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Note taking–whether from print or digital sources–is a valuable skill to master.  However it is not a favorite classroom activity.  Students gripe as they struggle to figure out what is important to note and what they can leave out.  They  also often resist following formats that are complicated or tedious.  Some teachers hope that someone else has taught the skills and too often precede with assignments assuming students can successfully take notes.

A masterful middle grades team, however, realizes that if they collaborate on teaching and reinforcing this skill, their students will benefit.  Also by taking the time to teach/reinforce this skill early in the year, the teachers know that lessons will go more smoothly in the future.  Any lost time to teaching note taking will be made up later as students develop a certain level of automaticity with the process.

There are a variety of note taking protocols to choose from: Harvard outline, Cornell double column, webbing, etc. I came across the Tree Map approach through Stenhouse’s website that links to  http://www.screencast-o-matic.com/watch/cXQiFr0q2

The speaker is using a model for a Tree Map similar to the one below.

As you watch the video you will notice several things about the instructional process:

  • The nonfiction text she is using is a literature textbook.
  • She has already done some preteaching about headings and subheadings in a text book.
  • She is modeling the thinking that goes along with the note taking process.
  • She is using a gradual release of responsibility model–turning the thinking and writing over to the students after she has modeled the process.

Tree Map note taking will work in any subject.  Below are two other examples–one for Social Studies and one for Math.  The text I used was from Wikipedia, but it could be a traditional textbook.

Let’s watch from afar how Team Penobscot manages the process of teaching Tree Mapping:

  • The Language Arts teacher  introduces Tree Mapping to the team’s students in a very controlled lesson and follows up with an additional lesson or two.
  • Then the Social Studies teacher reinforces the note taking strategy in his class. By putting some of the information in the template the teacher uses  a think-aloud approach about what would be important to note and then turns the rest of the note taking activity into a guided practice.  The class continues to practice throughout the unit on the pre-revolutionary era.

Scaffolding a Tree Map for Boston Tea Party Note Taking

  • The Math teacher picks up two weeks later, still modeling the process, but leaving more and more blanks for the students to handle on their own,

  • Now  Team Penbscot is interested to find out how well the students can use Tree Mapping independently.  The Science teacher agrees to  use the technique as she begins a new unit and chapter in the science text. It will be a formative assessment of the students’ progress in acquiring this skill. She reminds  the students about the importance of headings and subheadings in a Tree Map.  She asks them to take notes on the first several pages of the chapter in the Tree Map format.
  •  She takes these notes to the next team meeting where the team looks at them and quickly sorts them into two piles: students who have demonstrated that they can do Tree Mapping independently and those who can’t.  Then they take a closer look at the the latter pile and identify 3 problem areas:
  1. About 5 students just haven’t internalized the process at all.
  2. About 10 are just copying every single detail into their notes–they can’t decipher what is important and what is not.
  3. About 7 students have too little information–they also have trouble figuring out what is important and what is not.

The team looks at their calendar and decides to use the upcoming study hall  to address the needs of  the students who are still having problems with Tree Mapping.

  • The Language Arts teacher is going to pull the five students who are really struggling aside during that time to reteach.  He is going to ask the special ed teacher to help him plan and implement the new lesson, thinking that the special ed teacher’s expertise in learning differences might give him a new perspective to develop a more effective lesson plan for these students.
  • The Social Studies teacher will take the 17 students who have trouble identifying what is important and what is not.  He will work with them using think-alouds and guided practices. The students really need to see the process modeled several more times.
  • The math and science teacher will carry on with the rest of the students in a quiet study hall.  Both have students in that group that need some additional attention.
  • The team teachers then agree that a follow-up formative assessment will be necessary to see whether or not the identified students are now able to apply Tree Mapping as a note taking strategy independently in their classes.

Teams in the middle grades have a tremendous opportunity to help their students succeed academically by collaborating and building scaffolded instructional plans that span the content areas–multiple practices and varied contexts. ACT’s report, “Forgotten in the Middle” stresses the importance of skills, attitudes, and habits internalized in the middle grades–they have more influence on students’ future academic success than anything that happens in high school.

Other note taking protocols that teams could teach in a collaborative fashion:

Cornell Style Notes: http://coe.jmu.edu/LearningToolbox/cornellnotes.html  and   http://www.solida.net/notes/

Topic and Concept Cards: http://www.muskingum.edu/~cal/database/general/notetaking3.html

Five Notetaking Methods: http://docs.google.com/viewer?a=v&q=cache:57qHoBsoz1cJ:www.redlands.edu/docs/StudentLife/1Five_Methods_of_Notetaking.docx_UPDATED_7-09.pdf+five+notetaking+methods&hl=en&gl=us&pid=bl&srcid=ADGEESgS17CnoF8BxKpKbyJp4UHzR7py1TQr1Yj-UG2F8Xw9spSMwMcsx-PxkRsSg3Ixk37GBf61w4taVe7VDt1rLRk8j42DmmmNDHGqF8fsMeHj5NBVIWohzktUXAScwf1YMOnkIy8z&sig=AHIEtbQEiqiJlWunxYVxcRG-bHSbs-PtGA

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