From the ERIC database
Improving the Quality of Student Notes. ERIC/AE Digest.
Much of classroom learning at the secondary and postsecondary levels 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). Although these two purposes often have been treated as though they were mutually exclusive, several studies (e.g., Maqsud, 1980; Knight & McKelvie, 1986) point to a more complex relationship in which the two vary in their relative importance as a function of the individual, the material, and the review and testing conditions.
DO STUDENTS NEED HELP WITH THEIR NOTES?
HOW CAN INSTRUCTORS HELP?
PROVIDING FULL NOTES
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 Kiewra cites 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 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.
These results suggest that 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, make a compelling case for alternative approaches.
PROVIDING PARTIAL NOTES: THE HAPPY MEDIUM
Several formats for partial notes have been examined, from outlines, to matrices, to skeletal guides. Of these, the skeletal format has gained the widest support (Hartley, 1978; Russell et al., 1983; Kiewra, 1985). In this format, 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. In Russell's study, students performed especially well with skeletal notes when the test emphasized practical, rather than factual, knowledge of the lecture material. They also remained more attentive during the lecture than did those with other kinds of notes, as evidenced by their higher scores on test-related items presented during each of the four quarters of the lecture period.
Hartley (1978) offered three conclusions from naturalistic research with skeletal notes:
1. Students who get skeletal kinds of notes take about half as many notes of their own, compared to students who are not given notes; yet, students who are given skeletal notes recall more.
2. The amount of space left for note-taking is a strong influence on the amount of notes that students take (i.e., the more space provided, the more notes taken).
3. Although skeletal notes lead to better recall than either the student's own notes or the instructor's notes, the best recall occurred when students received skeletal notes before the lecture and the instructor's detailed notes afterward. (Note the similarity between this finding and that in Kiewra's 1985 study.)
Given the opportunities for analysis and synthesis when one has access to both sets of notes in this way, this result is to be expected.
Ideally, then, instructors would be advised to provide both skeletal notes before the lecture and detailed notes afterward in order to afford their students the maximum benefits. But the disadvantages associated with detailed notes have been discussed above, and given these, 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.
HOW CAN STUDENTS' OWN NOTES BE IMPROVED?
An additional suggestion by Kiewra (1985) is to encourage students to review not only their own notes, but other sources, such as other students' notes and outside texts. Exposure to a variety of renditions of the same material helps to ensure that the material will be preserved in at least one of the presented forms. It also increases the opportunities for more elaborative processing, as the sources are searched and integrated.
Hartley, J. (1978). Note-taking: A critical review. Programmed Learning and Educational Technology, 15, 207-224.
Kiewra, K.A. (1985). Providing the instructor's notes: An effective addition to student notetaking. Educational Psychologist, 20, 33-39.
Kiewra, K.A., DuBois, N.F., Christian, D., & McShane, A. (1988). Providing study notes: Comparison of three types of notes for review. Journal of Educational Psychology, 80, 595-597.
Knight, L.J., & McKelvie, S.J. (1986). Effects of attendance, note- taking, and review on memory for a lecture: Encoding versus external storage functions of notes. Canadian Journal of Behavioral Science, 18, 52- 61.
Maqsud, M. (1980). Effects of personal lecture notes and teacher-notes on recall of university students. British Journal of Educational Psychology, 50, 289-294.
Russell, I.J., Caris, T.N., Harris, G.D., & Hendricson, W.D. (1983). Effects of three types of lecture notes on medical student achievement. Journal of Medical Education, 58, 627-636.
This publication was prepared with funding from the Office of Educational Research and Improvement, U.S. Department of Education, under contract RR93002002. The opinions expressed in this report do not necessarily reflect the positions or policies of OERI or the U.S. Department of Education. Permission is granted to copy and distribute this ERIC/AE Digest
Title: Improving the Quality of Student Notes. ERIC/AE Digest.
Descriptors: * Academic Achievement; Encoding [Psychology]; Higher Education; Instructional Effectiveness; * Lecture Method; * Memory; * Notetaking; Recall [Psychology]; Secondary Education; * Student Participation; * Teaching Methods; Time Management; Writing Skills
Identifiers: ERIC Digests
©1999-2012 Clearinghouse on Assessment and Evaluation. All rights reserved. Your privacy is guaranteed at