Partial Graphic Organizers to Support Student Note-Taking and Learning
By Carolina Kuepper-Tetzel
Most students in my lectures take notes. Maybe they have a system that they use or they just start each lecture with a blank page. I started thinking about if there is anything that we – lecturers and teachers – could do to support student note-taking during lectures in any way. While working on a paper manuscript, I came across an interesting study (1) that looked at that: Providing students with different types of scaffolding for their note-taking and how this affects their performance on a later test.
In the study by Katayama and Robinson (1) students first studied a text passage and then were randomly assigned to one of six self-study conditions: a) complete outlines, b) partial outlines, c) skeletal outlines, d) complete graphic organizers, e) partial graphic organizers, or f) skeletal graphic organizers. Worksheets for each condition are displayed below. Students worked on the worksheets for 40 minutes. Depending on the condition, they either completed the notes or read the complete notes (students in the complete worksheet conditions were also encouraged to add own notes to the sheet). After the time was up, students inserted their materials into an envelope. Two days later, students received their envelopes and were asked to study for another 40 minutes using their material. At the end of the practice session, students returned the envelopes. Another two days later, students were given the chance to review their notes for 10 minutes before being administered the final test (I particularly like the procedure in this study because it seems to be a relatively authentic reflection of how students study). The final test had factual questions and application questions.
Their idea was that graphic organizers would help students use a structure during note-taking and studying that would support their learning and lead to better performance in the test. This is very similar to the benefits that are attributed to dual coding (2) – graphic organizers are a way to illustrate and visually structure knowledge. In regard to the completeness of notes, the idea was that the process of studying and note-taking should hit the optimal effort level – similar to the desirable difficulty approach (3). Here it was suggested that partial notes would be the best way to scaffold the learning process whereas complete notes would disengage students’ effortful processes and skeletal notes would probably be too difficult.
The results showed that for the factual questions it did not matter which type of worksheet students used for studying before. Thus, complete, partial, and skeletal outlines or graphic organizers all worked equally well to retain information and to perform well on factual questions. However, for the more complex application questions, students performed better when they had studied with graphic organizers. In addition, student who had the partial versions of the notes performed better than students who had received complete notes versions. Although there was no statistical interaction between outlines versus graphic organizers and completeness of notes, they did find that the biggest difference between outlines and graphical organizers occurred in the partial notes group, which leads to the tentative conclusion that partial graphic organizers may pose the optimal difficulty for students learning new material. They could not find any difference between partial versus skeletal notes, which the authors attributed to a not big enough sample size to detect the effect.
All in all, the study gives some important pointers for classroom application. Providing students with partial graphic organizers prior to reading text passages or attending a lecture can support their learning and increase their understanding of the material – particularly to answer more complex application questions. Plus, providing students with graphic organizers can help them to adopt this note-taking strategy themselves when no prior notes are provided to them in other courses (4).
(1) Katayama, A. D., & Robinson, D. H. (2000) Getting students “partially” involved in note-taking using graphic organizers. The Journal of Experimental Education, 68,119-133
(2) Clark, J. M., & Paivio, A. (1991). Dual Coding Theory and Education. Educational Psychology Review, 3, 149-210.
(3) Bjork, R. A. (1994). Memory and metamemory considerations in the training of human beings. In J. Metcalfe and A. Shimamura (Eds.), Metacognition: Knowing about knowing (pp. 185-205). Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
(4) Robinson, D. H., Katayama, A. D., Beth, A., Odom, S., Hsieh, Y.-P., & Vanderveen, A. (2006). Increasing text comprehension and graphic note taking using a partial graphic organizer. The Journal of Educational Research, 100, 103-111.