When I taught calculus, I posted my notes after the lecture. Then I had the students fill out a mid-quarter evaluation, and a lot of them wanted me to post my notes before class.

What I started doing was printing and handing out the notes to them, leaving the examples blank so they can fill those in. Many of them expressed to me that they liked it, so that they can concentrate on the problem instead of trying to write everything down.

I just read my course evaluations and I got mixed reviews about the notes. Some students said they liked them and found them helpful, and an equal amount said that they didn't like it and preferred to take their own notes, and learned better that way. I did tell them that they don't have to use me notes if they don't want them, and to let me know if they don't want to use them so I can save paper.

In your experience, what has worked well, to provide notes, let the students make their own notes, or give them the option by posting it before class to they can print out notes if they want to use it? I usually print out the notes, a copy for each student, and pass it out to all of them individually, but I am wondering if I should change this.

  • 13
    $\begingroup$ It is a mistake to think one method is best for all students. $\endgroup$ Commented May 7, 2016 at 0:32
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @GeraldEdgar I realize this, and I want to be accommodating for all of my students, which is why I was wondering if giving my students the option to print it out if they want it instead of printing it myself and handing it to them. I was hoping to have input from educators that have experience with this, so I can make the best decision on what to do next time instead of having to experiment on my students. $\endgroup$
    – Felix Y.
    Commented May 7, 2016 at 0:41
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ What about putting the notes online somewhere before class so that the students who want to use them can print them and bring to class? This is what I did in the past and it seemed to work well. $\endgroup$
    – Christian
    Commented May 7, 2016 at 11:06
  • 5
    $\begingroup$ One benefit of handing out partial notes that students can fill in during lecture is that it pre-organizes the material for them, freeing them to think more during class rather than frantically writing notes in fear of forgetting what you are saying. One downside of this is, I find students will think they understand things better than they actually do as a result of this organization. It is important, if you do this, to have many quiz assessments to keep students in touch with reality. (Any clear lecture style has this curse...) $\endgroup$
    – Jon Bannon
    Commented May 7, 2016 at 12:28
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ Regarding students wanting to take notes on their own: as you say, they don't have to use yours. I would tell these students at the beginning of the course that you prefer that their effort go into thinking with the class about the material at hand, rather than taking detailed notes. Tell them that if they want to take detailed notes it is fine, so long as they can participate actively in discussion and classwork. It is important to let them know that passive busywork is not an acceptable use of class time! (Active engagement is the purpose of passing out the notes for them to use.) $\endgroup$
    – Jon Bannon
    Commented May 7, 2016 at 12:32

4 Answers 4


Well, what I've got during my classes, like GeraldEdgar already said, is that you don't have one solution to solve it all. What you could do is posting your notes the night (or maybe two nights) before the lecture. That way the students who want to use your notes, can print it and take it with them. They're will always be some other students who wish to make their own notes, because they know by themselves that they will learn better from that. I had experienced that some students scored a little worse then usual after giving everyone the educator's notes. Furthermore I think it's not a bad idea to let sometimes all students make their own notes. If there's a more complex proof, you could give the student's one way to proof it by giving them your notes, but I'm sure they would understand the proof better if you could build up the proof on a different way during your lecture.


I think what works depends on the local culture to a fair extent, ie what the expectations of the students are.

As a student myself, I almost always had to copy down everything in lectures, and no-one seemed to have a problem with that. One lecturer gave us gappy notes, which we hated, because it made the easy bits (which were printed) way too slow, and the hard bits (examples to fill in) way too fast. I think that has more to do with the pacing of the lecture though, so could be corrected by the lecturer.

On the other hand, last year I released 'outline notes', so students had some structure but still needed to pay attention in lectures. That was not at all popular. I got complaints that they wanted 'proper lecture notes', because all they had was 'what we write down in lectures'(!). I guess the difference was a combination of how much the students were willing to work and what they were accustomed to from my colleagues.

This year I decided to change the emphasis of the 'lectures' to contain less writing and more thinking. I've given the students textbooks (essentially) that I follow generally but not to the letter. In lectures I use slides that alternate (roughly) between bits of theory and practice questions, using the board to discuss ideas and solutions.

I've used this with two groups so far. The first group didn't like certain details, but the overall style seemed to be ok. One student would just make notes to copy onto the slides (I haven't yet convinced myself to post slides in advance, although I can see it would benefit some students, because I'm afraid of it being unhelpful to others, but I release them at the time of the class). I haven't yet had the comments from the second group. I think some have chosen to read the full text to avoid lectures, and some have come to lectures to avoid the text, and a few have made use of both. This is in line with a paper I read at some point - where multiple resources are available, students don't tend to make use of more than one (although presumably at least some choose the one that is best for them).


My answer

In my experience, I have used guided notes with success, as long as students straddled the "sweet spot" of giving them ample opportunities to interact with the topic and avoiding the creation of mindless, note-taking robots. With guided notes, my guess is that your goal is to accelerate students by saving them time from writing. I think that this is a valuable tool for long paragraphs of text, and you should continue using it as long as it serves a purpose in your plan. I personally prepare the notes before hand, but this may lead to wastage in some cases.

Extended Answer

I think it's helpful to understand the stages of learning for a particular concept and to understand what role your lecture (and guided notes) plays in this development. There is an anxiety that wells up in us to concentrate and distill our lessons into the shortest time possible. You only have students for approximately 45 to 90 minutes, but successful learning of a concept could take somewhere between 120 to 300 minutes (my own estimation). In short, students will probably go through the following stages (read: Bloom's taxonomy):

  1. Basic Knowledge, including definitions and new symbolic representation
  2. Understanding and Application
  3. Connections to other fields of study (synthesizing knowledge)
  4. Analyzing and critiquing

Consider: in designing your lecture or lesson, to what part of these stages will you apply the time that you have with them? How much preparation will (can) be done before the lecture to prepare students? Maybe one of your lectures will focus only on one of the stages, having already given students an assignment to understand the definitions and foundations of your lecture (i.e. the whole hour can be devoted to application and analysis).

Learning can be empirically improved (search "effect of feedback on learning") when timely and appropriate feedback is given to students. An idea: stop your lecture, and give students several multiple choice questions to answer on the screen; connect it to an online polling system so that they can see their own (anonymous) results. Then, you can make the best use of your time as a lecturer in the remaining amount of time, either focusing on clarification or continuing on with the lesson in confidence that everyone has the prerequisite understanding. Use this with your guided notes and you'll have a lecture to be envied.


In my experience, guided notes seem to be correlated to poor learning. While preference for guided notes tends to split about 50/50, invariably the bottom half in terms of academic performance is dominated by people who use guided notes. Now is this causal? I'm not sure; it seems reasonable that "poor" students might prefer the easy-to-use notes over "good" students who want to do things their own way, so it could be that they are self-selecting. Either way, I have seen no benefit to using them at all.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Please cite the research supporting your claims of such a correlation, and all the other embellishments. $\endgroup$
    – amWhy
    Commented Sep 16, 2020 at 20:32
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Question: "In your experience". Answer: "In my experience". Looks good to me. $\endgroup$
    – Thierry
    Commented Sep 17, 2020 at 13:18

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.