When I start explaining what Andrew and I are teaching, nearly every teacher asks about how we teach our students to take notes. It's a key skill in our first unit on the brain, education, and learning, and the content is really a vehicle to teach the skill and help them learn to check their own understanding as well as the quality of their notes as a record of what's important and what they learned.
That was really the first step - deciding that note-taking was a skill worth teaching. It's really one of those things that all teachers assume students know, but in reality, one on which few have ever had any instruction (that's true for both teachers and students, actually). So while there is little formal direct instruction in our classroom, there is content for which students will have to be responsible. As this is eventually going to be something they self-regulate, it's important to do it right.
We watched a total of six TED Talks, and also took notes on a few shorter videos. Actually, we did way more than that. Here's the playlist of videos students watched this semester...and they took notes on all of them. Some note-taking assignments were more intense than others as we scaffolded up to the more difficult videos/concepts
- We watched short sections (3-4 minutes) and had students talk after each, then decide as a group what information is important. At the end, they shared out and added to their individual notes.
- We watched an entire video without taking notes, then discussed the main ideas. We started the notes almost as an outline with those main ideas (early on, I actually gave them "section titles" that would guide them) and then watched it again to add some supporting evidence/details.
- We did visual note-taking for a video that wasn't quite as scientific, and after watching the RSA Ken Robinson video to see what visual note-taking looks like. Then students shared their note-taking. We also did a variation on this where students created an 8x11 "poster" that used fewer than 10 words and displayed all the main idea from the video they chose.
- We used Google Drive to have students take notes collaboratively in real-time (and did this "old school" on a group piece of butcher paper), in order to allow students to not miss anything while watching, but still have high-quality notes.
- We did some more structured Cornell Notes style where we reviewed the day after we took the notes.
In every one of those examples, I took notes in class and then allowed students to see, compare and even copy what I wrote. The reason I'm okay with that are important:
- All assessments were open-note and not something that is google-able. It's all higher level thinking tasks. The kind of tasks that require some content knowledge (what they took notes on) but then ask them to do something with that knowledge. Example: "How does synaptic pruning help you learn?" The video defines synaptic pruning, but not in the context of learning. So if they didn't know what that was, they couldn't demonstrate the evaluation/synthesis required in the question.
- In the "real world" collaboration is one of the most important skills. These strategies teach them that they are part of a team, and that there is always benefit to working together.
- It's my job to model what good note-taking looks like. I also could show them the difference in my notes from the first period I watched it in to the third. They could see the ideas change and take shape - that's not something I've ever modelled, and it was one of the best conversations we had in the first few weeks.
- It provides support for ELL and SPED students - they can print my notes out (I put them all in a playlist for students to access at any time, which is easy - they go from my iPad to iPhoto, then one click uploads to Google Drive's folder for each unit. Then I add them to MentorMob via the Chrome extension) and even use them in place of their own. Because it's NOT ABOUT THE FACTS. It's about them doing something with the facts.
So we are now 11 weeks into the school year, and my students can watch ANYTHING and know how to distill the main information. They also know how to monitor their own comprehension. And they have a whole load of content knowledge they wouldn't have had otherwise.
Teaching this took time, but it was totally worth it. It really helped them learn how to do high school.