Monday, March 26, 2018

Case Study: Peer-Reviewed Digital Notes

One of the challenges teachers face when transitioning to a 1:1 classroom is what to do with student notes. Way back in 2016 BC (Before Chromebooks), teachers lectured from PowerPoint presentations as students quickly scribbled down notes into their notebooks. But in 2018 AD (After Device), some teachers found the notebook option lacking, especially with all of the things you can do with Google Docs!

Before I became a professional development strategist for Nevada Ready 21, I worked at an AVID school and had my students use the Cornell notes method for notetaking. 

In order to take Cornell notes, students setup their notebooks by drawing a vertical line about two inches in from the left side of the notebook page. The resulting two columns have specific roles. The column on the right is for notetaking and the column on the left is used for students to write higher-order thinking questions based on their notes. The idea is that when students study, they cover up their notes and try to answer their questions. If they need a little extra help answering their questions, they can peek at their notes to find the answers.

The Cornell notes method is awesome. But right about the time when my classroom received devices, I struggled with how exactly to transition from a paper-based Cornell notes method to an online one. 

I have found that it's easier to come up with ideas for Google Doc templates when I think of it in terms of the problem I am trying to solve and the resulting solution to the problem. In that spirit, I wrote a case study narrative of a problem a teacher named Mr. Ramirez sees in his history class and how he has figured out the solution to his problem.


Over the years Mr. Ramirez has developed a version of the Cornell method of notetaking that he loves teaching to his students in his history class. When Mr. Ramirez lectures from a Slides presentation, students take notes in their notebooks using the traditional two column Cornell note set-up. Every second or third slide, he stops lecturing so his students can review and revise their notes, highlight key ideas, and collaborate with each other by sharing ideas. He even has students write their own higher-order thinking questions based on the content from their notes. Mr. Ramirez's school recently became a 1:1 Chromebook school and now he wants to update his beloved style of notetaking for the digital age.


Mr. Ramirez created a Doc template he calls his Peer-Reviewed Digital Notes template. He made it in Docs and set it up using a series of tables. One of his gripes about online worksheets made in Docs is that all of them are made in the vertical orientation even though all computer screens are horizontal. He figured switching the page setup to landscape would take advantage of the conputer screen's real estate. He created separate columns in which students could take notes, type their higher-order thinking questions, and write their note summaries.

He noticed students just copied his notes verbatim from the slides so when he digitized his notetaking process, he left another column where he could copy and paste the words from his slides into the Doc. This way students can concentrate on writing their own notes. The awesome thing about giving his notes to his students is that they have to use their critical thinking skills to synthesize new information based on the initial notes he provides. He figured students could also add images they found online to their notes as he lectured.

Mr. Ramirez wanted to increase collaboration amongst his students, which is one of the skills identified by the Partnership for 21st Century Skills as important for today's students to master. To get students to collaborate with one another, he paired students up and made them both peer-reviewers. Students were to share their notes with their collaborative peer reviewer and help one another come up with annotations, ideas for questions, and a review of summaries.

Download the Doc Template from this Case Study: Peer-Reviewed Digital Notes

Give the "eCornell notes method" a try and let me know how it goes!

-Chris Justus
Las Vegas

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