Online note-taking apps

This article from reviews eight online note-taking applications that you might find useful.

Of course, an application you like will help. But you still need to know how to take notes—how to organize them, what to write down, what to leave out, how much detail to include—and that takes practice, whether with a pencil or with a computer.

“They don’t take notes!”

Today a colleague began talking about his Grade 11 students. “They don’t take notes,” he said in exasperation. “Not a single one of them.”

Another colleague, overhearing us, joined in. “Isn’t that their problem?” he said. “By Grade 11 they should have figured this stuff out. We shouldn’t have to tell them to take notes and use their homework diaries.”

I wrote Good Habits, Good Students primarily for students. Teachers, for a variety of reasons, rarely teach the habits needed to succeed in school. Students are left on their own to “figure it out.” Unfortunately a huge number don’t figure it out, and they usually blame themselves for their academic disappointments: I’m lazy, I’m no good, I’m stupid. I wrote the book to help students acquire the good habits they need, and to convince them that they can be successful.

But I also wrote the book hoping that teachers and schools would realize that they should be teaching habits. If they did, students would achieve much better results on the “material” taught in school, and would believe in their ability to learn, and would be equipped to go on learning on their own when they are out of school. Grade 11, of course, is a bit late to begin.

Imagine what my colleagues would be saying, though, if their students had been learning and practicing good habits for years. It’s a dream, but it would not be particularly difficult or expensive to make it come true.

How Teachers Can Help

Students can build good habits and break bad ones on their own, if they are determined. But success rates rise dramatically when they get support from teachers, parents, and friends.

So what can teachers do to help?

Require students to write their assignments in a homework diary.

This simple act works wonders. The key is for teachers to require it, not simply remind or nag. Teachers who have the bad habit of shouting out the homework assignment as the lesson is ending and students are packing up encourage students to develop the bad habit of not writing down their assignments. Students who don’t write down the assignment are much more likely to forget it, or to remember it incorrectly.

Instead, teachers should develop some good habits that will help their students develop good habits. Give out the homework assignment before the end of the lesson, and provide time for students to take out their diaries and copy it down. When students are working, move around the room and check homework diaries. Praise those who have written down the assignment; remind those who haven’t, and watch while they do it. Do this every day: daily repetition builds habits.

With a very small investment of class time, teachers can dramatically improve their students’ performance. Not only will students complete your homework assignments—they will develop an essential good habit that will serve them well for years.

Try it. Then, when you see what a difference one teacher’s efforts can make, enlist your colleagues and make this a school-wide initiative.

Essential: the homework diary

Whether you call it an agenda, a planner, or a homework diary, no single piece of equipment is more important to staying organized.

However, not all homework diaries are created equal.

To be most effective, a homework diary should remind you of essential daily tasks and make it quick and easy for you to check them off as they are completed.

For example, it’s not enough simply to provide space to write down homework assignments. There should be a blank for each subject that might assign homework that day, followed by a quick way to indicate that homework either was or was not assigned, followed by space for writing down the assignment and the due date.

Here’s a sample excerpted from the SSIS Homework Diary that I designed last spring. Middle-school students at SSIS have a maximum of three homework assignments per day.

Today’s Homework
1. ___________ HW/NHW
2. ___________ HW/NHW
3. ___________ HW/NHW

1. ____________________
Date Due ________

The students fill in the three subjects on their homework timetable for that day. For each class, they circle HW if they have homework, and NHW if they have no homework.

This “NHW” feature is important. Without it, no one can tell whether (a) no homework was assigned, or (b) the student forgot to write down the homework.

The key to forming habits is repetition, and a well-designed homework diary helps remind students to record their assignments, thus building one of the good habits essential to success.

Use a homework diary every day (book excerpt)

Whether you call it a student agenda, a day planner, or a homework diary, it’s the most important tool of a successful student.

You need a homework diary to stay organized, and you need a homework diary for successful goal-setting. I have yet to find a disorganized student who uses his or her diary regularly. I have yet to find a failed attempt at goal-setting in which a daily record was kept in a homework diary.

So why do so many students ignore this vital tool? Because teachers rarely require the use of a homework diary. They may encourage it, they may nag or remind, but few require it, and even when they do, most of their colleagues don’t. So, at best, students will be required to use their diaries in one or two of their five or six classes each day. As readers of this book should know, habits are created by repetition, and under such circumstances the repeated behaviour is to ignore the homework diary—exactly the habit that most students cultivate.

If you want to do something to improve education in your school, lend this book to your principal or head of school, and convince him or her to require the use of homework diaries by every teacher in every class (even gym teachers sometimes assign homework or give out information that needs to be diaried).

As with so many other good habits, using a homework diary becomes more important every year. You may be able to do fine without one in the younger grades, but don’t let this fool you into developing bad habits that will hurt you later on. Don’t wait until you’re overwhelmed with a busy schedule and heavy workload. Cultivate the habit when you’re younger and life is simpler.

If you’re on your own, enlist the help of your parents and make daily use of your homework diary your first goal. Use a wall calendar at home to record the number of classes each day in which you use your diary. A simple “5/7” (5 out of 7) or “4/5” will do. Ask your parents to remind you to take your diary to school each day, and take it to every class. When you arrive in class, take out your diary and put it on your desktop, first thing. If you do this in every class, it will become a powerful habit. And if the diary is on your desktop, of course, it’s quite easy to remember to open it up and record the homework assignment.

A final tip: If the teacher assigns no homework, don’t just leave your diary blank. A blank entry could mean no homework, or it could mean you forgot to write the assignment in your diary. Instead, write something like “Science: No HW”. That way, there’s no confusion.

Using a homework diary in every class is the key to staying organized, and the key to successful goal-setting. Start today!