Guided Notes in High School Math: A How-To Guide
Shouldn’t students already know how to take notes by the time they enter the high school math classroom? Isn’t providing students with guided notes giving them too much of a crutch to lean on? How do people even have time to make their own notes? These are questions that a lot of teachers consider when teaching high school math courses.
WHY SHOULD YOU USE GUIDED NOTES WITH HIGH SCHOOL MATH STUDENTS?
- Many students have NOT been taught how to properly take notes in elementary and middle school. Unfortunately, there is so much content to be taught in all subject areas, that teaching note-taking falls by the wayside, particularly in math. If you are like most of us, you do NOT have the luxury of time to teach note-taking from the beginning. This is where guided notes come in.
- Student notes are typically unorganized. They can be difficult to follow when students need to use them as a reference tool. It’s easy to keep students organized when they are given a guided notes packet for each unit of study.
- Students have a hard time staying organized and on task as new information is presented. Guided notes make it easy for the teacher to see if students are following along where they need to be. They also make it easy to see if/when a student tuned out of the discussion.
- If a student is absent or misses a lesson, they can easily see what they missed and get those notes from the teacher or another student so that they have them for reference. They can note what does not make sense to them and get support with those areas.
- Guided notes serve as a great reference for independent practice and studying. They are also an excellent resource to bring to tutoring so that tutor has a clear picture of where the student is struggling.
WHAT SHOULD YOU CONSIDER WHEN DESIGNING GUIDED NOTES?
Your guided notes can be as robust or as sparse as you need them to be. If you have advanced students who just need a small amount of structure or organization, provide the main categories and vocabulary terms, along with any complex graphics such as 3-D shapes, coordinate grids, etc. If you have a student with special needs, the notes may be almost completely filled out and in more of a fill-in-the-blank format. This will keep the student engaged without being overwhelmed.
When developing your own guided notes, consider which elements typically take students the most time to write on their own. Can you imagine the momentum you would lose by waiting until students draw a coordinate grid in their notebooks to graph an equation. All that time that could be spent teaching and practicing a skill is wasted when students need to pause to write out a lengthy definition or draw an object/graph.
The key is to make sure:
- Students are engaged (too sparse and they might be overwhelmed, too robust and they might zone out)
- Material can be reviewed later and make sense to the student without your support
- Notes can be used as a reference when completing practice problems
HOW TO MAKE YOUR OWN NOTES
Yes, providing ideal guided notes can be a time-consuming process. Here is a simple list to follow to streamline the process.
- First, determine what your student needs to know at the end of the unit and make a list of key vocabulary and sample problems that you would like to introduce.
- Then, look through those sample problems and think about concepts/problem types that your previous students have struggled with so that you can make a note of those common misconceptions within the notes.
- Add in any review material that would help to scaffold the material for your students so that they can start with concepts they are already comfortable with and move forward from there.
- Determine whether you might need specific diagrams/graphic organizers/shapes/graphs within your notes to make sure students have access to the visuals that they need to gain better understanding.
- Make sure that you have a clear way to distinguish the beginning and end of each new skill presented so that students have visually clear groupings to refer to when they are reviewing their notes.
- Refine your notes as you use them so that they become a better teaching tool each year.
WHY SHOULD GUIDED NOTES BE COMPLETED BY HAND?
- Students have higher levels of understanding and better retention with hand-written notes
- Hand-writing notes involves organizing material in a logical/organized way
- Research has shown the brain connection is stronger with writing by hand– check out this article about why hand-written notes are best
- Writing by hand is a more flexible way of showing work such as step-by-step processes, drawing diagrams, etc.
- When students determine what is worthy of being written down and how to paraphrase the material, it forces engagement. When students type, it is easier to mindlessly copy every word the teacher says instead of actually thinking.
It’s pretty safe to say that math is the most important subject for students to complete BY HAND. This is not to say that technology can’t be used – there are some amazing programs out there. But research has shown again and again that a different type of thinking happens when pencil is put to paper.
HOW MUCH TIME SHOULD BE SPENT TAKING NOTES IN THE MATH CLASSROOM?
The majority of the time in math class should be spent DOING math and ENGAGING with the math. If class turns into mostly lecture students will check out. Students need to know the key terms used, be able to summarize main concepts, reference prior knowledge, and have samples for review that they can access when they are working independently, BUT, the time that they get in class to DO math is the most important for learning math.
Guided notes allow teachers to present important information concisely so that students can organize it effectively for review/reference. If they can be presented in small groupings where quick checks for understanding and practice work can precede or follow the note-taking, they are much more effective. We love to use our guided notes as part of an interactive math notebook.
WHAT IF I LIKE THE IDEA OF GUIDED NOTES, BUT I DON’T HAVE THE TIME TO CREATE THEM?
The struggle is REAL – we totally get it. We have spent YEARS creating and refining guided notes for our math classes. Materials from publishers just weren’t working for our students. Our notes have been changed and refined over time. We’ve created editable versions so that you can have comprehensive notes that you can tweak if needed.
We have three complete sets of guided notes (and each topic is available individually as well). Take a look at our Algebra 1 Guided Notes, Geometry Guided Notes, and Algebra 2 Guided Notes. Please let us know if you have any additional questions.