Archive for the ‘Issue 7’ Category

In This Issue (7)

Thursday, January 24th, 2013

Student Interaction at the Secondary Level; Increasing Language Development for ELLs

Thursday, January 24th, 2013

Author:  Trish Flores, Bilingual/ESL Specialist

 

Engaging students at high levels of interaction is a goal for today’s schools.  High levels of interaction ensure that students are learning to use metacognitive skills to reflect on what they are learning and how they are learning.  Meaningful interactions create opportunities for students to practice what they are learning and apply it to authentic situations.  Typically, our thoughts on establishing these learning environments revolve around core subject areas such as math, science, literacy, and social studies.  It is not uncommon for teachers of elementary students to engage them in cooperative learning activities that lead to high levels of interaction.  Recently however, secondary teachers of students whom are second language learners are seeing the value and importance of implementing cooperative learning activities to accomplish two goals: content mastery and language development.

It is a wide held understanding that a skill or new learning is perfected after it is practiced and used frequently.  One does not learn to play an instrument on the first or even tenth attempt.  Learning a new skill takes targeted and focused practice that needs to be structured.  In a middle school classroom, teachers can create this learning structured environment by establishing learning stations that are geared to the specific needs of English language learners.  These mini islands of knowledge are organized to allow students the opportunity to use new and existing academic vocabulary in various expressive manners in order to master content and increase their English proficiency.  Although this might be new territory for middle school teachers, it can be accomplished with relative ease and high levels of success.

 

Student Grouping

As with planning any activity for your classroom, teachers need to be aware of the ability levels of their students when assigning them to station groups.  When working with second language learners, teachers need to know the language proficiency levels of students so that they can create groups that will be successful in expressing their knowledge in a variety of ways. This information also assists teachers in knowing how to scaffold the lessons linguistically.  The proficiency levels for all four communication strands (listening, speaking, reading and writing) can be found in the chart below.

Beginning Intermediate Advanced Advanced High
Beginning ELLs have little or no ability to understand English used in academic and social settings. Intermediate ELLs have the ability to understand simple, high frequency English used in routine academic and social settings. Advanced ELLs have the ability to understand, with support, grade-appropriate English used in academic and social settings. Advanced high ELLs have the ability to understand, with minimum support, grade appropriate English used in academic and social settings.

Groups are flexible and can be changed based on the knowledge level of the content and the language proficiency of the students.

 

Activities

The activities placed in learning stations need to reflect the rigor of the content being taught in a whole group setting.  Once the content is introduced, activities to extend the learning are placed in the learning stations.  Keeping in mind the language proficiency levels of students, teachers need to differentiate the activities by providing resources such as vocabulary word banks, sentence stems, paragraph frames, visuals, dictionaries and other materials that provide scaffolds for ELLs.  It is important to keep in mind the goal of language development when designing activities. Students need to be able to develop expressive skills such as speaking and writing as well as the receptive skills of reading and listening.  It is vital that activities be structured to support student-to-student or group interaction and provide ways for  ELLs to use English to explain concepts and contribute to the work. This gives teachers an opportunity to gauge what the student has learned while assessing student progress in English language development.

 

Management

It is crucial that students understand how to manage themselves at learning stations. Teachers need to communicate their expectations for time management and group conduct.  Roles such as time keeper, leader, materials person and scribe can be assigned to students to encourage participation and accountability.  These roles also offer hidden opportunities for students to develop their oral language.

 

Accountability

Learning stations offer teachers opportunities to observe their students and gauge their level of understanding of content and language use.  As students complete activities they place work in station folders for teacher review.  Teachers may review the assignments to assess students’ use of language.  It is in this final step that teachers can provide students feedback and refine the learning tasks to create higher language learning expectations.

High levels of student engagement are goals for educators.  All teachers, regardless of content or grade level, should strive for high levels of engagement so that their ELLs can have opportunities to enhance their language skills.  Students should not merely be recipients of knowledge but active constructivists of their own learning.  This can only be accomplished when teachers create authentic learning environments that require students to speak, read, and write on a daily basis.

Flipped Classrooms

Thursday, January 24th, 2013

Author:  Leslie Barrett, Technology & Library Media Services Specialist

 

Flipped classrooms.  Flipped learning.  If you haven’t heard these education buzz words in the past 12 months, chances are good that you will hear them in the next. They refer to a concept, a method of teaching, that is gaining attention and popularity in schools and classrooms of creative teachers trying to meet student needs in an increasingly diverse and technology rich world.

