Introduction 

With new technology at its highest availability, students are looking to utilize it to their advantage, even in the classroom. Many use laptops and tablets during class in order to record notes. But this tight relationship with the digital world leaves educators split on whether or not to allow students to type out lessons in class. Class notes serve as an essential asset for studying, so more optimal writing most often leads to more optimal test scores. Typing on a computer certainly can be faster than writing by hand, but some researchers cite this trait as a drawback. Others claim that faster note-taking allows students more time to process what they record. Before deciding what guidelines to enforce in their classrooms, educators should understand the pros and cons of either form of note-taking.

Resources

In order to decide on what method to enforce, teachers need to understand the perspective that supports and discourage different forms of recording information. Hundreds of resources exist across the internet that outline the best ways to take notes.

  • Lesson Plan
  1. Practicing: Education World offers five lesson plans on effective note-taking. The lesson plans cover grades K-12, with each program offering its own grade range. The plans provide reading material, two of which utilize a brief online biography of Amelia Earheart. Each lesson highlights a different skill required in proper note-taking, including summarizing, boiling down information, color-coding, using a graphic organizer, and paraphrasing. The page also contains additional resources that list helpful abbreviations, and tips for avoiding plagiarism.
  2. Cornell Notes: This 40-minute lesson plan from LDC CoreTools provides clear-cut instructions for teaching Cornell-style note-taking to students in grades 6-12. It includes details for every step of the lesson, from the warm-up to modeling strategies to practice prompts to a clean closing. The page also contains two sample articles, a formatted handout, and examples of completed notes for the sample articles. LDC also provides a scoring guide for the assignment. Teachers can develop this lesson when teaching about types of summaries, as students can utilize this style on paper or on the computer.
  3. Note-Taking Activities: Scholastic provides a list of activities in sharpening skills for those in grades 6-8. The page includes a material list and agenda for five different activities.  Each task involves group and pair-sharing discussion, allowing students to learn from each other, rather than from a lecture. The page also includes links to three apps⁠—Notability, Subtext, and Fetchnotesthat students can download to strengthen their summarizing dexterity.
  • Articles
  1. Research Supporting Hand-Written Notes: In this NPR article, cited research suggests that those who record information by hand are more likely to remember it than their typing counterparts. Since typing on a laptop can take significantly less time than writing by hand, students are forced to be more selective with what they record when they hand-write. As a result, students are thinking about the material as they write it down. Being able to type faster than they write, students often find themselves instinctually copying information verbatim and consequently processing less of the lesson.
  2. The Case for Typing: In this article, Brianna Walton from Agnes Scott College makes the case for typing class notes. The author asserts that, since typing is the faster method, students have more time to digest the material and formulate questions. The sheer quantity of the words that one can type far overcomes what can be written by hand, and therefore serves as yet another advantage. She also acknowledges the disadvantages of typing and describes how she overcomes them in order to inscribe in her most desired format. Educators reading this article will gain a more thorough understanding of the benefits of typing.
  3. More than Just the Method: Joel MacDonald from Medium addresses that the method of taking notes may not be what is inhibiting learning, but rather the note-taking mentality. Perhaps students should be taught to deviate from copying words verbatim, as that practice can be habituated regardless of whether they type or write. The author describes his own high school experience of rushing through notes by hand in an attempt to copy everything down, and still processing little of the information. At the end of the article, he offers advice on how to most effectively record information in class.
  • Informational Sites
  1. Note Taking 101: This source from Online Universities provides a foundation for writing the best notes. The article encourages students to hand-write and links to a study that suggests a correlation between hand-written logs and memory retention. However, it acknowledges the different learning styles by also linking to software for digitally mapping diagrams after class. The article also provides methods of organizing and standardizing notes, pairing advice with potential strategies for building the most efficient annotations.
  2. How to Take Good Notes: The University of South Carolina at Chapel Hill’s Learning Center provides methods for improving class notes. It discusses the benefits of taking notes inside and outside of class. The site contains information on preparing for a class, debriefing written notes, and following up with teachers afterwards. It also assesses the advantages of writing either by hand or digitally. This resource is intended for college students but could serve equally as helpful in a high school or even middle school setting.
  3. Strategies: Dartmouth College provides this resource for its students, including approaches for taking notes for other students, strategies for lectures, and a plethora of digital resources. Strategies range from classroom to lecture-style courses. In turn, educators could use this resource to teach the practice to younger schooling levels as well. The ambiguity of formatting for the strategies and the availability of digital resources at the bottom of the page allow room for students or teachers to decide on the format.

Conclusion

Teachers want their students to avoid verbatim note-taking because it could encourage forms of plagiarism. Many claim that typing class notes allows students to fall more easily into the verbatim pitfall, while others assert that faster typing allows for more time to tinker with the presented class material. Students’ different processing styles also come into play when deciding which method would best benefit their learning. Teachers can decide ahead of time, or play a situation by ear when choosing which documenting method is best. 

Additional Resources

  1. Keyboard vs Pen Study: This study from Stacee M. Horwitz of the University of Colorado, Boulder researches whether or not hand-written note-taking actually beats out its typed counterpart, with some thought-provoking results. By observing students’ receptiveness to information from a provided video, the researcher found that both parties obtained similar results. However, when subjects were given notes to study from, the ones with the typed, more verbatim information performed significantly better.
  2. Deciding on Which Method: Here, Effectiviology discusses the factors to consider when deciding to type or write notes. The writer declares that either method can be helpful in different circumstances, whether retaining conceptual or factual material. Typing works best when students have a mass of information to copy down, while writing works best when they want to process the material as they write it. The article encourages students to figure out their own preferred method. In turn, the article encourages teachers to give students room to decide which method works best for them.

Tips for Teaching Note Taking: This Reading and Writing Haven article explains how teachers can show students how to document material in the most practical sense. The writer encourages educators to give feedback and models different kinds of formats that students can utilize. Her descriptions encompass linear and visual strategies. She advises teachers to give feedback to students on the efficiency of their marks and allow them to decide for themselves which strategy works best for them.