Taking Notes

 

6016780468_67a298ed8eUnrelated to teaching, I began bullet journaling this year. It’s kind of a thing, but having done it for several months, I see why it’s popular.

The idea with a bullet journal is that it’s for everything, so I took it to class with me. And rather than just say to myself, “that activity my lead teacher just did was so awesome, I’ll definitely remember it whenever I begin lead teaching again,” I went ahead and jotted them down. I collected way more ideas than I’ve written up for this blog.

While I was jotting, I also took notes on student reactions to all sorts of things – activities, assignments, assignment review, conferences, etc.

And while I was thinking about those, ideas popped into my head speculating as to why their reactions were so different than what I’d expected, or other interesting activities, or different angles for lessons, and even blog posts to publish in this space.

Taking notes helped guide and expand my thinking about our class in a way that I hadn’t expected. I went from wanting to feel a bit more organized as a stay-at-home mom, to poaching great ideas from my lead teacher, to really pretty deeply considering the intersection of the students and the syllabus.

Also unexpected: I’ve reread my notes several times already. Since they’re in my bullet journal and I always have my bullet journal on me, rereading happens pretty organically.

I’ve already characterized assistant teaching as amazing professional development, and I found this semester that taking notes took my learning and reflection to another level.

 

Photo Credit: matryosha on Flickr

You’re reading Taking Notes, originally posted at LearningToTeachEnglish.com.

 

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Students’ Notes

312697129_94967f6b1bWhat do you do when you notice that your students take “disorganized” notes?

The “Disorganization”

I put “disorganized” in quotes because their notes appear disorganized to me… but they’re not my notes. Maybe they make perfect sense to the students?

Some of the examples I’ve seen over the years:

  • students open to a random notebook page and begin writing
  • no meta information at all added to the page
    • no date
    • no sub-headings to group what they’re working on
    • just a list of answers – not the questions, and no page or unit number
  • guides pre-printed on the page (i.e. a graphic organizer, a 2×2 grid, etc.) are utterly ignored like they’re watermarks

I don’t mean this to sound critical – in adult ESL, we’ve got folks from many cultures and all sorts of educational backgrounds. Of course their note-taking styles vary, too. Most of my students are highly motivated and earnestly respectful. It’s my pleasure to meet them where they’re at.

My question is, how best to meet their note-taking? Narrowing a broad question a bit more, how much of this should be my focus in an academic ESL setting?

Ideas and Activities

Right now, I’m leaning away from methodically making them take notes the way I do, or making it a rule that every piece of paper be dated. The way I see it, taking notes is personal. It’s private and ungraded. The student is generally the only person who sees or uses most of his/her notes. External, enforced change is unlikely to stick.

I think I’d use a metacognitive approach. In the second class session, we’d discuss the purposes of notes. The two purposes I see are 1) reinforce learning as it happens, and 2) create study materials for ourselves. I’m genuinely curious to see what the class would come up with!

Then we’d have think-pair-share time about how we can take notes that support those purposes. Students would generate and share ideas about how to improve their notes. It would be up to students to adopt any new habits – or not.

Right after the first graded assessment – when they’re fresh from studying – I’d follow up with another metacognitive notes activity. I’d probably run the Snowballs activity with each student writing one way their notes were useful and one way their notes could be improved for studying. Then they’d scramble their answers snowball-style and write a short reflection on the random answers they received: would either of these improve their own notes? What is one more strategy they’d like to try?

Actually, in a writing class, that could make for a nice little in-class writing assignment and be useful for practicing transition and organization words.

 

How do you support your students’ note taking? Or how would you?

 

Photo Credit: Jonathan Lin on Flickr

You’re reading Students’ Notes, originally posted at LearningToTeachEnglish.com.

Summer Institute: Quick Reflection

Summer Institute is over and I’m back home in the Twin Cities.

Looking back at the conference, I realize just how valuable it was to me in terms of content and networking.

This was largely to do with the conference itself, but also because I did some things right to maximize my experience:
– took obsessive notes
– kept my papers as organized as possible
– slept enough
– wore comfortable shoes
– was open to serendipitous socializing

There are those attitudes, soft skills, and environmental supports we say our students need. We need them too!

I’m looking forward to processing more this weekend. I’ll post more about the conference in some form and also go on to more “normal” posts on Monday.

Summer Institute: Teaching Personal Finance

I’ve got about an hour until dinner, so I’ll take this opportunity to let you know what I’ve been up to at Summer Institute.

I’ve attended three sessions, one “collective-intelligence” gathering, and two plenaries.  This post will be about the first of the three sessions.

Action Plans for Making Dollars Count

My first thought was wow, this is a lot of information in a short amount of time.  This suited my needs well since one of my upcoming projects is to write a 2-week Advanced ESL unit on Personal Finance.  The presentation was a quick, perhaps even rushed overview of a financial literacy curriculum (Dollar Works 2) with tons of examples, teaching plans, activities, forms, and things to consider while teaching in this subject area.  Perfect for me.

