, Volume 5, Issue 3, pp 265-285

Students’ Note-Taking as a Knowledge-Construction Tool

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Abstract

Note-taking is the hegemonic study activity at university and, in many cases, the main ground for educational interaction between teacher and students. This observation has given rise to an increasing interest in studying students’ note-taking and its impact on learning. In broad terms, three lines of research have been developed in the last 40 years: the effects of note-taking and note-rewriting on some cognitive variables (attention, memory, comprehension, and so on); the relationship between quality of notes and significance of learning; and the changes in the teaching methodology which may enhance note-taking. However, the consideration of notes as a symbolic mediator which in certain educational conditions may promote knowledge construction and transformation and, ultimately, cognitive change has received much less attention.

In a preliminary study of descriptive nature we confirmed that in the context of our universities note-taking basically performed a register and external memory function with respect to the contents which were to be assessed by the teacher. Only a reduced part of the studied sample attached notes an eminently epistemic function, turning classroom sessions into truly learning situations involving a strategic use (that is, conscious and intentional) of the note-taking procedures using paraphrasing, inferences, analogies and other rhetorical resources.

From the data collected in this study we initiated a research and educational innovation project in our respective universities which aimed at the modification of the instructional context so as to turn note-taking into a tool for conceptual change. These modifications had to do with basically three aspects:

  1. Form students in the contextualised use of the different note-taking procedures so that they gradually acquired a “strategic knowledge” related to when and why a given type of note more suitably adjusted to the conditions of the note-taking context.

  2. Turn students’ notes into a formative assessment tool through a process of external guidance and regulation carried out by the teacher with the objective of notes becoming a tool allowing for self-regulation of students’ own learning.

  3. Establish note-taking teams in the classroom with the objective of promoting collaborative learning through the use of activities which emphasise interdependence and peer-assessment.

This text will present this project in detail analysing the results obtained and discussing the different degrees of influence which an intervention/approach such as the one outlined here may have on university teaching.