Should we still teach kids to take notes by hand?

In a world where laptops, Chrome books and tablets are becoming more ubiquitous in classrooms and 1:1 programs are springing up at schools across the country, have you ever wondered — where’s the limit to the utility of all this technology? Should we throw out paper altogether?

Pam Muller of Princeton University and Daniel Oppenheimer of UCLA, conducted a study looking at whether writing notes by hand or taking notes on a computer resulted in higher comprehension. They took three groups of college-aged students and had them take notes while watching TED talks. In each study, they found the students who took notes by hand did better, regardless of whether they reviewed notes before the comprehension checks or not.

Professors and teachers have long been suspicious of laptop users in class, knowing the laptops bring with them an endless stream of distractions, but this research points to something more:

“The present research suggests that even when laptops are used solely to take notes, they may still be impairing learning because their use results in shallower processing. In three studies, we found that students who took notes on laptops performed worse on conceptual questions than students who took notes longhand.”

Muller and Oppenheimer found when students wrote notes by hand, they did a better job of synthesizing information, categorizing it, and putting it into their own words. Students who took notes on a laptop tended to try and record notes verbatim, which led to gaps in their understanding and shallower processing.

So what does this mean for the average K-12 teacher?

It means teaching note taking is important to our students’ long-term success. Even if you have a 1:1 laptop model, teachers need to explicitly teach handwriting notes and studying those notes.

Here are a few resources to help you figure out how and what to teach your students.

Scholastic has a few resources for teaching note taking specifically to middle school students. Check out their lesson plans for teaching a short note-taking lesson.

Science evangelist Ainissa Ramirez, in this Edutopia post, suggests incorporating notebooks for daily writing, especially lab notebooks in science.

Education World also has several note-taking lesson plans you could use for different ages. Check out this round up here.

Do you think handwriting notes is still important? Any suggestions we missed? Let us know in the comments below!

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Michael Alderman

Marketing and Communications Specialist at KIPP New Jersey
Michael is the marketing and communications specialist at KIPP New Jersey. You can contact Michael on Twitter @malderman_.