February 15, 2019
Audrey Irias

For those who have taught for more than two years, you know that different fads come and go, imposed upon us teachers from the administration, who are told what to impose by the superintendent and/or school board. Normally, the fad is aligned with tests that one has to administer, an area of weakness demonstrated by the lower-performing students in the district, or some trend that all schools are taking on, across the state.

Some fads go with a type of curriculum, such as the Donaldson Framework, some go with an approach, such as Backwards-Design, and some go with books whose implemented methods have demonstrated success many districts over. We all go to a one- to three-hour professional development workshop, typically led by our own school administration, and much of the time, go back to our classroom with a book, binder, or handouts of said strategy.

We all complain that it is just the latest trend—that it, too, shall pass. Most fads do. We think, “What’s the latest our admin want us to do, without piloting it first?”

Call me crazy, but I think each fad has its own merit and rationale why we teachers have to impose it. After all, no matter our subject or role in the school, we all have one ultimate goal: to help our students succeed. So, I jump right on in. I would change up the furniture layout, curriculum, classroom décor, etc., the following week, to align with the new framework.

One particular fad that came and went was Cornell Notes, first created for law students at Cornell. This fad left my school after a year, but not for my classes, much to my students’ chagrin.

I was finding my students didn’t know what they needed to remember when we went through readers or novels together, or when I taught about a particular time in history or cultural practice (as a world language teacher). They would only write down what they saw on the board or in a presentation—and only if I specifically and repeatedly told them to do so.

My high school students did NOT know how to take notes—what to discern as valuable to write down, how to summarize what they learned, how to write shorthand, etc. I made a giant Cornell Notes template poster and took a half an hour to teach how to take notes in this format. I had to remind them what each section meant and how to make the most of it, but after a while, it became second nature to them.

How to use Cornell Notes (see the free resource for an example):

  1. Have students label the top right corner with their name, class topic, date, and period number.
  2. Students put what they are reading in the top left corner.
  3. Students write the objective of what they are reading in the middle, and tailor it to the content at hand.
  4. Students draw a line horizontally under the objective, and then, under that line, fold the paper in thirds, left to right. They draw a line where the first third fold lies. Or, they can just write small to the left of the blue line on a loose-leaf piece of paper. To the left of that line, students write in dates, the main idea, plot line, character’s names, or a leading question. To the right of the line, they define what they put on the left. I allow them to take notes here—what they feel is important. There isn’t a wrong set of notes, but I do recommend they write as briefly as possible.
  5. They draw a horizontal line about two inches up from the bottom of the paper. Under this line, they summarize the main events of what they just read in no more than three sentences. This means that they have to think of how they can effectively put the main points as briefly as possible—an ability that improves over time using this method.

Once the Notes are made, the trick is to teach them how to use the sheet for studying. Do a study session with them in class, and have students quiz each other in partners. Then, assign that type of studying as homework.

Overall, implementing Cornell Notes has helped my students. If they filled them out every time they read a chapter or do a particular type of unit, it trains them to read with a purpose and organize their thoughts. If they created a page of Cornell Notes for what they read at the end of that very class, instead of waiting until the end of a unit, or a particular timeframe, such as a week or month, I found that they retained more information and best of all, took down better notes.

Posted By Audrey Irias | Teacher’s Discovery

Audrey Yates Irias started learning Spanish at age 10 in a FLEX program in her elementary school, because her aunt lived in Puerto Rico. She was so enamored with learning languages that she dove in head first, and took multiple years of French and Spanish in high school. Following her passion, she was a double major in Spanish and French Education and a TESOL minor, at Illinois State University—during which time she studied in Spain and France. She taught for 11 years in both traditional as well as virtual classrooms. In 2016, she earned her master’s in Translation and Interpreting from the University of Illinois.

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