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Guided notes in mathematics: are they useful?

If you are a mathematics teacher, or any teacher for that matter, you are ideally interested in learning more about the ways in which your students can achieve better results (assuming that academia hasn’t thoroughly extinguished what passion you once had for teaching). If you’re a person studying a mathematics program or someone who is simply keen on learning more about the field, one could safely assume you too would be interested in knowing more about how to improve that learning process. This posts deals with an issue that could impact that learning process and that could influence how we think about mathematics education.

Our blog post today focuses on a fresh out-of-the-oven research paper written by Iannone & Miller (2019) that examines the impact of guided notes in mathematics education.

Iannone & Miller (2019) paper on note-taking looked at undergraduate students and investigated how guided notes influenced their note-taking experience. Specifically, the authors were interested in examining the students attitudes towards the use of guided notes as well as the extent to which the use of guided notes impacted the students’ note-taking process.

The data used for the study (table from Iannone & Miller, 2019)

The paper takes as a point of departure the (generally well-accepted) idea that students who partake in note-taking during math class tend to produce better result than those that don’t. This premise certainly seems to have merit, and is something that has been observed numerous times in the past (e.g. Igo et al., 2005; Titsworth, 2001). However, what makes the study by Iannone & Miller (2019) a very interesting read, is the focus on guided notes and how they impact the note-taking process. By guided notes, the authors refer to the act of preparing what is usually a set of lecture notes that contain gaps where the student can fill in their own notes during the lectures.

Although Iannone & Miller (2019) certainly lend credence to the usefulness of using guided notes, the authors are also quick to acknowledge that guide notes cannot on their own “make the pedagogical intentions of the lecturer clearer to the students” (ibid, p. 387). Alas, it seems like there is no quick-fix that can replace proper instruction and having a pedagogical approach to teaching! Insert sad emoji here

Although the use of guided notes obviously aren’t a simple panacea to all of our teaching problems, they do seem to allow for students to be more flexible in how they take their notes.

“When the pressure on writing everything that is written on the board is taken away, the students felt they could engage more with what the lecturer was saying, again confirming some of the results found also in Austin et al. (2004).” (Iannone & Miller, 2019, p. 401)

Essentially, by removing the pressure of feeling the need to write down everything that is on the chalk board, the students’ note-taking behavior changes which could enable them to record notes on things that they might have otherwise never have given any attention.

In concluding, Iannone & Miller (2019) end with a discussion on the possibility to further elaborate on the subject by investigating whether these results can be seen on a larger scale (the data for their paper was somewhat limited but nevertheless, highly relevant) and to which extent utilizing a guided approach to note-taking can actually produce a more auspicious outcome. The authors are careful in pointing out that the issue of note-taking and achievement is something that is outside of the scope of their paper. However, it would certainly be interesting to follow the future development of this research. Until then, I think I’m going to start handing out guided notes on my next lecture! Not sure how that will go but I suspect it’s going to be an interesting experience!

Iannone, P & Miller, D 2019, ‘Guided Notes for University Mathematics and Their Impact on Students’ Note-Taking Behaviour’, Educational Studies in Mathematics, vol. 101, no. 3, pp. 387–404
Igo, L.B., Bruning, R. and McCrudden, M.T., 2005. Exploring Differences in Students’ Copy-and-Paste Decision Making and Processing: A Mixed-Methods Study. Journal of Educational Psychology97(1), p.103.
Titsworth, B.S., 2001. The effects of teacher immediacy, use of organizational lecture cues, and students’ notetaking on cognitive learning. Communication education50(4), pp.283-297.

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