 

What, exactly, is a “flipped classroom”?  In the most general terms, a flipped classroom is one in which the content of a lesson is delivered outside of class time (usually as homework consisting of a pre-recorded video lecture), and the practice portion of the lesson is carried out during class time with teacher guidance.  The concept of flipped learning has been around for a while, but it was most recently popularized by two chemistry teachers, Jonathan Bergmann and Aaron Sams.  While co-teaching in a rural Colorado high school, Bergmann and Sams were looking for a better way to guide students through the application phase of their learning.  “The time when students really need me physically present is when they get stuck and need my individual help.  They don’t need me there in the room with them to yak at them and give them content; they can receive content on their own.”  (Sams 29)  They started recording their lectures using a screencast software called Camtasia and made the videos available for students to watch as homework.  Class time was utilized for students to conduct labs and work on content problems and activities while the teacher circulated among students offering guidance.  Bergmann and Sams later wrote a book, Flip Your Classroom: Reach Every Student in Every Class Every Day, in which they give readers details about the evolution of their flipped classroom, describe the flipped classroom models and steps they employed, and share their observations on how flipping their classroom has impacted student achievement.  “We had seen our students learning chemistry more deeply than ever before, and we were convinced.  Our method was changing students’ abilities to become self-directed learners.”  (Bergmann & Sams 42)

 

Executed thoughtfully, there are many benefits to flipping a classroom.  When students watch the content lecture on their own time they have the power to slow down or speed up the lecture to meet their individual learning needs.  They can rewind and review difficult or confusing concepts.  They come to class equipped with the foundation information necessary to engage in learning activities that incorporate the new information.  Students are not left to struggle with content application at home for homework without the benefit of the teacher nearby to answer questions or provide clarification.  Instead of using class time to lecture, the teacher can circulate through individual or small groups of students checking for understanding, guiding deeper thinking, answering questions, and addressing student needs on a more individualized level.  The teacher no longer assumes the role of dispenser of information, but instead becomes a facilitator of learning as students absorb and apply the content.  A flipped classroom model provides more in-class opportunities for teachers to individualize and differentiate instruction to meet a wide range of student needs.  Flipped classrooms can create more student-centered learning environments where the ownership of learning shifts from the teacher to the student.

 

There are, however, many who disagree with the flipped model of learning.  Critics argue that not all students have access to the technology necessary to view the lecture videos outside of class.  Videos often are hosted on YouTube or other similar video hosting sites that are blocked in many school environments.  And, let’s face it, students don’t always do their homework, often for legitimate reasons.  If students can’t view the lecture videos, how are they going to receive the content delivery?   Arguments are also made that “lecture” is not the most effective method of teaching, and opponents of homework in general are definitely not in the flipped classroom camp.

 

Like any other innovation in education, flipping the classroom is something that requires careful thought and planning.  It is not the answer to every problem schools today are facing.  It is merely an attempt to create more time during the class day for individualized instruction and to nurture a more student-centered learning environment.  It is a model that capitalizes on students’ innate interest in and facility with technology. There is no rule book or strict formula for schools or teachers to follow to implement a flipped learning model–teachers can use the bits and pieces that work for each unique situation.  As you are presented with increasingly more information buzz on the topic of flipped classrooms, the most important thing to keep in mind are the students.  Would your students benefit from a flipped classroom model?

 

 

If you are interested in learning more about flipping your classroom, please join us on February 20, 2013 for our Mastering the Flipped Classroom workshop (SP1325597).

Source

Bergmann, Jonathan, and Aaron Sams. Flip Your Classroom: Reach Every Student in Every Class Every Day. Eugene, Or.: International Society for Technology in Education, 2012.

Prepare Ahead for STAAR and EOC Testing Accommodation Decisions

Thursday, January 24th, 2013

Author:  Judy Butler, Education Specialist, Dyslexia and 504

 

Parents and teachers prefer to provide for a student’s educational  needs without having to consider that the child may have a disability.  For many students with both mental and physical impairments, particularly within the elementary grades, referrals for Section 504 eligibility determination may be avoided or delayed if the student is able to receive RtI, health services, or dyslexia services outside of Section 504 or Special Education identification.  With the increased rigor of End of Course exams in high school, districts and parents may suddenly realize that students will face serious roadblocks to graduation and college admission without access to accommodations available only to students identified as Section 504 or Special Education with a documented need written into an Individualized Accommodation Plan or IEP.   According to the currently posted TEA Accommodations Triangle, http://www.tea.state.tx.us/student.assessment/accommodations/staar-telpas/ , a student must need the accommodations within the classroom, and use them routinely and effectively as well as meet very specific eligibility criteria.

