C is for Cornell Notes

When I was in high school, I had to to take Civics.  I think it was 10th grade, perhaps 9th.  The classroom was the last room in the back hallway on the second floor.  Awesome hard wood floors.  Great wood cabinets.  Tables in a U shape around the room.  I sat on the far side of the room with my back to the windows.  I honestly don't remember much from that class.  It was the only failing grade I got in high school.

Why did I fail the class?  The major reason was that the teacher forced us to take notes a specific way.  We were I.B. students.  We knew, or we thought we know, how to take notes.  I was stubborn and refused to change my note taking strategy to fit this teacher's ideas.

Now I teach an AVID class.  One of the key elements of this class is Cornell Notes.  When I teach Cornell Notes to my incoming 6th graders, I tell them the story of my high school Civics class.  I tell them that if they have a way to take notes that is better for them than Cornell Notes, they should use it.

I model all the note taking we do in class with Cornell Notes.  I also model the use of Cornell Notes in other activities.

I think that I differ in the way I use Cornell Notes from the way they are supposed to be used.  In the notes section on the right, I allow my students to put in a Thinking Map, a drawing, a word cloud, or simple outline format notes.  Heck, if I believed in using glue in my classroom, I'd let them glue in words cut from a magazine.

The students in my school don't really know how to play the game of education.  (That could be a blog post on it's own.)  They haven't been exposed to note taking systems.  The don't know how to use their notes to their advantage. 

So, do I feel bad teaching the AVID students to take Cornell Notes?  Not really.  If they have a better way, they should use it.  In addition, the Cornell Notes are a frame.  They can fill in the parts with what they see fit. 


  1. What is great about this is the flexibility you allow...if you have a better way that makes more sense use it. It sounds like many of your students haven't developed a better way, for them learning a strategy to help them in note taking is valuable.


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