I was walking around our media center, excited to read over my students’ shoulders as they worked on an integrated project. Within five minutes, both my teaching partner and I had lines around us with students waiting for conferences. A hum fell over the space, but not the hum of productivity – the hum of frustration! Our students had no real idea of how to research or take notes, at least not independently. I used their frustration to hook their interest in learning how to take notes, and spent most of the next nine weeks teaching them how to take notes. I used the Q-Notes strategy that I describe in this post. The rest of the year we focus on reading and taking our own notes versus using the handouts I had used as a single subject teacher, and it was good.
The next year, I started out with note-taking strategies and found that my students struggled with the Q-Notes. My teaching partner found a different strategy, Boxes and Bullets on Learnzillion, and we tried that with the students and still they struggled. The root problem was not the note-taking strategy, but that these students had a real difficulty in determining what was important and what was not in the text. Their difficulty was in creating a filter for the onslaught of information, something that they will need to do for the rest of their lives. I thought a great deal about how we read informational text as adults, and realized that I was going about note-taking in an inauthentic way. I have never taken notes on an entire article, chapter, or nonfiction book in my adult life unless it was an academic assignment; however, I read nonfiction text all the time as most adults do. I read to be informed about issues that matter to me, or to solve a problem that I might be having – in other words, I read to answer questions. The fault was not in my student’s note-taking skills, so much as it was in their questioning skills.
Aha! Students were trying to take notes for me, and not themselves. This is possibly the root of all school problems.
At the beginning of the next unit, I put the standards students were supposed to master up on the Promethean Board. We discussed what they meant, and any unfamiliar words. I then asked students what questions they would need to be able to answer to prove that they had mastered the standard. I modeled the first one, and then had students work together create questions for the rest of them while I circulated. We had a great conversation about thick versus thin questions and answerable versus debatable questions. During sharing time, we agreed upon a set of questions we would use for our note-taking/research for the unit. We then discussed what resources were available in class, and that students were to focus their research on these questions – this is what we agreed was important to know. Students not only used the class resources, but they shared helpful internet resources on Edmodo. It was an amazing, student centered experience.
Once I switched my focus to teaching my students how to create good questions, their notes became more focused and their research improved dramatically. It did require some scaffolding, and practice over the next several units but students really responded and it had the added benefit of creating student ownership of the content. I continued to expose them to different styles of note-taking, and then encouraged them to use the methods that worked best for them. We would meet about their notes throughout the unit, having them compare with other classmates and discuss what was working for them and what was not. It was better.
This year I’m going to start with the idea of generating questions to frame the research/learning that we will do over the course of a unit. I plan to use the QAR framework to create a common questioning vocabulary and to use Webb’s Depth of Knowledge chart and these stems to help students develop more meaningful questions. I want to help students to recognize that the structure of informational text can also be used to determine if a piece will be useful in their research and how that might change or guide their note-taking. I will continue to expose students to a variety of note-taking structures until they find what works for them. The last piece to implement this year is a note-taking conference that will happen during each unit or project, where students will select their best example of notes so that we can evaluate their progress together and set goals.
How do you help students take good notes, independently?
It has been awhile since my last post, and that has been because my head has been spinning with new ideas and new opportunities. For the last two years, I have had the opportunity to work on a two person team teaching Language Arts and Social Studies in a gifted magnet program. I have moved from teaching a 100 students, one subject, four times a day for an hour to teaching 50 students, three subjects (reading, writing, social studies) twice a day for two and a half hours. The push towards the Common Core, and the need to help students make the most of their learning time has led me to focus on integration and differentiation. This in turn led me to standards based grading as a way of facilitating these things and keeping my students focused on the learning they were doing. There has been more than a few changes in my thinking over this time, and I have grown tremendously, but I have been so busy reading, thinking, discussing with my awesome team mate, and just doing that I haven’t taken the time to post. I also wanted to wait until my thinking was clearer, but as I tell my students “writing is THINKING”, so I’m going to think out loud here and hope that you will give me feedback and help me become clear. Tomorrow I will start with the one skill that launched the most changes in my thinking – note-taking.
Edmodo is an amazing service, and it is free. I’m going to write in this post how I am using Edmodo in my classroom as you can easily Google it to find out anything else.
Assignments: Every assignment I give is on Edmodo. You can actually assign tasks to individual students or whole groups. You can attach handouts, links, or videos to the assignments – no more lost instructions. Students can comment on the assignment asking for clarification. These assignments then show up in student notifications, and can be turned in online. When I grade them I can use Edmodo’s annotate feature, or I can type feedback directly in to the student’s turned in assignment. They can continue to revise until the assignment is graded.
