Too often I have watched students take notes, either by mindlessly highlighting sections of a text, or jotting down seemingly random and unconnected ideas. Note taking strategies are perhaps one of the single-most important learning skills a teacher can pass on to a student, and the Cornell Method is one of the best. An example, taken from The Learning Toolbox website illustrates how the system works.
You separate a page into three areas: the left-hand column for keywords, the right-hand column for notes and explanations, and the bottom of the page for a summary of the notes taken.
While very simple, the beauty of this system is that it forces three things to happen. It ensures that students focus on key concepts rather than simply highlight promising looking quotes with a highlighter, forces them to elucidate on these key points, exploring the salient features of each, and lastly that it encourages students to synthesise this information again developing their own understanding of the material.
As a cognitive education teacher, I am always looking for strategies to help scaffold student thinking and research, but the computer skills teacher in me aches to find digital equivalents which students can use while researching on screen, for example, and increasingly this is how research is conducted. Students can easily create their own templates freehand, but many teachers create Word templates for Cornell notes, and this is easy to do if you create a table and then merge cells to create the keyword column and so on. Students can download this template and print it for pen and paper use, or use an electronic copy for notes.
While satisfactory in some respects, and very easy to set up, to my mind there are problems with this approach. It works in the sense that it is handy for taking notes on computer from printed texts, or taking notes on paper from screen texts, but I have never been able to read on screen and take notes to computer. Maybe I’m just not a digital native, but it just doesn’t work for me. I really need a tool that will allow me to write notes on the same screen I am reading from. I have found it very useful to use Evernote as a note-taking tool, and by using a simple Cornell template pasted into the note page, and reducing the size of the page I am reading and the Evernote page so that they sit side by side, I can read on screen and take notes as I read. This won’t be for everyone, but it’s something I find useful.