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What’s The Best, Most Effective Way To Take Notes?

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By Claire Brown

If it feels like you forget new information almost as quickly as you hear it, even if you write it down, that’s because we tend to lose almost 40% of new information within the first 24 hours of first reading or hearing it. If we take notes effectively, however, we can retain and retrieve almost 100% of the information we receive.

Learning How To Retain Information

The most effective note-taking skills involve active rather than passive learning. Active learning places the responsibility for learning on the learner. Research has found that, for learning to be effective, students need to be doing things with the material they are engaging with (reading, writing, discussing, solving problems).

They must also be thinking about the thinking (metacognition) involved in engaging with the material. This means that, while students are learning the content, they should also be thinking about how they are learning it. What is causing confusion? How does your thinking change about this topic as you are learning? What has worked well for you in learning this topic that you should do next time? What hasn’t worked so well so you don’t make that learning mistake again?

Studies have found note taking is most effective when notes are organised and transformed in some way or when a teacher gives examples of good notes. An effective note-taking strategy requires effort. Half the battle with students is helping them understand the reasons for needing to take and interact regularly with their notes.

Students often tell teachers they have excellent memories and don’t need to take notes because they can easily recall information. Research says this is not the case.

The goal of effective note taking is to help recall what has been learned and retain that information over time. German psychologist Hermann Ebbinghaus in 1895 conducted some of the first experiments on memory and recall, and spaced learning. He developed the forgetting curve, which shows how information is lost quickly over time if there is no strategy or effort to retain it.

graph on rate of forgetting

The rate of forgetting is minimised if students interact (re-read/discuss/write/engage) with their notes within 24 hours. A second repetition for a shorter period of time within a day brings recall back up to 100%. A third repetition within a week for an even shorter time brings recall back to 100%.

What Are The Most Effective Ways To Take Notes?

I teach the Cornell Note-Taking System, which was developed in the 1950s as part of a university preparation program (AVID). Effective note taking is interactive and involves using the original notes many times over to build memory of the content, rather than seeing note taking as just a one-off copying activity. The important features of this system are captured in the images below.

notes1
Sample of AVID’s application of Cornell Notes in Language Arts

There are four stages to good note taking:

Note taking
Note making
Note interacting
Note reflecting

In note taking, students:

• Prepare a page to take notes the same way each time. An essential question at the top of the page focuses the learner on the key learning objective that they should be able to discuss upon leaving the class

• Rule the page into two columns, with the first column taking up about a third of the page. The space on the left is for questions and notes that may be added in later as students reflect on their notes. The space on the right is for the student to take notes from the lecture, textbook, laboratory experiment, video, audio, whatever the source

• Listen and take notes in their own words – paraphrase what they hear so it makes sense to them rather than write down verbatim what they hear/see

• Leave spaces and lines between main ideas for revising later and adding information

• Develop their own consistent system of abbreviations and symbols to save time as they take notes

• Write in phrases, not complete sentences

• Use bullet points and lists where possible

• Learn how to listen for important information versus trivial information

• Take cues from the lecturer or source, e.g. “This is important…

• Use highlighters and colour to indicate key ideas, changes in concepts or links between information.

notes
Sample of AVID’s application of Cornell Notes in Chemistry

In note making, students:

• Review and revise the content of their notes

• Write questions in the left-hand side near where the answer is contained on the right-hand side

• Connect key chunks of material in the notes pages using colour or symbols

• Exchange ideas and collaborate with other students to check for understanding and test the comprehensiveness of each other’s notes.

In note interacting, students:

• Link all the learning together by writing a summary that addresses the essential question and answers the questions from the left margin. Note that a summary is different from a reflection that focuses on the student’s response to the learning task or content

• Learn from their notes by building in to their study timetable regular times for revising their notes for each subject

• Cover the information on the right-hand side and use the questions as study prompts before a test.

In note reflecting:

• Written feedback should be provided by a peer, tutor or teacher to check for the student’s understanding in the initial learning phase

• Students should address the feedback by focusing on one area of challenge they are experiencing in their learning

• Students should also reflect over an entire unit on a regular basis leading up to exams and tests.

This article is part of The Conversation’s Education series.

Claire Brown is the Associate Director at The Victoria Institute at Victoria University.

This article was originally published here on The Conversation.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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