Teach Houston

Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
Jan 13 2014

the rise & fall of guided notes (as seen by room 23)

As many of you may have gathered from my previous, just-as-impassioned posts on the subject, I am very wary of (borderline dislike) guided notes. That’s a big statement, so I’ll qualify it. I’m wary of their overuse in my school and in the unique teaching situation I’m in. My eighth-graders, some of whom read at a 12th-grade level, all of whom can explain to me author’s purpose and stoichiometry and the Pythagorean theorem, should know how to take notes by now. And – until today – they didn’t. I suppose guided notes are fine, in small doses. But my school has no textbooks. Meaning my kids got 8 packets a day and lost all of them and were never able to study for anything because papers would just be exploding out of backpacks. And the guided notes meant that not a single kid, except the ones who transferred from other middle schools, could take notes on the level of what I saw sixth-graders do at an area private school.

I hesitated to address this til now, til January, because I was scared. Note-taking takes time. Maybe kids won’t do it right. Maybe they’ll get frustrated and give up. Maybe it won’t teach them what they need to know. Or maybe I’m scared to buck the system, to do something differently, to stand up as a first-year teacher and say I think the way I teach right now will hurt my kids when they get to college and so something has to change.


I found this article today. Someone compared guided notes vs. Cornell notes. Essentially, though the sample size is miniscule, the study found that guided notes are better for quiz-and-recall (like history dates, for example) while Cornell notes are better for synthesis and application. Like my English class. Here it is: http://soar.wichita.edu/bitstream/handle/10057/1388/grasp-2008-56.pdf?sequence=1

Today was my first official day of Cornell notes. Yes, it took a while. Roughly 3x longer than teaching with guided notes, I’d estimate. Here’s what my kids had to say about it:

-”It makes us summarize more. Like…paraphrase.”
-”It takes longer.”
-”My hand hurts.”
-”It’s funner.”

I was basically a saleswoman today, pitching the concept of true and real note-taking as college prep, as train-your-brain, as  “build this skill while you can and your brain’s still flexible.”

I am, in some ways, buoyed by our strong state test benchmark scores. I feel like it gives me a little bit of wiggle room to push the envelope and branch out a bit. I’m not in lockdown-test-prep-mode. At least note yet. Our big test is on April 2nd. We have time. I don’t define my self-worth through test scores, not in any way, but somehow strong ones give me a little boost of confidence that’s helpful in clearing whatever hurdle lies before me.


I can teach kids how to take notes, but my work-life balance still sucks. I have a parent meeting from 5:30-6 PM tomorrow. aka I will be at school for roughly twelve hours. It’s no wonder I was so burnt-out at the end of last semester. I’m trying to avoid that this semester, but old habits die hard, and the spindly fingers of “there’s always one more thing you could be doing” have started to pry themselves back into my free time. must. resist.

2 Responses

  1. houstonheart

    Like…characterization, for example. Direct vs. indirect. Round vs. flat. Static vs. dynamic. Most of it is stuff they learned in early middle school, but round/flat especially proves to be a struggle.

  2. D

    I don’t get it–what kind of notes are you giving in 8th grade English?

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