Polski3's View from Here

Quote of some personal revelence: "Is a dream a lie, that don't come true, or is it something worse?"

Sunday, March 02, 2008

Teaching Notetaking

I don't know about your students, but when my victims of Open Court Reading Programs arrive in my seventh grade classroom, they do not know how to read expository text. Nor do they seem to know much about how to listen and watch something, pick out the main ideas, and create notes. So, what do I do with my young ones? Try to teach it to them.

For most of my grade seven history/social studies year, I work with my students to learn to listen and watch something, pick out the main ideas and create notes. This is a slow, tedious process. Most have never, ever, been expected to do something like this. Here is some of what I do to help them learn note taking.

For most audio-visual presentations in my classroom, there is some written guide for students to work on while viewing and/or listening to the presentation. For many of my audio-visual presentations, I have slowly watched the program, or in a few cases, listened to it ( I have an old 33.5 rpm album that has biographies of Julius Caesar and William the Conqueror ). I take notes as I watch, and use those notes to create multiple choice worksheets for students to complete as they view the program. I ask them to read over the questions prior to viewing the DVD or VHS, telling them that this will help them know what to listen for. I also tell them they may not be able to get all the answers as the program is presented; but that's ok, we go over it orally after the a-v presentation so they know the correct answers. As we go through the presentation, circle the correct answer or answers. I wander the room during the presentation to monitor participation.
Here is an example of a question on the upcoming Mongol's video presentation:
"Genghis Khan" means ? to the Mongol's.
Great King Super Warrior King of the Universe Universal Ruler

Next, I ask for their opinion regarding which bits of data; historical facts, dates, vocabulary terms, etc., are most important ( and keep in mind the standard we are learning ) ? One thing I learned recently is to simply acknowledge each response with an "ok", or "thank you"; some response that does not affirm that the student gave a correct answer. I call on students who want to share and who are quietly raising their hands, and some who are not overtly participating. Each is expected to provide an answer. I do not tell them, "YES !" or "Excellent", or "yeah, that's right!" By simply acknowledging that the student answered, this technique is supposed to help all students be able to give an answer without speaking out and immediately being "wrong" THEN, we go over the questions that should be the key bits of fact, dates and vocabulary they need to know. They then copy the key questions and their answer(s) in Cornell Note fashion; I give my students the choice of writing the question in the 1/3 column and the answer or answers in the 2/3 column, OR, if they can, combine the question and its answer(s) into one statement, written in the 2/3 column. From here, students can work on creating a summary and maybe creating a couple of pictures to help illustrate the key facts, vocabulary, dates, etc. This takes some prep time, but I find it is well worth it in helping students learn the material and take some steps towards learning to take notes and deal with expository material.

I use the above technique throughout the school year. I have seventh graders; they need practice and reinforcement in learning a method of note taking. At my school, we emphasize the Cornell Note taking format, in part because its is part of our AVID program and the local high schools require their students to use Cornell Notes. Later in the school year, I will also simply post some questions, names, etc. for students to copy in their notes, then as the a-v presentation goes along, they provide data about each of these. More of my students are successful when the first method is used. With this second method, many are frustrated at trying to watch and listen and take notes at the same time, and don't like missing so much while they're trying to write notes or missing writing the notes while they watch/listen to the program.

There are times when I will also deliberately spell some words wrong, or make some error in grammar or punctuation. I also do "DOL" type activities with my students, so that is a way to throw in some DOL stuff in the lesson. My students usually have a section of their state standardized test asking them to identify errors in statements, so this is a way to practice that.

Please note, don't try to fill up the whole class period doing an a-v presentation. My seventh graders don't have the attention span to sit for 40 plus minutes doing the same activity. If it is a program you want them to see all 45 - 60 minutes of, break it up and work on it over two or three days. This also is important for them creating their Cornell notes, done in small chunks or sections, it is easier for them; asking them to do such an assignment "all at once" so to speak, is harder for them and your less motivated, less able, will probably not do it. But in small bits, most can and will be successful with it.

Of course, it helps if they read over their notes after they have earned credit for the assignment. If their notes just disappear into that abyss of a backpack or three-ring binder, what good are they. I try to emphasise to my students that If they read their notes, (and other text materials), study their vocabulary each day, they when it comes to assessment time, they are ready for it. One of my class opener activities is to get out your notes and read them to yourself. Then, turn to a partner and read your notes to each other. Those students who do not have their notes for whatever reason, can be paired up with students who do have their notes and at least hear the data.

What do you do to teach your students note taking? I'd like to hear what you do and any tweaks you can come up with in my technique. Thanks for reading my blog !