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Promoting Note-Taking by Hand in a Digital Age

When taking notes in class, students are drawn to their laptops. The students assume that because they can type faster than they can write they will have more notes to review. However, studies have shown that just the opposite is true. Students participating in these studies demonstrated less retention after a lecture when they took notes on a laptop than when they wrote their notes by hand. The slower process of writing notes by hand appears to better secure new information for later recall. Understanding how the brain works with different study strategies can help teachers develop and implement classroom tips that focus on different types of learning.

How taking notes in class by hand affects the brain

Taking notes by hand requires different types of brain processing than taking notes on a laptop. These different processes affect learning.  Writing by hand is slower and more difficult than typing, and students cannot write down every word they hear teachers say.  Instead, taking notes by hand requires you to listen, digest, and summarize so that the essence of the information can be captured. These skills require the student to use higher order thinking, which helps the brain better connect to the information.

Classroom tips to help foster handwritten notes

Students who engage in taking notes by hand must process the material first. Laptop note-takers are often mindlessly writing down words they hear. The most important classroom tip for fostering taking notes by hand is to directly teach note-taking skills. Often students do not know how to take notes, so they think they must write down every word, which can be a time waster. Here are some classroom tips for teaching note taking:

  • Ask the teacher if there is a pattern to his/her lessons
  • Keep yourself focused by staying organized and on task
  • Leave a three inch margin on the side of notes for thinking notes later
  • Use graphic organizers to focus your note taking

Using partnerships to make studying handwritten notes better

One way to improve student learning is to require taking notes by hand and then pair up students to compare and contrast notes. This gives each student a chance to see how someone else's brain connects during a lesson. Another classroom tip is for a teacher to use multimedia to show students how everyone takes notes. Often students learn better by seeing the way their peers think. This kind of attention to taking notes by hand helps students understand its value and want to use the skill more frequently, which benefits learning significantly.

When students engage in taking notes by hand, they take advantage of the opportunity to engage in the mental work that supports learning. It is important to remember that when you are helping students by offering classroom tips, it is important to clearly identify the purpose behind note-taking. As an example, it has become unnecessary for people to remember phone numbers because smart phones have autodial. So if you want to memorize someone's number, it doesn't make sense to use autodial. The same is true for note-taking. If you need to remember information, do not use someone else's notes or a word-for-word transcription of someone's lecture. Instead, take all of your notes by hand so you must connect to it in way only you will remember.

Learn about the LSUS M.Ed. Curriculum and Instruction: Reading & Literacy online program.


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