Last year, I tried something new with my Classical Conversations Challenge B class. I gave each of them a brand new composition book on the first week of class and told them that I wanted them to take all of their weekly notes from community in that one book. You can read all about my B notebooks here, but in case you were wondering how it turned out, let’s just say it was a mixed bag. I had a class of 11 (5 girls, 6 boys) and it pretty much fell along gender lines: the girls seemed to love and use them, and most of the boys used them for drawing (which isn’t necessarily bad). The girls loved them so much, in fact, that some of their siblings in Challenge A this year told their director about them and now that class is using them, too (along with my girls who moved up to Challenge 1). So all in all, I think it turned out to be a great success for the students who were already good with note-taking. Still, I couldn’t help but believe that there was more I could be doing to help teach my students—all of them—how to take good notes. Enter the revised B notebook.

My B Notebook v. 2 is based on the Cornell note-taking system. I had read about it last year, but in the hustle and bustle of other Challenge B studies, it fell by the wayside. I revisited it again this summer as I prepared for my parent training and orientation. I wanted to tell the parents so they could pass it along to their children and hopefully improve their note-taking skills on community day. During our equipping session, I gave each parent a blank piece of paper, explained how to section it off to take Cornell notes and what each section is for, then dove into some content so they could test their newfound knowledge. I won’t go into all of the details of Cornell notes in this post, but I heartily encourage you to check it out and see if it could work for you, too. As my parent/teachers and I discussed on the day of our equipping, they are a perfectly classical tool: the main area is the place for your grammar; the cues area is where you ponder the dialectic connections; and the summary section represents a rhetorical understanding, hopefully leading to memory and delivery (teaching, even!).

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The notebooks I passed out to my students this year are Cornell note-taking composition books. They have the same look/size as the super cheap composition books we used last year, but I’m hoping that the Cornell notes design will make them more attractive for actually taking notes and make the cost worthwhile. I’m only 2 weeks in so it’s still too early to tell whether this system will make a difference, but I was encouraged to see one of my kids dive right into the method on his first day to class:

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Student Notes

Although he got a few concepts mixed up, he’s *well* on his way to mastering the usefulness of this type of note-taking!

One final note on the “evolved” B notebook: I’m intentionally saving some time at the end of our day to reflect on what we covered that day in each strand. I tried to do that last year, but I wasn’t consistent and so many days we just ran out of time (a weekly challenge when you have 11 students in your class!). This year, I’ve decided to use CCC forms (Connect, Collect, Create) that echo the theme of beekeeping and “making honey,” with Collect (grammar; new knowledge), Connect (dialectic; connected to things I already know), and Create (rhetoric; what can I do with this newfound knowledge?). Since I’m a digiscrapping/art journaling junkie, I decided to use colorful washi tape to tape my CCC pages to the 1st page of each week’s teaching notes.

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This not only makes the journal look pretty, but it makes it easy to find where each new week starts. If you wanted to use the CCC idea you don’t have to have forms. I didn’t use a form last year but rather just had the kids draw their circles and write out “Connect, Collect, Create” each time. However, I’ve found that sometimes it’s worthwhile to provide a tool for them if it will make the real task (writing the content) seem less daunting. Since we only usually have 5-10 minutes to do these, my form allows them to spend 100% of their time on actually thinking back to each strand and what they learned. And I think that’s worth it.

If you’d like to adopt the CCC idea, you can download my page here. If you’re interested in purchasing composition books specifically designed for Cornell note-taking, you can find many different types on Amazon. I went with these, although I didn’t purchase from Amazon because I found a better price for a dozen from this online seller. They were $2.17 each when I placed an order for 10. It looks like that may have been a sale price, so check around for the best deal, especially if you want to buy multiple books.

What tools have you found to be effective for note-taking? Do you use Cornell notes yourself?

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