semester. During the American Literature class I used the same three Google docs for group work all semester. With each new unit I created a heading to separate the different pieces of literature. As the semester progressed students could connect back quickly to themes we had covered in class. This was a powerful tool in creating a connective understanding on ideas I wanted students to learn throughout the semester. All three Google Docs were available for all students.
Note taking is a powerful tool for learning. Pencil and paper work wonders, but technology gives us some unique options to elevate the usefulness of students’ notes. Share any cool ideas you use in your classroom below, or contact me on Twitter. I am also available to share the power of notes in a workshop for your school. You can contact me by filling out the form on the “Workshop” page.
The next post of the Old School series will highlight the power of speech. Join me to share ideas.