Academic journal article North American Journal of Psychology

Cognitive Correlates of Lecture Note Taking Handwriting Speed and Attention

Academic journal article North American Journal of Psychology

Cognitive Correlates of Lecture Note Taking Handwriting Speed and Attention

Article excerpt

Note taking is a complex activity involving processing, recording, condensing and integrating information from one or many sources, and it is essential in educational and professional settings. In higher education, for example, the majority of students engage in some form of note taking during lectures. Although generally students' notes tend to be incomplete, they consistently account for higher exam performance (Armbruster, 2009; DiVesta & Gray, 1972; Kiewra & Benton, 1988; Kiewra, Benton, & Lewis, 1987; McIntyre, 1992; Peverly, Garner, & Vekaria, 2014; Peverly et al., 2007; Peverly et al., 2012; Haynes, McCarley, & Williams, 2015). Clearly, the notes taken in class provide a stable external memory readily available for later use, for example when reviewing and studying for tests (Boch & Piolat, 2005). Moreover, taking notes supports encoding, elaboration and reflection on lecture content: even if not allowed to review their notes before a test, students who take notes perform better than those who don't (Armbruster, 2009; DiVesta & Gray, 1972; Kiewra et al., 1991). Overall, in some settings, for example large-lecture courses, taking notes can provide the only active-learning component of an otherwise unidirectional and passive instructional process (Armbruster, 2009).

Note taking engages the cognitive system on multiple levels. Far from being a simple rote transcription under dictation, note taking requires parallel execution of several tasks: paying attention to what the lecturer says, extracting the gist, reformulating the content in a more concise form, integrating it with previously acquired knowledge, writing, and simultaneously monitoring incoming information (Piolat, Olive, & Kellogg, 2005). Indeed, dual- and triple-task procedures, requiring participants to take notes while concurrently attending to one or two additional tasks, showed that cognitive effort spent while taking notes is higher than the cognitive effort involved in just reading, listening to or memorizing information (Piolat et al., 2005).

Given the complexity and high cognitive resources consumption involved in note taking, it could be assumed that inefficiency in one or more of the component processes listed above would result in difficulties, such as not being able to keep up with the pace of the lecture, missing important ideas or topic transitions, or failing to accurately record what was said. Understanding to what extent individual differences in these component processes are related to the quality of the notes recorded might inform the development of targeted pedagogical aids or training programs to support successful note taking in the general student population and for students with specific learning difficulties (Maydosz & Raver, 2010; Boyle & Forchelli, 2014).

Recent research on the cognitive predictors of note-taking performance have emphasized the roles of handwriting speed (Peverly et al., 2007; Peverly et al., 2012; Peverly et al., 2014), working memory (Cohn, Cohn, & Bradley, 1995; Hadwin, Kirby, & Woodhouse, 1999; Kiewra et al., 1987; Kiewra & Benton, 1988; Peverly et al. 2007) and, to some extent, attention regulation in note taking (Peverly et al., 2014). However, the individual differences in cognition that relate to skillful note taking are still under debate. These research contributions are reviewed below, with the emphasis on the areas still needing further investigation and how these relate to the aims of the present study.

Handwriting speed

Handwriting speed is strongly correlated to the quality of written output in both children and adults. Studies on elementary and middle school students indicate that faster writers tend to produce more creative and better structured essays (Graham et al., 1997; Jones & Christensen, 1999, Study 1). Moreover, the improvement of orthographic automaticity through training parallels the improvement in writing content (Jones & Christensen, 1999, Study 2; see Peverly, 2006, for a review). …

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