Nota Bene

All day, I’ve felt a blog post coming on. To be specific, I have felt increasingly motivated to post about note taking. I’m sure it has nothing to do with the fact that I spent the weekend taking notes and have now started typing them up.

Note taking is a skill that I think is often overlooked in education today. When I was in high school, I thought I was a good note taker–and compared to many others, I was. When my friend Jim was my American History teacher in high school, I took pages and pages of notes in every single one of his class hours, because we were tested on the lectures and the book, and there was no overlap. My friends often borrowed my notes because they were so complete.

However, if I had known then what I know now, my note taking would have been even more effective and less exhausting. Note taking is one of the things I teach, because I find that often the students who come to me have never learned anything about taking notes. They start off learning to write “key word” outlines, where they can pick only three words from each sentence of a short paragraph to help them remember the meaning.

Later, they learn to take their “key words” from concepts or ideas. Then we move on to multi-source notes for research essays. They learn to organize their notes by topic, not by source, so they know right away if they have enough notes about each topic covered in their essay.

Finally, they learn to take dendrite notes, sometimes referred to as “tree and branch.” I did not learn this type of note-taking until I started teaching Excellence in Writing materials and got their “Advanced Communication” DVD series. It is worth the price just for the note taking instruction. This system is incredibly efficient and it  automatically organizes the material for you as you jot things down. Here are the notes I took during one of the sessions I attended this weekend:

7-18-15 social media notes

Now of course, I can leave them that way and they are easy to follow. However, I find that my understanding and grasp of the material increases if I type the notes up and lay them out in a more traditional, linear way. Here’s what those exact same notes look like after I typed them:

7-28-15 social media outline

My freshman year of college, I had to take a class in college survival skills that included the importance of note taking, although they didn’t really show us how to do it. Our professor was an incredible man who had emigrated from Europe as a young adult, and had maintained a straight “A” average in college while working a full time job. His secret? He took notes in every class and then typed them up the same evening, no matter how tired he was.

The act of typing up your notes helps you to organize and review the information a second time, which makes it more likely that you’ll remember it. Plus, if everything is still fresh in your mind, you’ll be able to remember and add details that you didn’t have time to write down earlier. After typing up his notes every night, my professor would set them aside until time to study for a test. All he had to do was read through his well-organized notes to remind himself of the material.

By typing up my notes from the conference, I like to think I am doing a better job of internalizing all that great new information that I was exposed to. Note taking is a very useful lifelong skill! Go forth and take notes!


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