Thursday, May 4, 2017


By Samantha Woods

With exams on the horizon, students will soon be revisiting their old notes and beginning their study regiments (hopefully!). As we see our children stare at their computer screens to ‘study,’ parents often question the quality (and sometimes, quantity) of their child’s study habits. The there seems to be a lot of debate these days as to whether students should write or type their notes (a similar debate often applies to using a digital agenda/calendar vs. ‘old school’ paper agendas/calendars; typing a reminder list on your phone vs. writing it on a piece of paper...). As a seasoned teacher (a.k.a ‘old’), I have lived both worlds, witnessing printing and paper being slowly replaced by typing and computer screens. As printing and handwriting notes metamorphosized to type and tapping, I began to notice changes in my students overall retention, their conceptual understanding of the material they were studying and overall engagement with the concepts being presented.  Was this a coincidence?  

This lead me to ask the question, “Do our brains process typing differently than writing/printing on paper? Does this somehow affect our memory and recall?” Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE educational technology, especially when I see a child’s struggle be alleviated, their eyes sparkle and learning becomes easier. Assistive technology can have very positive impacts on a child’s ability to learn BUT when it comes down to memory and conceptual understanding of material, does holding a writing utensil and recording information in our own scratch, have a better chance of being recalled later on? Does typing information simply mean transcribing and not processing? What does the brain have to do to transcribe typing into meaning? Is this a challenge for all? Some? Does it depend on preferred learning style?

So, I researched….

~ a huge thank you to SOAR Learning, Susan Kruger for providing this research summary.

The Research

Two professors (one from Princeton and one from UCLA) conducted a study by running three experiments. They had students take notes in a classroom setting. The study looked at students taking notes on a variety of things: bats, bread, algorithms, faith and economics. After, the students were tested on:
  • Memory of factual detail
  • Conceptual understanding of the material
  • Ability to synthesize and generalize information
The study revealed that students who wrote their notes on paper learned more than those who typed their notes. Students who wrote their notes by hand were aware that they wouldn't catch every word. It forced them to focus on listening and digesting. Then, summarize in their own written words. The process made the brain work harder and fosters comprehension and retention of the material. The research shows that students who took notes on their laptop did take MORE notes. 

But, they retained much less. This is because students who use a laptop simply type a record of the lecture. They don't use their brain to process what is being taught. Therefore students are merely transcribing, not processing. 

According to Susan Kruger at SOAR learning, there are 
TWO POSSIBLE SOLUTIONS for successful note-taking in this day and age.
Solution #1: Take notes ‘old school’ with pencil/pen in hand
Whenever you can, write your notes by hand. Put your brain to the test. Listen, comprehend, and summarize in your notes. Besides the increased opportunity for higher retention, you won't have the distractions that come with a computer. Visual note-taking can also be an incredible tool! To learn more about visual note-taking, here's a good video

Research shows that college students taking notes on a computer only spend 60% of class taking notes. They spend 40% of class time using the internet or other programs unrelated to the class. Plus, electronic devices introduce the opportunity for social media to interrupt your focus. Many of our own elementary, junior high and high school students have shared this reality with their Kaizen coaches - when they are ‘left to their own devices,’ distraction rates substantially increase both IN and OUT of class. If your child is in their room with their laptop and phone ‘studying’ and ‘taking notes’ from the posted information online, 40% of their time is likely spent  doing something else (online). Possible solution? Print the notes the teacher posted and recreate in your own words (without the computer). 

Having said that, I get it. This is the reality of our time and technology offers up many efficiencies.  No one can deny the speed at which you can take notes, compared to writing by hand.

At some point, you will encounter a class in which you truly can't keep up with how fast the teacher is teaching. If you try hand-written notes and end up feeling completely overwhelmed or with short phrases that don't make sense, pull out your laptop or voice recording software and do what you can. Voice memos are a way to combat slower processing speed - record a lecture or lesson and when you get home, take your handwritten or visual notes.

Solution #2: Type, then write! 
When hand-written note-taking is overwhelming, you can then take notes on your computer. But, in order to successfully retain the information, you will need to follow three guidelines:

  1. Turn off all distractions. Don't connect to the Wi-Fi. Don't do other homework. If you don't have faith in self-control, there are even apps/programs that you can set up to block all distractions.
  2. After class, transfer your notes from the computer to paper. Yes, rewrite them. It doesn't take as long as you would think and it gives you the opportunity to cut useless things out from your notes. It also helps retention, counts as studying, and is also the perfect set-up for active 20/5 review!
  3. Turn your notes into test questions. The most effective and time-efficient way to learn your notes is to turn them into potential test questions. (Creating questions is far more engaging and effective than memorizing!) The research proves it!
This review helps the brain process information much faster, dramatically reduces study time for tests, helps you work through the homework faster, and will ensure that assignments get turned in!

Many students feel like they don't know what they should be writing in their notes. Want to know more about a fast and simple method for turning notes into test questions? Ask a Kaizen coach!

Learning efficient note-taking processes will decrease the amount of time you spend studying, eliminate last minute cramming, and increase comprehension. 

As always, our goal is to provide skills for learning and LIFE. Of course, excellent note-taking processes support our success at school, BUT they can also be used at a board meeting, presentation hall, or anytime you have to engage your brain to remember new information or revisit old. Good note-taking is a life skill!

We are here to help. 

Better and better!
 ~ Samantha

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