Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Structured Notes

The phrase "structured notes" seems to become more and more common concerns on the Internet—or perhaps it is just that I have noted it more in recent months.[1] And I do not mean the financial instrument that Forbes called "a real stinker of a product that at first glimpse appears like the answers to your prayers but really is just one more way Wall streets is going to separate you from your money." Rather, I mean, one of those newer "pedagogical strategies" that is sold as a panacea for helping students to take "notes more effectively. It offers students a visual framework that helps them to focus on what's most important" (from some Web site or other). Here, an explanation from someone else: "Structured Note-Taking helps students take notes more effectively and assists them in recalling and retaining information that is essential. Structured Note-taking offers students a visual framework, and the mind loves pictures. Initially, the teacher provides students with a graphic organizer that goes with the organization that goes with the organizational pattern in the text to be read. Eventually, students learn to devise their own graphic organizers."

Yeah ... "the mind loves pictures"—or does it? Here are some for a search on "structured note taking" program.

Of course, there are some software developers active in this area as well, like Intellinote, Circusponies, Beesy, AMLPagesand a few others, but there are not many. Perhaps this will change. The Tao of Mac criticized Evernote already in 2009 for "crap for any sort of structured note-taking or draft text that requires minimal formatting or (more often) considerable amounts of revising, because it can’t even deal with simple formatting properly, let alone tables – which it does, but laughably badly – or, most importantly, outlining." Still, most of the concern is still more low-tech, with the venerable Cornell Note-taking Method being perhaps the foremost contender.

I have nothing against "structured note-taking," of course. In fact, I am all for outlining, mind maps and other visual helps in taking notes. It's just that I think, as "a pedagogical strategy," it is nothing new and not a magical bullet. It's common-sense—or so it seems to me—a fancy name for what has been done since the beginning of reading and writing.


1. On of the early contenders seem to be: Smith, P., & Tompkins, G. (1988). "Structured notetaking: A new strategy for content area teachers." Journal of Reading, 32, 46-53.