Write this down…

I’m wondering….again.

What is the purpose of note-taking?? (Specifically, in math class; still more specifically, in MS/HS math classes, where note-taking is more common, suddenly the more appropriate pedagogy.) Why are students expected to take notes? How essential are they, really, to learning? How much of it is about compliance (or The Way it Has Always Been) and how much about active, student-generated sense-making? Are notes primarily for recall of facts and rules, to practice processes and prepare for tests, or can notes aid in the construction of conceptual/relational understanding? What does it mean to “take notes”, and are some options better than others? Which ones? Why? Are there times when note-taking is appropriate and beneficial for the learner, and other times it is not? If so, when and why?  Is there a difference between taking notes and making notes?

But before that, I noticed…..

I’ve heard teachers (including myself) repeatedly remind their students to take notes (Get out your journals! Write this down!) only to lament their lack of use.  Like you, I’ve seen student notes range from dutifully copied examples to partial and chaotic scratches on a random page to nothing at all. I realize students do not, after all, magically know how to take or use notes just because they reach middle school. I’m aware that copying examples/filling in blanks ≠ understanding what the heck is going on, let alone why. I know some students are able to mimic processes well enough to maintain their status as the “smart” kids…and you know what happens to everyone else. I notice a lot of popularity with ISN’s and more recently, sketch or doodle-notes, both claiming to be improvements on “traditional” note-taking routines.  There is a lot that intrigues me here, but I am cautious.  Maybe even confused.

Here’s why.  Much (all?) of the ISN and doodle/sketch-note materials I’ve seen via my brief ‘research’ online are teacher-generated, limiting student interaction to following directions/filling in blanks, keeping students passive and unburdened by any need to make sense of ideas. Happy and busy ≠ engaged in content and thinking critically; what risks are being taken, what fabulous mistakes are being made? How will there be any WTF or AHA moments?

My gut-feeling is that note-taking actually plays a more significant role in the culture of our classrooms that we realize, impacting everything from mindset to equity to assessment. The parameters and expectations we set communicate what and who we value in our classrooms and defines who takes the active or passive role, teacher or learner.

Mind you, I’m no expert on this subject; my teaching skewed toward less notes, more tasks, and my knowledge is limited.  Note-taking does not seem to be a blog-worthy topic; I’m suggesting it should be.  Surely I am not the only person asking these questions!  There are plenty of blogs, mostly positive, about ISN’s, which seem to at least have the potential to include more than rules, examples, and definitions.  I’m imagining how powerful post-exploration student-generated sketch notes would be…

I just want to push hard on some assumptions about notes and note-taking, start a conversation, ask more questions, and gain some insights.  My gut is tellling me this is another component in education in need of a transformation.  And to go eat a peanut butter cookie, but I am trying to ignore that part.


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