 

Many of the new STAAR Accommodations are available to any students, students within RtI, 504 only, or Special Education, but some, like Spelling Assistance on Reading Assessment short answers and Written Composition, and Calculative Devices are not available to only 504 or Special Education students.  Additionally, an Oral/Signed Administration accommodation is not available to any student, unless that student has also been identified with dyslexia and is in RtI, or is a Section 504 or Special Education student with dyslexia or has evidence of reading difficulties.

 

This suddenly realized fear that a child might need an accommodation to pass, but does not currently meet the eligibility criteria, can cause panic in the hearts of parents of struggling students when they consider the consequences to high school graduation, documentation to support the need for SAT/ACT accommodations, college admissions and access to services for students with disabilities at the college level.  This nagging fear can cause panic in the minds of school administrators when they consider the impact that failing STAAR or EOC scores will have on state and federal accountability measures as well as the educational planning and resources needed to remediate student achievement.  This sudden realization may also result in larger numbers of students being referred for Section 504 or Special Education evaluation a month, two weeks, or even days ahead of STAAR and EOC testing dates.   The time involved with gathering the data along with documentation insuring accommodations have been routinely and effectively used in the classroom and are usually a logistical impossibility within these last minute time parameters.

 

Fear of anticipated student low performance or failure on STAAR or EOCs should never be the sole cause for initiating a Section 504 or Special Education evaluation to determine need for accommodations.  However, it is possible that a disabled student  who may have survived their school career without being identified as Section 504 or Special Ed eligible will now need documented accommodations due to the following circumstances:  teachers freely made accommodations,  the student was able to receive the Dyslexia Bundled Accommodations without being Section 504 in previous years of TAKS testing, the physical or mental disability now limits a major life activity due to increased expectations or limited time parameters, lack of access to effective interventions, or even changes in the student’s health conditions.

 

Below are a few tips for making sure that students who truly need testing accommodations receive them long before STAAR and EOC test dates arrive:

-Establish and communicate district policies to both parents and teachers of all grade levels about referral processes and the types of information needed to warrant suspicion of a disability.

  • Public school staff may access a free Region 13 online workshop entitled: “Understanding Basic 504 Procedures and Services:  A Campus Training” by registering with Workshop ID:   FA1224572
  • Contact your regional Education Service Center 504 Specialist to aid with establishing district procedures and parent education regarding Section 504.

-For students within RtI, be sure that RtI teams are collecting progress monitoring data and referring students to 504 or Special Education evaluations when more intensive services and protections are warranted.

-Be sure that English Language Learners are not being overlooked.  Specialized training is needed by assessment personnel to determine if poor achievement is due to the process of English language acquisition, or is also impaired by a mental or physical impairment.  This is especially true if the impairment is dyslexia.  Contact your regional educational specialist in dyslexia if you need to contract with a Bilingual Assessment Specialist.

-Educational need is not required to trigger the need for Section 504 referral.  A child need not have failing grades or previously failing test scores before being evaluated for Section 504.

-Remember that there is no standard set of accommodations for any specific type of disability.  Both classroom and testing accommodation decisions should be based on evidence of student need on a case by case basis, and documented within that student’s Individualized Accommodation Plan or IEP.  The TEA Accommodations Triangle provides specific guidance for how the need and effectiveness for many accommodations can be determined.

-Consult with Assistive Technology Specialists, within district or Education Service Center regional specialists, for tools in how to determine the best low or high-tech device for each student.  Experiment with the student to evaluate the effectiveness of the technology.

-Remember that providing unnecessary accommodations within the classroom and in testing situations can be damaging to a student and their future educational success.

-Reference Region 13’s new “Scaffolding Accommodations” guide, available through the Product section of our website:  http://store.esc13.net/index.php/special-ed/scaffolding.html  when making and documenting accommodation decisions within an RtI, 504, or ARD committee meeting.

Exploring Integration in Elementary Curriculum, Part 3

Thursday, January 24th, 2013

Author: Lori Reemts, Education Specialist: Elementary Generalist

 

In the first two installments, this series visited integration by creating a working definition and common language to guide the reader through the series with the intended understanding.  Descriptions and examples were given to identify both Direct (Explicit) Support and Purposeful Awareness.  These prove to be excellent starting points when seeking points of intersection between disciplines.  This article, now the third in the series, promises to explore the idea of skill building.