I wish we could have gotten farther into cultural concerns, though they did recommend several resources for a more in-depth look at how  cultures that aren’t American majority culture view money:

That’s it!  Some networking just presented itself, so the blogging will commence later.

Summer Institute – Plenaries

I’ve got about an hour until dinner, so I’ll take this opportunity to let you know what I’ve been up to at Summer Institute.

I’ve attended three sessions, one “collective-intelligence” gathering, and two plenaries.

I’ll start by talking about the plenaries.  They were in the banquet hall and were always scheduled directly after a meal.  As a result, there were always plates, food, and other stuff on them that precluded comfortable (therefore any) note-taking.  So my take-away is not very detailed.  Here it is:

The first plenary presenter was by Dr. Irwin Kirsch from ETS.  He talked about America’s Perfect Storm.  The report is here.  They also have a 9-minute video that didn’t really come up on Google, which I think is an oversight on their part.  The talk was based on that video, which was about how three factors are happening in America at the same time and are leading slowly but surely to a crisis: the changing economy, changing demographics, and the nonresponsive education system.  Interesting.  Some of my questions include how ETS’s interests as a company factor into this and how things are changing as the recession continues.

The second plenary presenter was Barry Shaffer from the Minnesota Department of Education and talked about the economic climate in Minnesota and the amazing accomplishments we’ve all made this year in Adult Basic Education (ABE).  We rock, and he proved it with numbers.  Thanks, Barry.

It was great that these very important people (who I couldn’t help but notice were men talking to a room that was comprised of at least 85% women) came to talk to us about very important issues.  They were effective speakers who had a lot to share.  It struck me as strange that there wasn’t a bigger effort to up the environment so that people’s backs weren’t toward the speaker and there were clean, or at least cleared off tables to write or type on.

It’s funny how much the little things impact the big things.

I’ll talk about the sessions and collective intelligence gathering in near-future posts!

“The Art of Teaching Adults” – Asking Beautiful Questions

Notes and My Opinions All In One Section

Steps: In Both Directions by Harry Harris on Flickr
Steps: In Both Directions by Harry Harris on Flickr

Renner says that the point of asking questions is to make students think, not just recite facts.  He cites the 6-category hierarchy of questions published by B Bloom in 1956:

  1. Knowledge (remember facts)
  2. Comprehension (get the meaning)
  3. Application (use in concrete situations)
  4. Analysis (break down material)
  5. Synthesis (put pieces together)
  6. Evaluation (judge value for a purpose)

You probably won’t be surprised to hear that I have a problem with these categories and their order.  I have a problem with separating the processes of analyzing and synthesizing, I take issue with placing judgment at the top and don’t see why it should be separate from application, and I don’t see “emotion” tied into this anywhere.  I suppose this means I should read me some Bloom.  I’ll put him on the syllabus (for either this course or a future one) before I start the next paragraph.

The rest of the chapter didn’t particularly resonate with me or tell me anything I don’t know.  It was basically advice about Q&A sessions after a lecture.  I couldn’t tell where the speaker (it wasn’t Renner, but some other guy I don’t know) was coming from.  I had trouble discerning whether the discussion and tips were about classes, ongoing training courses, or one-day speaking gigs.  On one hand it’s nice to not impose false categories on adult learning, but on the other hand it was vague advice that reminded me a little of reading a daily horoscope.

“The Art of Teaching Adults” – Lively Lectures

Notes:

Kitchen Timer 2 by LynGi on Flickr
Kitchen Timer 2 by LynGi on Flickr

Renner is pretty progressive – I was a little surprised that he’s ok with lectures existing.  He says that lectures can be valuable when they’re purely giving information, outlining the subject, aiming to get people interested, or modeling how to handle a lot of information.  Average attention span for a lecture listener is between 12 and 20 minutes – good to know.  Also, he cited research that said laughter and a really engaging presentation style boost retention of content.  He also suggested using ten-minute lecturettes (and a kitchen timer) and switching to other activities in between.

I seem to have a thing for simple and concrete tips.  His tips for improving lecturing were mostly obvious, but to me the most helpful points were to minimize the disruption of distributing handouts, periodically pause, and to think carefully about your sequencing.  To get everyone’s attention, change tempo, move around, or use silence.

Writing Thank Yous by Eren on Flickr
Writing Thank Yous by Eren on Flickr

He also suggested making “fill in the blanks” pages for learners to guide them and reinforce your lecture.  I actually find this to be pretty insulting and would never have considered using it.  I also would have questioned its effectiveness – it seems very much more passive than constructing one’s own notes.  But I guess not everyone has the ability to take good notes.  Maybe some adult learners, particularly people who haven’t attended college yet, would benefit from such prompting after all.  I’ll think on it.

My Overall Impressions:

I liked the immediate focus on appropriate (and inappropriate) uses of the lecture.  Maybe it wasn’t profound insight, but it was useful.

It was interesting to read a piece about delivering a lecture that doesn’t mention computers or Power Point.  Focusing on the fundamentals (i.e. use pauses) was refreshing – sometimes we can get a little too focused on the technology.  That being said, the habits of participants are changing.  Here’s an article about presenting to people who are twittering.