Published: 12th February 2007
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Dr. Muhammad Imran Yousuf

Ph.D. Education,


Division of Continuing Education,

University of Arid Agriculture, Rawalpindi


Because our minds cannot store for recall every item of information with which we come in contact and because physically recording information helps us store what information we can store, taking notes represents one of the most important learning activities. Much of classroom learning depends on understanding and retaining information from lectures. In most cases, students are expected to take notes and to review them in preparation for testing of lecture material. Such note-taking may serve a two-fold purpose: as a means of encoding the incoming information in a way that is meaningful for the listener, which serves to make the material more memorable from the outset (encoding function); and as a means of simply storing the information until the time of review (external storage function). Note taking seems simple, but in reality, it is a complex cognitive act. Note taking involves interpretation (that is, judgments regarding to what is important and what is not), and interpretation requires criteria for making quick decisions about the significance of information. Students too often try to record everything word-for-word. Or, if they are reading text, they simply highlight almost everything on the page. When students do this, we know they are working without criteria for making judgments about the material with which they are coming in contact. So, it is wise for every teacher to consider addressing their students' need to learn how to effectively take notes.

Some means of helping students prioritize their note-taking certainly is in order. A continuum of approaches exists, from providing full or partial lecture notes to modifying one's lecturing style to facilitate students' own note-taking. The type of learning (factual versus analytic or synthetic), the density of the information that must be covered, and the instructor's teaching style all should be considered carefully. Some researches reported that students who only review detailed notes provided by the instructor after the lecture generally do better on subsequent fact-based tests of the lecture than do students who only review their own notes. In fact, students who did not even attend the lecture but reviewed the instructor's notes scored higher on such tests than did students who attended the lecture and took and reviewed their own notes. This should not be surprising, because unlike the students' notes, the instructor's notes contain all the critical ideas of the lecture.

One might be tempted, however grudgingly, to conclude that providing students with full transcripts of lectures is the best way to optimize their learning of the material. After all, if the goal is to ensure that they don't miss the important ideas, what better way than to hand each student a full text of the lecture? But the evidence that students remember a greater proportion of the information in their own notes than in provided notes, and that students, who take the same amount of time to review both of their own and the instructor's notes perform best of all on fact-based tests. Interestingly, the pattern of superior performance with provided notes changes when the test involves higher-order learning (e.g., analysis and synthesis of ideas). In such cases, having the instructor's notes does not produce superior performance.

So there is some value in having students participate in the note-taking process, however incomplete their notes may be. A more practical disadvantage to providing full notes is that they may defeat the purpose of the lecture itself. Even if this is not the case (e.g., if lectures serve as opportunities for discussion or other interactive forms of learning), the availability of full notes may encourage absenteeism among students who fail to recognize the additional benefits of attending lectures. These arguments, together with many instructors' understandable objections to preparing and providing full notes can make a compelling case for alternative approaches.

There are also several independent investigations to show that students are able to achieve the most on tests when they are provided with only partial notes to review. Specifically, partial notes led to better retention than did comprehensive (full) notes or no notes. Partial notes can be provided with skeletal format in which the main ideas of the lecture are provided, usually including the hierarchical relationships between them (e.g., by arranging them in outline or schematic form), and spaces are left for students to fill in pertinent information, such as definitions, elaborations, or other explicative material, as they listen to the lecture.

Ideally, instructors would be advised to provide partial notes before the lecture and detailed notes afterward in order to afford their students the maximum benefits. But the disadvantages associated with detailed notes, it seems unlikely that many educators would choose this option. Certainly, there are also those who would disagree in principle with provision of notes as a remedy for students' difficulties. Instead, it is entirely arguable that emphasis should be placed on helping students improve the quality of their own notes.

There are several suggestions regarding how students' own notes be improved, some of which call for alterations in the presentation of the lecture. Instructors not only should speak slowly enough to allow students to note important ideas, but also should consider "segmenting" their lectures. Segmenting involves allowing pauses of three to four minutes for every six or seven minutes of lecture. This enables students to devote their attention to listening during the lecture and then to consolidate the important ideas and paraphrase them during the note-taking pauses. During the lecture phase, students need to be given cues not only to the importance of certain ideas, but also to the kinds of elaboration that they are expected to do on these ideas. In certain kinds of classes where the amount of information that must be presented in a given time is relatively great, it may not be possible to segment the lectures, even though students stand to benefit most from segmenting in such cases. A suggested compromise is to keep information density low whenever possible limiting the presentation of new ideas to 50% of the lecture time, and to provide skeletal notes in increasing quantity as a function of the lecture's increasing information density.

As the discussion about note taking focused the teachers' concern to perform the activities related to note taking in classroom following are some note-taking tips for students which can help individual students' proper attitude toward note taking:

• Come to class prepared. Always ensure bringing enough paper and a writing instrument to class, so get prepared for note taking before coming to class.

• Start a new page for each new class. Also, put the date on the top of the first page, it will make easy to know where the notes for each class begin, which can further help to keep the material organized.

• Don't try to write down every word. Usually it is not possible to write down every word of the lecture even if writing very fast. More importantly, in trying to do so, possibility is there to miss the overall point the teacher is trying to make.

• Write down the big ideas. Listen for facts, connections, and main ideas. This may take a while to get used to, because it needs to divide the attention between listening to the teacher or other students and writing notes. Don't get frustrated. In time, this will become easier by practice.

• Use abbreviations for commonly occurring names and words. Learn standard abbreviations, long words such as government can become "Govt." and Federal can become "fed." Also develop your own abbreviations, so long as you don't forget what they stand for. For example, in a lecture on Einstein, you might write his name out the first time, and then abbreviate it as "E" throughout the rest of your notes. Develop your own system and stick to it, once it works.

• Leave lots of room on the page. When writing, leave ample space between ideas. This is like pausing before to begin a new sentence. It will make notes much easier to read, and have space to add information later on, if needed. Don't try to cram everything onto one piece of paper.

• Use diagrams and pictures where necessary. Sometimes it is helpful to draw pictures that illustrate the connections between ideas, sequences, or events. Don't be afraid to draw pictures that can help to understand the material.

• Write down corresponding page numbers from textbook. Teachers often use the textbook to refer to ideas for learning in class. Recording the page number of corresponding ideas and homework assignments can come in handy later on.

• Review your notes for accuracy. It's a good idea to look over initial notes sometime after class for accuracy and completeness. Consider doing this just before doing homework to get back in the mindset of the material.

• Obtain notes for missed classes. Sometimes it's necessary to miss class, but that shouldn't stop students from getting notes for it. Consider forming a partnership with another student at the beginning of class for notes when a class is missed. Teachers are always willing to share their notes with students in such situations.

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