Note-taking: A fundamental skill of the independent learner

Does your child’s school teach your child to take notes? This may sound like a very trivial question but a school that goes out of the way to teach its student population the art and science of note-taking shows the degree of commitment that the school has towards teaching your child to be independent learner. The term “independent learner” or “independent learning” is often been used by schools to catch the attention of parents who want their children to have the virtues of an independent learner instilled while their children are in school. Parents know that this is one of the qualities that the future workforce is expected to possess.

Yet referring to my original question again, how many schools actually teach students to do effective note-taking? Note-taking is a basic skill that everyone needs if he is to be able to learn effectively. Through effective note-taking, the student learns to make decisions about what is important about the learning that he is undergoing.  Effective note-taking implies that a lot of thinking is done by the student to help him sort out the relevant from the irrelevant and to get the information into some organized and effective structure. A student will also be a very much more active learner if he makes his own notes. Independent learners need to be active learners, in fact they have to be pro-active about their learning.

But do schools actually encourage this pro-activity with regards to student learning? To put it another way, do schools actually encourage students to be lazy? The truth is many schools do, and this is true even of the  higher educational institutions. Teachers and lecturers have been guilty of spoon-feeding students with stacks of notes. Today, some educational institutions, like some the polytechnics in Singapore, take pride that their students can get access to lecture notes online. Pride in their new ICT ability to store notes online takes precedence over real learning in such cases.  It seems that today, even at the tertiary levels of education, notes are expected to be given out even though one would expect that at least at that level, students should be encouraged to be more independent and take greater responsibility for their learning. This spoon-feeding is often seen as “good” for the students because it helps the students pass the examinations because the lectures are usually geared to the questions in the examinations.

It seems that if the goal is to produce students who are examinations smart, schools will continue to dish out notes to their students. However, it ought to be noted that such practices do not contribute in any way to the making of an independent and life-long learner. Educational institutions must make a serious effort to get students to be independent learners. It reflects poorly on such educational institutions if the basic skills of independent learning is not emphasised.


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  1. The concept of effective notetaking is indeed interesting. As a secondary school teacher I create opportunities for students to interact with a variety of content in a variety of ways. The modern students have tagging, messaging, blogging, posting comments, bookmarking. Are these effective notetaking skills? In my context I believe yes.

    For me the idea of developing independent learners is to offer many methods to achieve a goal, allow students to explore and experience, which will ultimately lead them to decide on a best proces for them.

  2. Hi Shane

    Thanks for the comments. I am incline to agree with you that there are various ways of taking notes. The modern student can use the ways that you have mentioned. I think how notes are done depends very much on what it will be used for. If you do a lot of work on a computer, then I believe tags, bookmarks and all the others you have mentioned would be most useful.

    But if your notes are for revision purposes, you may want to go the pen and paper way. Even then, there are a variety of ways of doing that.

    Thank you for your input on this subject. I hope other readers will chip into this discussion. Have a nice day :)

  3. As a parent of a fifth grader (headed for 6th) I am seek ing ways to introduce note taking skills to my son during the summertime. Can you suggest any tools for accomplishing this?

  4. Thanks for the question, Julie. I suggest that you use the approach pioneered by Tony Buzan, and that is to use mind maps. Teach your child how to do mind maps. It is not only fun but also concise and effective and a real time saver when it matters most, that is, when he needs to refer to them for revision. Refer to the many books by Tony Buzan on the subject. Make sure you follow the rules for doing mind maps. They are quite distinct from webbing and concept webbing which some writers also call mind maps. But Tony Buzan is the originator of it. So refer to the guru himself.

  5. Hi,
    I do not give out notes and am often questioned by my students about the availability of notes. Instead, I would deliver content on the spot and depending on the interaction with students, the details written on the white-board would form the material for students to take down. I would then highlight to students that their set of notes are most unique to the lesson they just had. I find that such a practice effective thus far. Thanks.
    Wen Shih

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