Friday, September 12, 2014

A Note-Taking Conundrum

Researchers and educators have suggested note-taking-by-hand produces greater efficacy for learning than note-taking-by-keyboard. Supporting this notion, Pam Mueller and Daniel Oppenheimer*, posit that handwriting may create deeper processing of the content.

Mueller and Oppenheimer conducted three studies, and concluded that subjects who took notes via keyboard were able to generate more written product.

Students who took notes keyboarding were not as capable as their handwriting peers in remembering factual details, demonstrating conceptual comprehension, or synthesizing the material.  

According to Cindi May**, who writes for Scientific American:
"What drives this paradoxical finding?  Mueller and Oppenheimer postulate that taking notes by hand requires different types of cognitive processing than taking notes on a laptop, and these different processes have consequences for learning.  Writing by hand is slower and more cumbersome than typing, and students cannot possibly write down every word in a lecture.  Instead, they listen, digest, and summarize so that they can succinctly capture the essence of the information.  Thus, taking notes by hand forces the brain to engage in some heavy “mental lifting,” and these efforts foster comprehension and retention.  By contrast, when typing students can easily produce a written record of the lecture without processing its meaning, as faster typing speeds allow students to transcribe a lecture word for word without devoting much thought to the content."

For those of us working with students with special needs, who are doubly challenged by handwriting this becomes even more complicated. If the student cannot read his/her writing, what than? If the student's rate of handwriting is half the speed of his/her peers, what than? There are the obvious benefits of being able to quickly reorganize and edit word-processed work.

So, food for thought. No answers here, but when we make recommendations to switch a student to keyboarding, and possibly jettison handwriting, we need to consider the whole impact. Perhaps, we switch students, but ask the team to continue addressing handwriting. It may be that the student benefits from keyboarding notes, and then taking a short-hand set of notes at home.

I'd be curious to hear reader's thoughts on this.

Happy Therapy!

*Pam A., M., & Daniel M., O. (2014, January 16). The Pen is Mightier Than the Keyboard: Advantages of Longhand Over Laptop Note Taking. Retrieved September 12, 2014, from

**May, C. (2014, June 3). A Learning Secret: Don't Take Notes with a Laptop. Retrieved September 12, 2014.

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