As educators we long for our students to be able to apply thinking and learning across and within content areas. We provide experiences within each content area and hope for the moment when the light bulb shines brightly signaling the student experienced some sort of revelation or connection.  We hope that our students continue to build crucial skills in order to be successful not only within their school career but also, more importantly, as adults with knowledge and skills that merge seamlessly enabling them to gain new insight, solve a problem, or make an informed decision.   These areas of success come from the application of transferrable skills rather than any spelling list or set of facts about a science concept.  These transferrable skills are both our hope and joy and our nemesis as educators because these can prove to be quite difficult to identify, teach, and foster within our students.  The new State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness (STAAR) employ such skills to the extent possible through a multiple choice format.  Students must be able to access information previously learned and situations previously experienced and apply this learning to new and novel situations.  These exams are designed to assess a variety of skills along with content specific knowledge.

We have become quite adept at identifying various examples, vocabulary lists, strategies, and techniques within different content areas assessed through STAAR but not as adept in the skill areas assessed through STAAR, not to mention those content areas not assessed through the state program.  The very thing we long for most in our students – the development of real skills – sometimes falls by the wayside if for no other reason than because they are more difficult to identify and teach.  These skills can be found within most any student expectation by reading the verb but this is often still singularly associated with a particular content-focused student expectation.  Every discipline, including Health and Technology Applications, has a focus on skills built within it. It is in our best interest, and more importantly our students’ best interest, to focus on these sets of skills. By learning, practicing, and applying these skill sets students are then far more equipped to access the very content we are struggling to get them to remember and apply.

One example is related to data. Students are bombarded with input on a daily basis; much of which is subconsciously stored for later.  However, there are also times when we purposefully seek data.  There are many reasons that a person may need to gather some information, evaluate the source and the information, manage the information, and somehow make sense of it in order to follow this acquisition with application of some form or fashion, such as planning, communicating, or making an informed and thoughtful decision. Consider the following student expectations:

 

 

These skills found within each of the content areas all deal with data collection / information management. In total, there are at least 23 Student Expectations between these 6 areas of study that relate directly to the skills of obtaining data, evaluating the source and the data itself, and somehow managing the information. While the context is different because of the different disciplines, the core skill remains intact.

 

Just as using Direct (explicit) Support and Purposeful Awareness can serve as starting points to locate potential points of intersection, so can a skill set.  By unifying “how” students work within different contexts throughout the day, a classroom teacher can actually capitalize on the potential to connect through skills.  Students not only have more practice on the identified and planned-for skill, but also they are able to see it in a variety of situations, identify what they are doing, and use the skill to make connections within and across content areas.

 

Take a moment to look through the Student Expectations for each content area and you will see skill sets that naturally merge with skills sets from other content areas. They essentially group themselves into manageable categories making at least the identification of these thinking skills far more obvious than they would be as they exist separately.   After a scan, you will see skills related to:

  • Planning & Development; Problem-Solving & Decision-Making
  • Tools and Technology, including text features
  • Data Collection and Information Management
  • Analysis, Inference, Justification, and Making Conclusions
  • Communication
  • Making Connections

 

As this spring semester progresses, we are working on a tool enabling teachers, administrators, parents, and even students to identify skills that group themselves into broader ideas and applications.  It is sometimes amazing to see what is actually built into our state standards, right before our eyes, which can so easily turn into missed opportunities.  Interested in seeing what this looks like completed?  Keep an eye on The Scoop for more information later in the semester.
In the meantime, take some time to consider making connections and points of intersection for your students through the sheer application of a skill within different contexts throughout the entire learning day.  Both you and your students will benefit!

Reflections from an EOC Parent, Part 3

Thursday, January 24th, 2013

Author:  Collections compiled from a team of Education Specialists

 

In each In-Sight newsletter this academic year, we feature a reflection from a parent of an “EOC student”.  Current 10th grade students have been the first to interact with the new EOC assessments and, as a result, we can learn from their experiences and those of their families.  It is also possible to unintentionally send the wrong information or share information that is not quite as clear for the person receiving it as it could be in order for it to be informative and helpful.  It can be easy to forget that our perspective and the jargon we use on a daily basis as professionals in the education business does not always translate easily to those unfamiliar with the industry’s language and this is even truer when you consider non-native English speakers and readers.  As we learn and navigate these new waters, it is also our responsibility to help others do the same; after all our goals include students owning their own learning and for families to be informed and involved.

