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Creating The Perfect Education Smoothie (Part 2)

Posted by 
Mitch Weathers
February 13, 2021

Kicking the Can Down the Road

I concluded Part 1 of this article stating plainly that students are more successful when they gain competency with noncognitive skills and executive functions. Students are more likely to gain this competency when they get daily practice employing these skills, not avoiding them, within their educational experience. When students get this practice in learning environments that are blending digital and analog tools they are more successful.

Moving students to online note taking because they keep losing their notes they record on paper is basically like kicking the can down the road.  It is just moving, or might I say hiding, the real problem, which is...organizational skills... A more permanent solution is to empower students through daily practice, and struggle, to develop the agency to solve it. This same lack of organization that students struggle with in the physical world still exists in the digital world, even though it may be less obvious.  As educators our job is to teach students how to be successful by teaching them the skills to apply to any form of learning.

As a Tier 1 Universal MTSS / RTI intervention, one of the blessings of Organized Binder is that teachers, parents, students, and other stakeholders can actually see executive dysfunction. Kind of like a red flag is raised. When a student is poorly organized it is painfully obvious and a sign that intervention is needed. We won't aid students who struggle organizationally by giving them a laptop and asking them to take notes or complete their schooling online. 

In a recent conversation with my 5th grade daughter, she was talking about her distance-learning Organized Binder. She explained (as if I didn’t know), that because she is learning in an environment that is blending digital and analog tools, even if the Internet goes down, or her chromebook died, or any other technology related issue during distance learning, she still had her school work, her goals, her reflections, etc. safely in her Organized Binder? Her sense of ease and relief of stress, not to mention the pride she has in her binder, was obvious.

Taking Notes Longhand

In most schools, with distance teaching came the nearly ubiquitousness of devices and wifi to facilitate learning. In many ways, (and if this can be sustained), it was a giant leap forward in education. As educators we should embrace technology wholeheartedly, but for the sake of our students we should do so in a blended fashion, along with analog resources. There is something very human about writing things down on paper. One simple example is found in note taking. Studies show that taking notes longhand, as opposed to typing them on a laptop, increases comprehension. 

The present research suggests that even when laptops are used solely to take notes, they may still be impairing learning because their use results in shallower processing. In three studies, we found that students who took notes on laptops performed worse on conceptual questions than students who took notes longhand. 

Mueller and Oppenheimer - The Pen Is Mightier Than the Keyboard: Advantages of Longhand Over Laptop Note Taking

Educators have found that even college students lack academic skills, like note taking, and this professor did something about it. Cornell University professor Walter Pauk created the note taking system, now known as Cornell Notes, to help his students. What is often overlooked is why he even had to do this in the first place. His students, who attended one of the most prestigious universities in the US, needed help with the skill of note taking.

This shouldn’t be an “either or” debate. A blended approach, where both modalities are used together, amplifies student learning and retention. Students are more successful when educators create an education smoothie by blending technology and analog - especially when developing noncognitive skills. 

Capturing is Not Note Taking

After reading the article on capture tools being used in schools I mentioned it to my friend and mentor, Aubrey Patterson. He was bewildered to hear that these capture tools, which he uses daily, were being considered for note taking and student organization. Of the many things my Canadian friend does well, productivity ranks high on the list. Aubrey and I talked about the power of OneNote and Keep in light of David Allen's work around Getting Things Done. I love Allen's signature line, "Your mind is for having ideas, not holding them." Aubrey explained it this way, "When used best, these digital capture apps are essentially outsourcing your memory." 

Outsourcing your memory. Brilliant! But not to be confused with note taking.

Can these capture tools be useful to students? Absolutely! Try using them in this fashion: Task students with collecting and curating passages, images, video, etc. that they have selected. Then, give them practice taking notes from those resources, on paper, longhand. If you do, your students will develop their digital literacy, gain the opportunity to look back on and critique what they have captured, have better retention of what they are learning, and, if they use Organized Binder, they will create an ongoing, physical artifact they can work with to develop organizational and study skills for years to come. Blending digital and analog tools in this fashion will empower students to develop the skills that set them up for success.

Part 3 - How To Best Teach Noncognitive Skills?

We know that when students gain competency with the skills and habits research indicates are the foundation for learning, they are more successful. Therefore, students need explicit daily modeling and practice with these skills and habits. In Part 3 of this article I will explain the best way to accomplish this. The secret is in the learning routines we establish.

You can read Part 1 of this article by clicking here.

As I mentioned yesterday, I accepted a 30 day writing challenge with Danny Bauer so look for Part 3 tomorrow.

Until then, be well,


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2 comments on “Creating The Perfect Education Smoothie (Part 2)”

  1. I want to read part 3 and 4 - I am hooked!
    And yes, non-cognitive factors and executive functions are what matters in so many ways in adulthood (and other skills too) - hence my new book out in April. So excited to read part 3 and 4! Send them on!

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