Sunday, June 5, 2016

note-taking as an instructional technique

Lectures have a bad rap. Anyone who has ever sat through a three hour class lecture knows that at least some of it is deserved. So why do teachers and professors still do it? Because lecture is a highly efficient way of delivering large amounts of information. That being said, how do we optimize lectures so that students derive benefit from them? Silver and Perini wrote The Interactive Lecture as a PLC guide to help teachers tackle this task. Similarly, Ria A. Schmidt and Robert J. Marzano look at note-taking in their Essentials for Achieving Rigor Series book, Recording & Representing Knowledge: Classroom Techniques to help Students Accurately Organize and Summarize Content.

According to Schmidt and Marzano, teaching note-taking is essential. Think how many times teachers have complained that students can't take notes. Then think how we do not teach note-taking. It all makes sense. The authors propose four steps to developing note-taking:
  1. Teach the method from the beginning of the year.
  2. Consistently used the method on a daily basis
  3. Provide feedback to students on note-taking
  4. Allow notes to be formative assessment- after looking at them alter instruction to meet the needs of students- scaffold or extend as necessary for SPECIFIC students.
While the authors do not support the use of one note-taking technique over another, they emphasize teach and practice the technique repeatedly. When I was in college I had a professor who taught a class on teaching ELA and social studies. He was adamant that we learn how to create mind maps of material. At least once a week an assignment included creating a web. At first I hated it. It was foreign and hard. He collected and graded the notes we made with these webs. As time went by I became more comfortable with the webs. Ultimately I used webs to "outline" every paper I wrote in graduate school. Many students never latched on to the webs or preferred more traditional outlines or Cornell notes or some other method for recording information. The only way we were able to make a choice, however, was by being forced to learn different methods. It is ok if each teacher requires a different technique. We are building choices for our students and teaching flexibility in learning.

A couple of key features characterize effective note-taking:
  • Students must summarize and prioritize ideas and information- NOT all the information is recorded
  • Processing time is provided prior to notes being taken
  • Note-taking does not occur during presentation of new information
  • Often peers are given the chance to talk through some of the information to help with processing and prioritizing.
  • Students are not expected to copy from the board.
This structure is very different from the note-taking we typically see in classrooms. A common classroom modification for students with disabilities is copy of classroom notes will be provided. This is helpful if the expectation is copying notes. Unfortunately, processing of information during note-taking is not a common occurrence.  Although the authors do not comment about the challenges many students with disabilities have with note-taking, many of their suggestions for note-taking eliminated the requirements for multitasking, copying from the board, and spelling.

Since several pieces of research (see here, here, here and here) verify that pencil notes are more helpful in increasing knowledge in students than notes taken on computers, we need to be very wary of students using electronics during lectures. The authors only highlight paper note-taking procedures. They do not, however, comment about trends toward audio-recording or live-scribing technologies that are sometimes used for note-taking.

A lesson might look something like this:
  • Teacher presents new information for five to fifteen minutes. (The older the student, the more experienced with note-taking, and the more familiar the student is with the information, the longer the chunk of information can be.) No writing should take place.
  • The teacher asks students to spend a few minutes recording key ideas and details from the lecture.
  • Students are asked to pair-share for a couple of minutes to discuss their thoughts.
  • Students receive another couple of minutes to refine their notes.
  • (If still teaching the process or if a check for understanding is desirable- a few students are asked to share and defend their notes followed by another couple of minutes to refine notes)
  • Repeat.
  • Toward the end of a section of information or a period, nonlinguistic representations of the information and/or summary statements of the day's information are requested to be written.

True, a teacher might not cover quite as much information, but with this sort of approach, much more learning is likely to take place reducing the need for review at another time.

The authors suggest scaffolding such as student friendly definitions and examples of note-taking techniques be provided and templates or fill-in-the-blank notes for students to complete be available. Templates or skeletal notes could certainly be useful for students. I am not so sure that providing definitions of the techniques would be so helpful. If you are teaching the format you want students to practice, you should have done this already. Using more pair-share opportunities and nonlinguistic representations would be a good idea. Additional wait time might help, but in a whole class presentation, this could be difficult to implement. Encouraging preview material through short podcasts or video or key vocabulary review at home or in a resource room might allow the additional processing time some students need to be successful. Providing cut up possible notes that students select and prioritize and then glue/tape into notes might help with students with spelling, handwriting, or language issues. For students with memory problems, pictures highlighting key ideas might be used to trigger memory. Students could even just take "notes" with images. Color coding could be a useful scaffold for students who struggle with note-taking. If notes are being made on reading material, readings with a lower reading level could be utilized.

Suggested extension ideas include student prioritization of information, rewriting definitions in your own words and researching a big idea. Since prioritizing big ideas is part of the technique, I do not see how that becomes an extension idea. If students are not copying from the board, they either have fantastic memories and can write definitions verbatim or they are writing definitions in their own words. Researching a big idea is an extension of the content area and is useful but is unrelated to learning the technique of note-taking. I might have students try and make connections to other classes, past experiences, real life experiences and record them in their notes to share with others. Another extension idea for students who easily comprehend the reading that you want students to take notes on is to provide more challenging reading material. The internet provides a wealth of material at different reading levels; college level texts could even be used for some students. NewsELAReading A-Z and Breaking News English are websites that have readings about the same topic written at different reading levels.

A technique that could either take the learning to a more basic or a more complex level would be a parallel teaching form of co-teaching where one teacher presents the lesson content to one part of the class and the other teacher presents either a more basic or more complex version to a smaller part of the class. If another staff member is not available, a web video could be utilized. Students could then come together in a whole group for the summarization phase of the lesson. Or a jigsaw approach could be made where students could share their notes from a section of the learning with others from the class who learned about a related but different aspect of the material.

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