Taking Notes 101

5 01 2014

note.taking

Lots can go wrong with a student’s class notes. Too messy to read. Inadequate information written. Critical facts missing. Unnecessary words cluttering up the page.

Students fail tests partly because they don’t take good notes. There’s an easy solution to that problem. Explicitly teach them how to take notes. Don’t have time? Can you afford NOT to invest the time? You won’t have to devote tons of valuable time. It will be time well-spent.

Here’s a personal anecdote highlighting the power of one brief mini-lesson.

As Director of Instruction, I offered support to classroom teachers. A middle school history teacher requested my assistance. One of his 7th grade students had failed all the tests in the first quarter.

I began by observing the student during a review lesson for an upcoming history test.

The teacher explained and wrote critical information. Like robots, the students wrote. Each face seemed void of any thought. Flat expressions conveyed boredom or tiredness—or both.

The teacher explained and wrote…students wrote. The teacher explained and wrote…students wrote.

It doesn’t look like anyone is thinking.

The teacher broke the pattern and did something that confirmed my suspicions.

He simply stated a powerful point without writing it down, himself. He emphatically stated, “This point is extremely important; it WILL BE on the test…” (and he told them the information without writing it)

Not one student wrote it down! Their note taking had been mindless. A simple task of imitating the teacher. He wrote; they wrote. He didn’t write; they didn’t write (even though he told them it was an important point that would be included on the test).

I offered to teach a mini-lesson to that class about how to take class notes. Below you’ll find a document containing all the information I covered in a 20 min. lesson.

I suggested that they try only one or two of the points made (such as: write info. only after you understand the point so it can be summarized, use abbreviations, etc.).  Each student was given a copy of the document (on neon paper and laminated).

About two weeks later I asked that same class if they had tried any of the strategies. Every single student had tried some of the methods and reported improved grades on recent tests. Everyone attributed their success to their better note-taking skills. They expressed gratitude and excitement.

“What did you try?” I asked.

One by one, they told me what they tried. All without referring to the document I provided!

After that initial mini-lesson, the teacher provided reminders. During subsequent review lessons, he simply referred to the strategies before and during review lessons. He started modeling the methods by providing a list of abbreviations, by drawing simple pictures of important points, etc.

Word spread. Several senior high school students asked me to teach the same lesson to their classes. Gotta love when students get motivated and become more invested in improving their performance!

Note Taking

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