Guided Notes: An Interactive Method for Success in Secondary and College Mathematics Classrooms

Article excerpt


This paper reports the results of an action research project that examined the use of interactive guided notes in two sections of freshman level college algebra. This method unifies lecture, in-class guided practice, and cooperative learning into the students' note taking. Student success and satisfaction were dramatically higher in the course sections using the guided notes. The use of guided notes also made it possible to include discussion, inquiry, and group problem solving in a course that is otherwise taught entirely by lecture. The paper also describes how the author used principles from concept and information mapping to inform the development of the guided notes.


In mathematics classrooms at the secondary and college level there are institutional norms and policies that hinder the process of changing to reform-based practices (McDuffie & Graeber, 2003). One of the most entrenched norms found in these classrooms is the emphasis on traditional lecture and student note-taking format. This paper reports the results of an action research project on the use of interactive guided notes as an alternative to the traditional lecture method. The paper also reflects on how this process improved student success and satisfaction in freshman level college mathematics courses and supported the inclusion of discussion, inquiry, and group problem solving into courses that are otherwise taught entirely by lecture. In conclusion, this paper suggests possible ways to encourage the use of guided notes in mathematics courses at the secondary and post-secondary levels and discusses the need for ongoing inquiry into the effectiveness of instructional methods and educational policies as the culture in which they function continues to change rapidly.

Action research is a form of investigation designed for use by teachers to solve problems and improve professional practices in their own classrooms. Action research involves systematic observations and data collection, which can then be used by the practitioner-researcher in reflection, decision making and the development of more effective classroom strategies (Parsons & Brown, 2002).

The problem addressed by this action research project was the high failure rate in freshman level mathematics classes at a small state university campus in the Midwest. One project had already created a mathematics learning center with developmental courses and required labs for incoming freshmen placed in the program using the placement test developed for this purpose by the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities (MinnSCU) Center for Teaching and Learning. While participation in the math learning center by these students significantly improved their subsequent success rate in college algebra, there were still 20-30% of the students who were unable to successfully complete college algebra on their first try.

The impetus for this action research project came from reading the observations of others studying typical mathematics lessons in Japan and Germany as well as personal observations of how student note taking actually interfered with student interaction and learning in the classroom. Trelfa (1998) notes that in all levels of Japanese schools mathematics is normally taught, not directly from the textbook, but from "printouts" that the instructor makes for each class. The printout, or worksheet, contains the lesson objectives and problems related to each day's lesson. These are typically clear and well organized in order to help students follow the lecture, study and review. They are not typically graded by the teachers but rather kept by the students for reference and review purposes.

Additionally, the following four classroom observations contributed to my interest in the development of guided notes of freshman college mathematics courses. First, many students are often unable to write coherent notes while at the same time listening to and thinking about what the instructor is saying. …


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