Journal of Nanzan Junior College #28: Creative Note Taking and Study Skills (cont'd.)

The Five Systems: A Comparison

Each of the five note taking systems mentioned in this paper share some similarities. Most of the authors, for example, recommend using cue columns when using non-graphic notes. And most systems recommend using phrases/abbreviations rather than full sentences/words. The more recent methods advocate several different note taking formats.
Fig. 6 compares the key features of each system mentioned in this paper.

Fig. 6

Figure 6. A comparison of note taking systems recommended by Pauk (1974), Fry (1996), Van Blerkom (1997), Kesselman-Turkel and Peterson (1982), and Lim and Smalzer (1990).

How to Help Students Take Notes

The issue of how teachers can help students become more effective note takers has been addressed most notably by Kiewra (1985). Here are some tips for instructors based mainly on his ideas.

  1. Use advance organizers - Before starting a class, briefly overview of what you plan to cover. This often helps students follow you more easily and organize their notes in a logical way (Ausubel, 1960). A good way to provide an overview is to give students a lecture handout with skeletal notes. However, make sure students understand skeletal notes are meant to merely supplement to their own notes - they are not adequate alone.

  2. Help students with jargon - Foreign language students in particular are often confused by unfamiliar jargon. Since most academic disciplines have some specialized vocabulary, teachers can help students master jargon in several ways. One way is to provide a glossary. Another is to write out significant terms and explain them. Yet another way is to encourage students to use "vocabulary notebooks", which are personalized dictionaries containing words unfamiliar to them. Schmidt and Schmidt (1999) have described how ESOL students often benefit from such materials. A sample vocabulary notebook by the author for Act I of Richard II appears in Fig. 7.

    Fig. 7

    Figure 7. A sample vocabulary notebook for Act I of Richard II (abridged).

    Foreign language learners might want to add notes in their native language to improve comprehensibility. Encourage learners to experiment until they find a format which suits them best.

  3. Make clear transitions - Some students have a hard time knowing when one topic ends and another begins. By providing clear verbal and non-verbal signals during topic changes, more students will take appropriate notes. If instructors use phrases such as "Now let's consider . . ." and pause briefly between sections, most students will understand a new topic is being introduced. EFL students might need to be reminded of what transition markers are commonly used by lecturers.

  4. Summarize regularly - At the end of each lesson, briefly summarize the main points covered in the context of the entire course. By helping listeners understand how what has just said fits into a bigger picture, they will probably remember more (Baird, 1974).

  5. Speak clearly and vary your voice - A clear voice which is varied in tone makes the task of note taking easier. Teachers with soft voices should be encouraged to use microphones.

  6. Extra Help - Teachers can help students having problems keeping up with classes in several ways. Some students might benefit from taking study skills seminars such as those offered by Breitenbach (1999) can also be of value. Finally, teachers at larger institutions can refer students to learning resource centers, which provide remedial instruction and teach basic study skills (Pearson and Butler, 1973).

  7. Encourage regular review and reflection - Some studies don't seem to recognize the difference between regular review and cramming. Note taking should be viewed as one part of a wider strategic learning cycle which includes consolidating, reviewing, and questioning. Therefore encourage students to review their notes regularly.

This paper has suggested note taking is an important skill many students need help with. It has compared the strengths and weaknesses or five different note taking systems and also offered some tips for instructors to help students take better notes.
Rather than advocating a single note taking system, the value of learning a variety of note taking formats has been suggested.
Taking notes is an active process which generates a high level of involvement. As more and more notes become available via computer networks, the temptation to avoid taking personal notes may increase, particularly among those lacking confidence in their listening/writing skills. It is for this reason that the teaching of basic note taking and study skills seems all the more timely.


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