Friday, October 3, 2014

A Cornell Notes Comeback!

On Thursday I attended a session at the Illinois Reading Conference in Springfield entitled Success in Science Through Literacy Strategies.  The four presenters Katie Giambeluca, Jamie Moderhack, Melissa Sethna, and Alyssa Wiltjer were all from Mundelein High School.  After spending some time with them both in the session and with some Mundelein teachers later on that evening - and after attending a subsequent session the next day with another set of amazing teachers from Mundelein (blog to follow in the future), I am convinced that Mundelein really has it going on out there, and I want to see and hear more!

One thing I found interesting in the few days I've been here in Springfield is the number of times that Cornell Notes have been referenced (or Two-Column Notes for my Project CRISS friends).  I find this amusing because Cornell Notes never seem to really go away!  After doing some research, I discovered that they got their beginning in the 1950s - obviously an oldie but a goodie, and they have withstood the test of time!  Even more interesting is that I have heard about this strategy three times in three different sessions in reference to science instruction.

Regardless of the content, Cornell Notes can be used effectively as a note taking and study strategy.  Your read/writers would use this most effectively because there are no limitations on how lengthy your notes can be.  Those of us who are linguistic tend to like limitless possibilities for writing.  BUT, they're also a really great setup to keep students organized AND a very useful tool for studying.

Here's how they work.

  1. Have students split their paper into four sections as shown above to the right (kind of like a capital I but off center).
  2. Give students a purpose for reading (or watching a video or participating in a discussion or activity - however you plan to deliver information), and have them write the purpose on the top of the paper.  For example, watch the video to gather information on how climate patterns have changed over the last one hundred years.
  3. Instruct students to jot down notes or draw pictures/diagrams (for our visual students) in the big right hand column.  The notes/pictures should connect to the purpose (skip a line between notes).  Notes should not be in full sentences and should/could be abbreviated as much as possible.
  4. After note-taking is completed, students should go back and read their notes, pulling out key ideas, names, dates, and vocabulary. These can be listed on the left in the skinny column.  Also, any questions students may still have about the material can be written in this column for future inquiry. This entire step can easily be done in small groups so that our interpersonal students get their chat release and so that all of our kiddos can process and grapple with what the key points really are.
  5. Finally, as a group or individually, on the bottom of the page, have students write a few sentences, summarizing those key points listed in the right column.  Again, this could easily be done in small groups.
Once the note taking process has happened, students now have beautifully constructed notes that can be a fantastic study tool for something like a twelve minute study.  Students can approach studying their Cornell Notes like this.
  1. Reread your notes in the bigger right hand column, looking for specific examples or details that might be important.
  2. Look at your key ideas on the left, and ask yourself if you really understand them.  If not, how can you help yourself understand them?
  3. Reread the summary.  
  4. Do this for a set amount of time (eight minutes for eighth grade, six minutes for sixth grade, etc.) every day up until the test or quiz.
No matter if you know them as Cornell Notes or Two Column notes - the premise is the same - this type of note taking strategy is useful in any area that a student would need to record information to be used for studying at a later time.  Once your students have gone through the process, have them reflect on themselves as learners and how the practice of organizing their notes in this manner has benefited them.  Be prepared to hear how much students found them to be seriously beneficial.  But also be prepared to hear how difficult they were for some.  Remember that no strategy works for everybody, and our job is to shine a spotlight on what might work for each of our students as individuals so that they can begin to feel control over how they organize and take their own notes.  Our job is to create independent learners, and this is a perfect tool to put into their hands.

What kinds of successes have you had with Cornell Notes?  Share those below.

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