Some have never given up on their notebooks and pens, while others have only used the keyboard for writing for several years. Whether you’re picky or not, know that the tools we use to write are also tools for our brains. Handwritten notes are a powerful tool for encoding embodied cognition and thus support the brain’s capacity to receive information. What’s more, when you take notes by hand, your hands create a solid external memory storage: your notebook.
Note taking by hand is a win-win method and is included in every student’s cognitive toolkit. Learning how to take notes by hand effectively and how we can use note-taking practice as an essential learning and study tool can start even in 3rd or 4th grade, but it’s never too late to start.
We live in a digital age where daily work involves digital communication. Typing with the keyboard is also an important skill, and digital communication tools will of course continue to develop and take place in our lives over time. But typing with the keyboard does not provide our brain with the tactile feedback that the contact between pen and paper does. Writing with a pen is key to creating neurocircuits in the hand-brain complex.
While your notebook may seem faster and more efficient, you also have good reasons to have a paper bound notebook and pen (any type of your choice) handy. Researchers discovered that keyboard note-taking involves taking notes verbatim in a way that doesn’t involve information processing, so they called it “non-productive” note-taking. In contrast, handwriting involves summarizing, paraphrasing, organizing, and cognitive involvement in concept and word mapping – in short, it supports manipulating and transforming information that leads to deeper understanding. Taking notes becomes creating notes: Sharing notes for later reflection, understanding, or comparison with classmates is also active participation in meaning making. This becomes an effective study strategy as one can further reinforce one’s own processing through speaking.
Taking good notes depends on the fluency of the hand. This means a combination of readability and speed. This is best accomplished with a clean, tidy and connected script, meaning younger students need to learn to write handwriting that they can start learning in 2nd grade. Hand fluency comes from training and practice in the early years of school and sustained opportunities for authentic purpose.
The transition from grade 3 to grade 4 is a big step for young learners. Content curricula in science, social studies, language arts, and math accelerate demands for children to move into forms of academic literacy. Each year, advances in education place increasing demands on reading and writing, understanding and making sense of vast amounts of information in multimodal formats.
Leonardo da Vinci wrote: “…the more detailed you describe, the more you confuse the reader and the more you distract him from the knowledge of what is being said. Therefore, it is necessary to draw… and describe…” Da Vinci’s notebooks reveal that he was a creative, inquiring mind, an unprecedented man of science and art, centuries ahead of his time. Fergus Craik and Robert Lockhart, pioneers of cognitive neuroscience research, draw attention to three levels of information processing: Their theory reveals the neuroscience behind da Vinci’s insights centuries ago. When people represent information visually, they can deepen their understanding of concepts such as cycles and relationships. As a result, some cognitive researchers advocate teaching different ways of representing knowledge from an early age. Florence Nightingale is remembered for her contributions to the improvement of medicine through her detailed, meticulous observations, documentation, note-taking and writing. The famous nurse is also credited with inventing the pie chart method to represent this information. If writing in journalism, teaching, architecture, engineering, fashion, and more is your profession, you already know the benefits and importance of taking notes and sketching.
When it comes to deep understanding and remembering, making personal connections and stimulating creative thinking, handwritten notes are important and will become more permanent over time. Interestingly, the art of using a diary, organizer, or planner has also attracted a lot of attention from online communities. Many enjoy handwriting calendars, diary organizers, cards, notes and lists of all kinds, writing family stories for the next generation and sharing them digitally. For serious students, note-taking is an indispensable cognitive tool and study technique. Building the neurocircuitry for memory and meaning through the hand-brain complex is key to understanding the value of handwritten notes. Think twice before relying solely on your laptop this fall!
References: Hetty Roessingh, ”The benefits of note-taking by hand” (11 September 2020) Retrieved from https://www.bbc.com/worklife/article/20200910-the-benefits-of-note-taking -by-hand?fbclid=IwAR3aacMCaX2WLjPu2hqrQHFq1XiH0bNWfL8jk41YOIvFgSrDcbtMSOzi4L8