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





What is differentiated instruction?

14 02 2013

DI pic
What comes to mind when you hear “differentiated instruction (DI)?
Can you explain DI in simple terms?

Teachers and college students are required to do extensive reading on the subject. Thorough research only seems to cloud the issue. Understanding the concept is easy. Implementing it is difficult, to say the least.

A colleague asked me to meet with her for one hour. She wanted me to explain, in just sixty minutes, how to apply DI. First, I had to figure out how to sift out the most practical strategies and best practices. I challenged myself to identify key concepts and explain each in one sentence.

Here’s what I came up with.
Summary of DI

Check out the Prezi I created for a teacher-training workshop.
http://prezi.com/vzg2n9gwurl3/charlie-browns-differentiated-instruction/





It’s never too late.

24 01 2013

EEstudyskills
The winter months are often difficult for teachers, parents, and students. Flu season interrupts learning. It’s hard to believe this school year is almost half over. The countdown to the end of the year starts in the back of educators’ minds. It’s not too late to help struggling students improve skills needed for all learning.

Every teacher embraces the responsibility of teaching students the basics…skills which are necessary for successful learning. Good learning habits contribute to positive academic performance. Deliberate instruction of study skills is the key.

Those study skills can be taught by parents.
Here’s a document which summarizes what most teachers know and do. As a parent, you may find you do many of the things as well to help your child perform well in school.
Teaching skills for all learning

Here’s a PowerPoint presentation which clarifies how to explicitly teach nonacademic skills that are the foundation for all learning.
Teaching young children basic skills





Guaranteed: Better Attention, Increased Motivation, Improved Memory

26 09 2012

Want your child to pay attention without being told? Sound too good to be true?

When I taught second graders, I found alternate ways of getting them quiet. Rather than telling them to settle down, I’d whisper to one student. Or I’d tip my rain stick. Sometimes, I’d present a concealed object hidden in a box or bag.

One day each year, I’d begin a math lesson by writing on the board, “Welcome to your first silent lesson. No one talks starting now.” Then I’d write a math problem coupling it with gestures. I’d point to the two numbers in the ones column and shrug. The students would quickly catch on. Everyone would join in by sharing silent signals. Tiny fingers would fly in the air sharing their answers.

Usually, we require students to memorize events, demand they pay attention, and hope they are motivated to learn. But, changing the way we introduce or review information can engage students more naturally…more in tune with how their brains work.

For example, novelty, curiosity, and emotions can be used to your advantage when teaching children.

Ever whisper to another adult while kids are in the room? What do the children do? They stop talking and strain to listen. They can’t resist the temptation to eavesdrop. Changing your volume got their attention. Without you having to demand it. Without you even wanting it. The unusual speaking volume didn’t go unnoticed.

All people, big and little, love to guess what’s in a gift-wrapped box. We shake it and even smell it. Why? It’s fun to predict.

Most of us remember the Chilean miners who were trapped for 68 days back in 2010. People were glued to their TVs watching the events unfold. Why? The drama resonated with us. We could imagine the horror of the miners and their loved ones. The miraculous rescue of every man erupted in celebrations around the world. The joy on their faces inflated our hearts. Almost as if we could feel their relief. Certainly, we could imagine it. We’ll never forget. Emotional experiences are memorable.

Many educators are implementing strategies recommended by brain researches. Specific methods improve student academic performance, increase motivation, minimize behavior problems, and elevate attention.

They plan activities which are: novel, interactive, structured to encourage deeper thinking, or multisensory.

In addition, they design activities which involve: physical movement, music, art, or drama.

Other beneficial lessons simulate real life, engage students’ emotions, spark healthy competition, challenge students’ perceptions, include storytelling and anecdotes, provide opportunities for students to make choices, or give time for reflection of new concepts.

Click on the link belowfor your list of those strategies. Pick one category each week and plan an activity.

Brain research for parents





Triumph Over Dreaded Math Facts

11 04 2012

For some, multiplication facts arouse a sick queasy feeling. Others fear.

That’s just the parents.

For some students, just the word ‘multiplication’ conjures up thoughts of torture. A mountain of memorizing too great to climb.

Mastering basic math facts can have powerful results. Performance will improve. Math test scores will rise. Confidence will soar.

My experiences helping students have resulted in all those benefits. Several cases were even more astonishing.

One student no longer needed special education for math as a result of strengthening his math facts.

Another student began volunteering answers during math lessons.

Visit my community to find an effective strategy called Hands-On Multiplication). That approach will become a valuable tool in your teaching kit.





Is it OK to emphasize learning styles?

17 01 2012

Focusing on learning styles has become controversial. Learning is much more complex than simply discovering the best method of teaching for a student.

Many factors impact academic performance. When a student is struggling to succeed, there are many things to consider. All of the following elements contribute to school success.

  • The teaching methods (There are countless categories of learning styles.)
  • The environment (physical factors and the atmosphere)
  • The student (gender, age, culture, health, development, self-awareness, motivation, pace, etc.)
  • The teacher (training, experience, etc.)
  • The process of learning (constructing knowledge based on the context, reflection and closure – fitting it into related information previously learned)
  • The system (support services, resources, etc.)
  • The parent (ability to support child, own past experiences, current life stressors)
  • The content (information to be learned) – Types of knowledge:
  1. Procedural (knowing how), declarative (knowing what), connective (knowing who – knowledge of and by the connections that exist in the world), experiential
  2. Separate (learned through explicit instruction) vs. connective (learned through empathy)

The secret to success in school can’t be as simple as a single learning style. It would be wrong to say that each person learns from one specific method of teaching. Learning is enhanced when information is presented in different ways.

Teaching methods, learning environment, the student, the teacher, the content, the system, and the parent all affect academic performance.

But…

We admit everyone has strengths and needs. Some things are easy to learn; some are harder.

Specific strategies can help tremendously.

Math comes easy for me. It’s harder for me to memorize important dates in history. I’ve found that if I draw a picture of an important event and include the date, I’m more likely to remember the date. This realization that I learn difficult things using illustrations has helped me throughout school.

I once taught a student who was legally blind and mildly mentally retarded. He was a gifted musician. Learning to spell correctly was hard for him. I challenged him to make a rap out of his weekly spelling words. His spelling tests were very entertaining. His performance soared!

So, should we abandon all emphasis on learning styles? Certainly not.

Helping a struggling learner is detective work. It’s a systematic search for what works.

It’s important to keep in mind all factors: teaching methods, learning environment, the student, the teacher, the content, the system, and the parent.

One component of optimal differentiated instruction for a particular student may be a teaching method which has promoted progress or success.

Students can develop strategies which are in accordance with their strengths and preferred learning styles. Those strategies become their tool box for learning. Educators can certainly identify accommodations which would yield improvements for a student.

Visit my ‘Equipping the Saints’ website to find a learning styles ppt. I developed.

Click on the Learning Styles ppt. for more information.