Calendar: All assignments show up in the student’s calendar, and they are clickable. This has been amazing for parents. Also, you can add dates for quizzes/tests/events. My teaching partner is on Edmodo too, so we can see each other’s assignments and coordinate due dates.
Updates/Announcements/Pictures: I can share what we are doing in class, and I can choose what to make public – Edmodo is a closed, safe environment but you can choose to make certain things public – no more double work on the school webpage. Also, students can interact with this content – asking questions or commenting.
Quizzes – you can create all types of assessments in Edmodo – short answer, fill in the blank, multiple choice. These can be graded within Edmodo and show you at a glance where the class is and where understanding is breaking down.
Parent Involvement: the absolutely best thing about Edmodo is parent communication. Parents receive everything you send the the student – every assignment, every direct message, the calendar, the quizzes – everything.
Slow shift to paperless – my district wants us to become 90 percent paperless in three years. Edmodo has allowed me to start that – I don’t print copies of study guides for the entire class anymore, only those without access to a printer. Edmodo also plays nicely with any Web 2.0 service you use via links or embedding – projects are completed, submitted, and graded online.
Students use Edmodo at school and home, and it is leading my class to a more blended environment.
This year I am teaching a combined LA/SS block, so I decided to teach note-taking when it came time for the informational text unit. It was incredibly successful and I’ve been using it as a building block to other things since.
The strategy is very simple, and easy to use on any text with sub-headings.
- Write the name of the lesson, the article, or chapter at the top of the page.
- Draw a vertical line about a third of the way from the left of a piece of paper or notebook page.
- Each sub-heading is turned into a question matching the main idea. Write the question on the left side of that line.
- The section is read with the question in mind and the student takes 2 – 5 notes to answer the question on the right side of that line.
That’s all there is to it. I taught a mini-lesson on how to turn the headings into questions, and then we did a practice session using a section of the SS textbook. I read over the students notes and made a list of the mini-lessons they were going to need (summarizing, main idea). After the lessons, we did another set. Repeat.
It took three sets over three weeks, but my kiddos are note-taking fools. Next year, this is the very first thing I will teach them how to do.
This method seemed kind of common sense to me, but I was asked to look for some research and I found this handout. Do you have any note-taking strategies you would like to share?
Update: The explanation handout is no longer online. There is an explanation that could be used for this strategy or Cornell Notes (as they are very similar) here:
There is a template available here
I’ve been reading a great deal about #edcamp on Twitter. At an #edcamp, the participants are the conference. The schedule of sessions is created the morning of the conference by the people who are attending. The goal is to create as many different sessions for each time slot as the space will allow. Presenters are more facilitators, collaborative documents are created about the topics, attendees include their social network in the experience by tweeting. If a session isn’t meeting your needs, you are free to walk out and choose another one – this is called the “rule of two feet”. Teachers seem to love this concept because it respects their voice in their own learning, and their ability to choose what will be most beneficial to them.
We wouldn’t be teachers if our own excitement about learning didn’t make us wonder “what if”. What if the rule of two feet applied to our classroom? What would school look like if our students had more choices, more ownership of their learning? What if kids could look forward to learning the way we do?
I’m thinking #classcamp (or # ____camp depending on the topic.
I teach younger students so I know I would need to provide considerable scaffolding, at least at first. I’m largely thinking out loud here, and I would really appreciate thoughts or ideas, especially if you have implemented something similar
My thoughts – give students (even parents or other teachers) a broad topic, such as World War II, Immigration, etc. See how many spaces in the building could be co-opted for sessions then create a schedule within the school’s schedule for sessions and allow students/parents/teachers to sign up to present in a googledoc. This would have to be done ahead of time, which I know is not true to the #edcamp model, but maybe that’s something we could work toward over the course of the year.
Students would initially “sign up” for sessions, also in google docs, but I think it would be important to preserve the two feet rule. If you knew your audience, your peers, were free to leave if your session wasn’t meeting their needs, I can’t help but feel it would make you step up your game. For students, it makes the research/ presentation/involvement more authentic – they choose and know their peers choose to stay or go as well. I know the etiquette would have to be taught/modeled but I still think that could be powerful on both sides.
I also would want to require reflection – #edcamps lead to active participation from its attendees. Again, I’m just thinking out loud. Comments/suggestions would be appreciated.