While this installment is indeed a reflection from an EOC parent, it also happens to be a parent with a good deal of knowledge and experience within the education system.  The entry describes interactions between parent and student leading up to the implementation of this new assessment program but then goes beyond to offer a look at the data.  This is a wonderful addition as we begin to receive more data and face analysis, distribution, and clarification of it.  The pictures included come from the EOC report received by the parent.  In this case the parent’s experience allowed for easy navigation but the entry does raise the question as to whether or not all of our stakeholders truly know what this information means.  This EOC parent also added a few questions that arose as a result of looking at their student’s data.  Are we prepared to answer these types of questions?  You will also find short answers to each question included.

As always, identifying information has been changed or deleted but the reflection piece itself remains as intended by its author.

 

 

As an educator with a freshman son, I humorously referred to myself last year as an EOC Mom.  My son didn’t quite take the arrival of this new assessment as I did.  I sat him down last fall and showed him the PowerPoint posted on the Region 13 website that gave a general overview of what was going to be required of him at the end of the 2012 school year.  He didn’t seem so concerned about our little review and told me he wasn’t that worried about it.  It was a fairly typical response from an overly confident 15 year old, but he shared with me that it wasn’t that he didn’t care, but rather that he had passed all his TAKS tests in the past.  He had a reasonable point and a good history of doing fairly well in school with A’s and B’s.  I still tried to show him the released sample assessments to further expose him to the format of the test, but again he brushed it off and was less than enthusiastic to take a look.  In an effort to not be the “helicopter” parent, I backed off and decided to let him do it his way, on his own.  This was the case until about February when we started to see some of his writing assignments and noticed his writing still hadn’t improved much from the beginning of the year.  On Saturdays after he finished all of his regular homework, we would have him write. We didn’t go the route of having him write to a possible STAAR prompt, but rather held him to writing pieces of whatever he wanted with the intent of getting him to write and reflect on the revision process.  He needed help on the basics of thesis development, writing organization, sentence structure, and grammar.  This went on for about two months and we just hoped that our time working with him would help him with his writing.  So here’s how he did on the 2012 EOC Assessments:

 

World Geography

Algebra I

English I Reading

English I Writing

 Biology

I’m obviously ecstatic that he passed all of his EOCs for his freshman year, but I have a number of questions after reading these scores.

  1. On the Biology EOC I see two areas that he appeared to struggle in: Biological Processes and Systems and Mechanisms of Genetics.  Could this impact him on the Chemistry EOC he will have to take this year or the Physics EOC his junior year?

A: Probably not.  The high school science courses are very distinct from one another and the content student expectations that will be assessed on Chemistry EOC and Physics EOC will be different.  It is important to note that much of what he was assessed on the Biology EOC was built upon in middle school.  The Grade 8 Science STAAR would be a really good indicator on how he might do on the high school Biology EOC. 

 

  1. On the Algebra I EOC he struggled most with Quadratic and Nonlinear Functions.  Will this impact him on the Geometry EOC or Algebra II EOC he will have to take?

A: Probably. The math courses build upon knowledge learned in previous courses.  About 40% of what is learned in Algebra I is incorporated in Geometry. Algebra II is really Algebra I + more, so 100% of what he learned in Algebra I will be cycled into the Algebra II EOC. 

 

  1. He knocked World Geography out of the park with Level III Advanced Academic Performance, but will he do the same for World History or U.S. History?

A: Not necessarily.  The tested high school Social Studies courses have differing student expectations per course. Much of the same process skills may be assessed on the World Geography EOC, World History EOC, and U.S. History EOC, but not necessarily the same content. 

 

  1. On English I Reading he had difficulty on Understanding/Analysis Across Genres: Paired Short Answer Selections.  What does this indicate for English II Reading EOC and English III Reading EOC?

A: Although this section evaluates reading, it also evaluates writing.  The paired short answer selection requires the student to compare two genres of reading.  The student then has to write a short answer response to the selection.  He will see this again on the English II and III Reading EOCs.  It is important to note that last year was the first year freshmen students in Texas were assessed in a short answer response format.

 

  1. Just as we anticipated, he struggled with the English I Writing EOC in comparison to the other subject areas.  It looks like there is room for improvement in Written Composition, so will he be tested like this again on the English II EOC or III EOC?

