Monday, February 14, 2011

My Teacher is NOT Teaching Note Taking...What Can I Do?

As educators, we often assume students automatically know how to take notes on something we choose to lecture about in class.  We also assume students, regardless of age, know how to the use those notes to study for a test.  This is absolutely WRONG!  Note taking must be explicitly taught and modeled in order for students to meaningfully construct knowledge (Marzano, 2001. Classroom Instruction That Works).  The process of note taking requires listening, writing, comprehension, sequencing, spelling, and problem solving to name only the major skill sets. 

Our 9th grade son started reading To Kill A Mockingbird in his English class a couple of weeks ago.  He has always struggled with taking notes and has voiced this many times to us and to his classroom teachers.  His English teacher noted his concern (which was also shared by others in the classroom) and she took a class period to walk the students through the first chapter in the novel, showing them how to take notes.  Fine and dandy, right?  No.  While her efforts are appreciated and no doubt go beyond to what extent most secondary teachers go, it is not enough.  A single dose of "note taking 101" is not going to cure the illness for anymore than that single chapter.  Note taking skills must be approached as more than a single lesson in the classroom.  So, until the classroom teacher recognizes the important role he/she plays in helping students be successful in taking notes, what can students do to help themselves?

First, continue to make your concern about taking notes known to every teacher, every time notes are taken.  Also, don't hesitate to ask your teacher to model for the class how to take notes for a respective class or even chapter.  The more the process is modeled and reviewed, the more likely students will model the expectation as they become more independent in their own note taking skills

Second, be prepared to take notes at any given time.  Keep a notebook for each class in which you can write notes down.  Carry that with you to that respective class every day.  Use a different color for each class if this helps you grab the right notebook from your locker quickly.  Use this notebook only for that respective class.  Be sure to have writing materials with you as well.

Third, be sure to listen carefully to what the teacher says. If the teacher gives you an outline of the topic or reading, use these to write your own notes on and create more detailed notes from the outline. If there is not outline, ask for one before you begin taking notes. 

Fourth, recognize when the discussion or lecture has gone off focus.  This often happens when someone in the class brings up a personal scenario about what you are learning.  For example, maybe you are talking about the anatomy the eye in Anatomy class, and a student brings up that a sibling has a rare eye disease which is then discussed in class for ten minutes.  It is doubtful any of this discussion will be important additions to your notes.

Fifth, use pictures to help you make connections between the content and how parts of the content relate to one another.  Draw a picture that makes sense to you, but make drawings meaningful.  This serves as a "trigger" for you when you are reviewing the information.  For example, if your biology teacher is talking about osmosis, be sure to draw a quick picture of the process. 

In the long run, taking good notes directly parallels good study skills.  If you take bad notes, your performance will be directly impacted.  So until teachers realize their role in helping students develop strong note taking skills, do your best to educate yourself.

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