Math Study Skills – Notetaking

February 24, 2009 at 7:09 am Leave a comment

There are so many places to begin … Which study skill should be covered first? Doing homework effectively? Reading the textbook? Time management? I decided to begin with note taking.

Note taking is a crucial skill for students in a developmental math class. Students do most of their learning in the classroom at this level, and a good set of notes is like their transcript of exactly what went on in class. Quality classroom notes are a valuable aid to students while they are working on homework, as well as while they are studying for an exam.

Students know that they are supposed to take notes, but many have no idea how to do this. Some students faithfully copy down everything the instructor writes or says, but do not think about what they are listening to or writing down. Others use their notes to try a problem here or there, but do not have anything they can really refer to after class. By the way, if you want your students to take note taking seriously you have to let them know why they should be taking notes and how they can use them. Otherwise they view it as another pointless exercise.

I decided to use a version of Cornell notes in my classes. Here’s the setup. (Click the picture to see a full-size image.)


On day one I told the class that they had to take their notes in this format. (I did tell them that they could adjust the size of each section to fit their particular needs.) I explained what belonged in the Comment Section, and as we started to take our notes I prompted them for things that they could be writing in that section. Students intuitively understood the column system. Once we reached a point when my students were getting close to the end of page 1, I explained the summary section. Then I gave them a minute to summarize, in a couple of sentences, what was covered on the page of notes. I had a few volunteers share their summaries, and they were excellent.

OK, so now they could fill out the comment & summary sections. I needed them to understand how these sections would help them to learn. A quick glance at these sections will help them to remember what was covered in class, the sections help students to find material while working on their homework, the process of thinking about what to write in these sections will encourage students to think about the material – which will help them to understand the material, …

I spent at most 10 minutes on that first day talking about how to take notes, why it was important, and what could be gained. 10 minutes, that’s it. My students are taking excellent notes, and I didn’t have to sacrifice math material to teach this skill. As I walk around class, I am blown away at how well they are doing.

I also gave a handout explaining how I wanted their 3-ring binder to be set up.

your-notebook (pdf file)

I check their notebooks on the day of the exam. Students who have complete notebooks (incluing each day’s notes and each homework assignment from the text), 100% on all MyMathLab online assignments, 85% or better on each MyMathLab quiz, no more than 1 absence, and a minimum of 4 hours spent in our tutorial lab can earn 10 bonus points on their exam.

To sum up, I was able to teach my students how to take quality notes in 10 minutes of class time.

  • I helped them understand why taking notes is important, not just something to keep them busy during class.
  • I taught them to think while they are taking notes (comment section) and to reflect on their notes after class while reviewing them (summary section).
  • I taught them how to organize their notes, a valuable skill in and of itself.

Note taking is a skill that a student can use every day in class, improve their success in the course, and carries over to their other courses as well. It’s a great way to start the semester, high on reward while low on classroom time commitment.

In the next update I will move on to time management.

(By the way, if you’d like to see copies of students’ notes, just drop me a line. – GW)


Entry filed under: Math, Uncategorized. Tags: , , , , , , , , .

Math Study Skills – Incorporating Them Into Your Class NADE 2009 – Study Skills

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