A: While he needs improvement on Literary Composition portion, he will not be tested on it again.  He will be tested again sophomore year on Expository Composition along with the newly incorporated Persuasive Composition.  On the English III Writing EOC he will have to write another Persuasive Composition and an Analytical Composition.

 

**An interesting aspect for further discussion on a campus level is to examine student’s scale score outcomes in comparison to the projected 2016 Final Recommended Level II Satisfactory scale scores.

This particular entry is quite comprehensive in that we are able to see a glimpse of pre-administration, actual results, and questions that came to exist after reviewing the results. This is certainly not an exhaustive list of questions that students and families may have.  They may not even be questions that some students and families think or know to ask due to concentrating more on the “How do I read this?” and the more general “So what does this mean?” type of questions. If a question isn’t directly asked does that mean it should not be answered?  Regardless, it is in our best interest to think ahead and be prepared to address potential questions and to do so in a manner that is clear and effective.

 

  • What is this parent really telling us; what concerns can be heard?
  • Can you identify or empathize with the parent?
  • How well do you think ________________________.
  • How well do we consider those parents with additional challenges, such as language or education level barriers?
  • Can we be more purposeful in helping our communities learn and grow with us in today’s educational environment?

Writing Across the Content Areas

Thursday, January 24th, 2013

Author: Susan Diaz, Education Specialist, Secondary ELAR

 

“If students are to make knowledge their own, they must struggle with the details, wrestle with the facts, and rework raw information and dimly understood concepts into language they can communicate to someone else. In short, if students are to learn, they must write.” –The College Board and the National Commission on Writing

I hear that students might be learning in classes other than just English/Language Arts!  Ergo, if this rumor is true, students need to write in ALL their subjects.  Still skeptical?  The Michigan Department of Education says… “Writing is used to initiate discussion, reinforce content and model the method of inquiry common to the field.  Writing can help students discover new knowledge–to sort through previous understandings, draw conclusions and uncover new ideas as they write.”  And in the report, “The Neglected R”, the National Commission on Writing for America’s Families, Schools, and Colleges argues that writing has been pushed to the side in the school reform movement over the past twenty years and must now receive the attention it deserves. The National Commission on Writing goes on to talk about how students have difficulty producing writing at the high levels of skill, maturity, and sophistication that is required in our complex, modern economy.  Basically, if we want our students to be college AND/OR career ready, they must be proficient writers.  The Commission’s solution to this dilemma?  Double the amount of writing by incorporating it in all content areas.

We’re not asking you to know the ins and outs of dangling participles or the STAAR rubric.  We’re talking about giving students the time to practice and hone their writing.  It’s kind of like driving a car or playing a sport—the more you do it, the better you get!

There are lots of easy ways to incorporate writing into your classrooms.  It could be as simple as an Entry Slip that asks them to summarize their homework reading or recall learning from yesterday’s class.   Giving students a few minutes to write at the beginning of class allows them to collect their thoughts and activate prior knowledge.  It also helps students see that learning is connected from day to day rather than a series of isolated events.  You can end class with an Exit Ticket asking students to write a letter to a classmate who was absent explaining what was learned that day or students can reflect on their participation in class for the day.  The Exit Slip helps students summarize their learning for the day and gives them closure.  The simple step of adding in Entry Slips and Exit Tickets to our lesson cycle can make a profound impact on student learning—it is the E in engage and the E in evaluate that frames our teaching and solidifies knowledge for kids.  Give it a try!

Strategic Note-Taking in Secondary Content Classrooms

Thursday, January 24th, 2013

Author: Tonia Miller,  Education Specialist, ESL Instructional Coach

Perhaps when many of us were in high school, or even college, we learned to take notes out of sheer necessity. We were lucky if the teacher paused for a moment to write a word or two on the chalk board. However, this is not the case for students in today’s classrooms. Luckily for them, 21st century learners have grown up in more student-centered environments, where oftentimes technology is used as an interactive tool for discovery learning. Given this, many students in secondary schools do not perceive note-taking skills as fundamental to their success in content area classes.

 

Why Should I Take Notes?

