WANT TO IMPROVE EFFECTIVENESS OF YOUR LECTURES?
William L. Heward
Guided notes are instructor-prepared handouts that provide students with background information and standard cues with specific spaces to write key facts, concepts, and/or relationships during the lecture. Guided notes (GN) require students to actively respond during the lecture, improve the accuracy and efficiency of students’ notetaking, and increase students’ retention of course content. GN can help organize and enhance lecture content in any discipline or subject area. Instructors can develop GN for a single lecture, for one or more units within a course, or for an entire semester-long course.
Lecturing is one of the most widely used teaching methods in higher education. The format is simple and straightforward: the instructor talks (and illustrates, demonstrates, etc.) and students are held responsible for obtaining, remembering, and using the most important content from the lecture at a later time—most often on a quiz or an exam.
Advantages of lecturing.
Although some educators consider the lecture method outdated and ineffective, it offers several advantages and reasons for its continued use (Barbetta & Scaruppa, 1995; Michael, 1994).
Disadvantages of lecturing.
The lecture method also poses some significant challenges for students and instructors.
Guided notes offer benefits for students and instructors:
Students earn higher quiz and exam scores. Experimental studies have consistently found that students across all achievement and age/grade levels earn higher test scores when using guided notes than they earn when taking their own notes (Austin et al., in press; Heward, 1994; Lazarus, 1993)
Instructors must prepare the lecture carefully. Constructing GN requires instructors to examine the sequence and organization of lecture content.
Instructors are more likely to stay on-task with the lecture’s content and sequence. Because GN let students know what’s supposed to come next, instructors are less likely to stray very far from the planned content. And if and when an instructor does wander, the instructor and students know that the information is, at most, supporting context or enrichment, and not critical course content for which the students will be held responsible.
Help instructors prioritize and limit lecture content. Many instructors try to pack their lectures with much too much information. While this tendency is understandable —instructors want their students to learn as much as possible—when it comes to how much new lecture content students can learn and retain, less can be more (Nelson, 2001; Russell, Hendricson, & Herbert, 1984). Constructing GN requires decisions about what is really important, what the key concepts are that the instructors want their students to learn.
GN content can easily be converted into test/exam questions.
Students like GN and appreciate instructors who prepare them. Students appreciate and give positive evaluation ratings to instructors who develop and provide GN.
“Last semester I developed guided notes for my two lecture-based courses, and the feedback I received from students was very positive. Several of my colleagues told me students in their classes asked if they would use guided notes, too.” – Faculty member in education department.
Constructing an initial set of GN is easy; especially for lectures that have been developed previously.
Delete the key facts, concepts, and relationships from the lecture outline, leaving the remaining information to provide structure and context for students' notetaking.
Insert formatting cues such as asterisks, lines, bullets to show students where, when, and how many facts or concepts to write. For example, the box below might be included on the first page of GN.
~ Explanation of Symbols in Guided Notes ~
ò, *, O, ¶ Write a definition, concept, key point, or procedure next to each bullet, asterisk, star, or numbered circle.
__________ Fill-in blank lines with a word or phrase to complete a definition, concept, key point, or procedure during lecture/class.
* The pointing finger comes into play when you review and study your notes after class. It is a prompt to think of and write your own examples of a concept or ideas for applying a particular strategy.
& Big Idea & Big ideas are statements or concepts with wide-ranging implications for understanding and/or applying course content.
Leave ample space for students to write. Providing about three to four times the space needed to type the content will generally leave enough room for students’ handwriting.
Do not require students to write too much. Using GN should not unduly slow down the pace of the lecture. Two studies found that students’ exam scores for lectures taught with GN that could be completed by writing single words and short phrases were as high as their scores on tests over lecture taught with GN that required more extensive writing to complete (Austin & Sasson, 2001; Courson, 1989).
Enhance GN with supporting information, resources, and additional response opportunities. Consider inserting diagrams, illustrations, photos, highlighted statements or concepts that are particularly important (e.g., Big Ideas), and resources such as bibliographies and websites into GN. Sets of questions or practice problems interspersed within the GN give students additional opportunities to respond and receive instructor feedback during the lecture.
Make GN available to students via course website and/or photocopied course packets.
Q: Isn’t providing students---especially college students--with guided notes making it too easy for them? Are we just “spoon-feeding” them the information?
A: To complete their guided notes students must actively respond—looking, listening, thinking, and writing about critical content—throughout the lecture. We make it too easy for students when we teach in ways that let them sit passively during class.
Q: Why not just pass out an outline of my lecture or a copy of the guided notes already completed?
A: Distributing “completed” guided notes deprives students of the opportunities to respond—one of the two functions of notetaking and reduces the necessity of thinking and responding during class, or even of attending class at all.
Austin, J. L., & Sasson, J. R. (2001). A comparison between long-form and short-form guided notes in a university classroom. Manuscript submitted for publication.
Barbetta, P. M. , & Scaruppa, C. L. (1995). Looking for a way to improve your behavior analysis lectures? Try guided notes. The Behavior Analyst, 18, 155-160.
Courson, F. H. (1989). Differential effects of short- and long-form guided notes on test scores and accuracy of note taking by learning disabled and at-risk seventh grade students during social studies instruction. Unpublished Ph.D. dissertation, The Ohio State University,
Carrier, C. A. (1983). Notetaking research: Implications for the classroom. Journal of Instructional Development, 6(3), 19-25.
Heward, W. L. (1994). Three "low-tech" strategies for increasing the frequency of active student response during group instruction. In R. Gardner, D. M. Sainato, J. O. Cooper, T. E. Heron, W. L. Heward, J. Eshleman, & T. A. Grossi (Eds.), Behavior analysis in education: Focus on measurably superior instruction (pp. 283-320).
Hughes, C. A., & Suritsky, S. K. (1994). Note-taking skills of university students with and without learning disabilities. Journal of Learning Disabilities, 27, 20-24.
Kierwa, K. A. (1987). Notetaking and review: The research and its implications. Instructional Science, 16, 233-249.
Lazarus, B. D. (1993). Guided notes: Effects with secondary and post-secondary students with disabilities. Education and Treatment of Children, 14, 272-289.
Lazarus, B. D. (1996). Flexible skeletons: Guided notes for adolescents with mild disabilities. Teaching Exceptional Children, 28(3), 37-40.
Michael, J. (1994). How to teach a college course. Unpublished manuscript.
Nelson, C. (May, 2001). What is the most difficult step we must take to become great teachers? National Teaching and Learning Forum Newsletter, 10(4).
Norton, L. S., Hartley, J. (1986). What factors contribute to good examination marks? The role of notetaking in subsequent examination performance. Higher Education, 15, 355-371.
William L. Heward is Professor of Special Education,