Contrary to student perception, research shows that note-taking skills are still necessary both to survive and excel in today’s classroom. Note-taking serves two very important functions for learners: 1) external storage of information, and 2) cognitive encoding of information (Boyle, 2011). While it is obvious to most students that note-taking is a way to keep record of important information they might forget, few students realize the power the act of writing notes has to jump-start the cognitive processing of information in their brains. While note-taking, students begin to learn and memorize content. Additionally, students will retain and recall more when notes are self-generated. Ultimately, the combination of both functions makes note-taking a critical component of successful learning. For the purposes of this article, we will focus on one researched-based strategy intended to be used during lectures: strategic note-taking (SN).

 

Strategic Note-Taking

The intention of strategic note-taking is to help students filter and organize incoming information during lectures so that it is converted into notes that can be comprehended and reviewed at a later time. The strategy also focuses on inciting students to mentally process and record information while listening. Strategic note-taking paper accompanies the strategy to prompt students to make notes through five main metacognitive cues: link prior knowledge, cluster main ideas, summarize like ideas, recognize key vocabulary, and review main lecture points (Boyle, 2011).

To help students remember all of the skills necessary for SN, the first letter mnemonic device CUES is used. See an abbreviated version of the SN paper and for a description of what students are doing at each step of CUES below:

 

 

 

 

Some of the findings of a study of SN show that, in contrast to students using traditional note-taking, students using strategic note-taking recorded more total lecture points as well as twice as many words, had greater long-term recall, and performed better on tests (Boyle, 2012, Boyle, 2010).

 

How Do I Implement Strategic Note-Taking?

Students will need to be explicitly taught SN, just as they would any other new content-related skill.  Providing the student with a description of the strategy, in addition to why they are being asked to develop this skill, is a good place to start. See the following list for some teacher tips for implementation of strategic note-taking:

  • Prior to the lecture, make your own set of strategic notes as “model notes”.
  • Use your “model notes” during the lecture to stay on topic.
  • Stress important lecture content by repeating or restating.
  • Slow down the pace of the lesson.
  • Use purposeful pause procedures (e.g., a long pause should indicate students need to record what was just said).
  • Categorize or provide a title for an upcoming list of items.
  • Monitor students’ usage of the strategy.
  • Teach students to abbreviate.
  • Teach students to identify main points & summarize big ideas.
  • Provide emphasis cues (e.g., “It is important to remember that . . .).
  • Provide organization cues (e.g., “the four main types of a cloud are . . .).
  • Use nonverbal cues such as gestures to provide emphasis.
  • Write important notes & vocabulary on the board.
  • Provide students time at the end of class to review notes.
  • Allow students to compare their notes to the “model notes”.
  • Encourage students to share notes with a partner and fill in any missing information.
  • Evaluate students’ notes (self-assessment, peer assessment and teacher assessment).
  • Gradually increase the pace of lecture as students become more competent.

(Boyle, 2012, Boyle, 2011, & Boyle, 2010)

 

How do I Assess Students’ Note-Taking Skills?

Ongoing assessment of students’ note-taking skills is an important part of both skill development and learner accountability. Just as with academic skills, it is important to find individual student gaps in note-taking skills. The figure below depicts a form that has been used as a formative assessment of students’ note-taking skills as compared to teachers’  “model notes.”

 

 

 

 

The key to ongoing assessment of note-taking is to show students that it is a cyclical, reflective process intended to help develop metacognitive study skills so that they may effectively monitor their own learning.

 

How Do I Justify the Time Required to Teach Note-Taking?

Note-taking falls under the larger umbrella of study skills necessary for students to be successful learners, and techniques, like strategic note-taking, can be incorporated into content-area curriculum. Although teachers may feel pressed to primarily lecture in order to cover all necessary content, it is important to include other activities (i.e., hands-on activities, peer conversations and various other student demonstrations of understanding) to reinforce concepts from lectures. However, note-taking is a valuable skill that becomes essential for students as they take on greater responsibility for their own learning. Consequently, the time invested by teachers initially in teaching students note-taking skills pays off by propelling students towards the ultimate goal:  to be both college and career-ready citizens.

References (APA)

Boyle, J. R. (2012). Note-Taking and Secondary Students with Learning Disabilities: Challenges and Solutions. Learning Disabilities Research & Practice, 27(2), 90-101.

BOYLE, J. R. (2011). THINKING STRATEGICALLY TO RECORD NOTES IN CONTENT CLASSES. American Secondary Education, 40(1), 51-66.

Boyle, J. R. (2010). Strategic Note-Taking for Middle-School Students with Learning Disabilities in Science Classes. Learning Disability Quarterly, 33(2), 93-109.