Note-making

Teacher work days begin on Tuesday, and students start next Monday.  I’ve faced the fact that my summer is nearly over and I have (finally) started thinking about lessons for next year.  Note-making was one of the most successful practices I put into practice last year, and I think it’ll be one of the first lessons I teach after all of the rituals and routines lessons are finished.  I teach special education, so I find that traditional lecture and note-taking isn’t necessarily the most useful practice for my kids.  If it worked for them, then they wouldn’t need my support.  So, my job is to find alternate ways to help my students be successful.  Note-making was a wildly successful way for my kids to own their own notes instead of simply copying down words they may or may not be able to read into their notebooks.

We begin by practicing with our interactive notebooks.  There are so many different ways to use an interactive notebook, so I’m going to detail how we set them up.  We use a simple right/left set up.  With the notebook open flat, the left side pages are “your side” referring to the students’ side and the right side is “my side” referring to the teacher’s side.  Anything I ask them to do independently they do on “your side” and anything I give them to write down goes on “my side”.  Simple enough, right?  So where’s the tech?

I’ve found that my kids remember so much more if they own their notes.  They generate all of their own notes on topics, and then we discuss and share before I make sure they have all the information they need.  With special education students, I have a wide variety or readers and non-readers.  How can I ensure that everyone has equal access to the information?  Podcasts.

Students watch podcasts twice. The first time to simply take in the information. The second to make notes.

With new topics, instead of standing up and delivering a lesson’s worth of notes, I find or create a podcast to introduce the topic.  I try to keep the podcasts between 5-8 minutes long so that the kids don’t get bogged down in either too much information or useless information.  The rule for all podcasts in our room is Watch it twice.  Once to watch and twice to note-make.  It’s important for kids to just soak up the podcast on the first watch.  If they are focused on note-making when they initially watch or listen, then chances are they are going to miss something.  By giving them the opportunity to view or listen to podcast without the pressure of having to note-make, I ensure that they are attending throughout the experience.  I typically set a timer for twice as long as the podcast on the second viewing to allow time for note-making in their interactive notebooks.  Each podcast is different though, so be sure to check in at the end of the time and see if they need a few more minutes.

After the students make their own notes (which I do not check for spelling or accuracy – the only requirement is that the student be able to read or tell about their own notes), they have a five minute pair share with a partner to prepare for sharing with the class.  The remainder of the lesson is for discussion about the notes they made and me hitting the highlights with the Smartboard.  Students copy down the highlights (which have all come directly from the students themselves) on “my side” (the teacher side) of the notebook to ensure they have the essential information and to give parents trying to help students study some guidance on the topic.

I try not to reinvent the wheel with these podcasts.  iTunesU has a huge variety of podcasts available for download.  I have to say that by far my favorites are from the Tennessee State Department of Education – Governor’s Study Partner Program.  They have podcasts sorted by K-8 Math and English standards.  Since I’m in South Carolina, I typically just have to check the grade levels above or below my own if I can’t find what I’m looking for.  I can also create my own podcasts with software like Keynote or Powerpoint – but that’s another blog post.

ith best practice being student ownership of material, this note-making activity is one way I’ve found for my kids to truly own their education.  Additionally, it provides an opportunity for my students, who may not have on grade level reading skills, to access the same information as their non-disabled peers without stigma.  The automatic hook of using the iPods or iPads keeps them engaged in what otherwise would probably have been a fairly boring lecture.  I have very little behavior management issues after the first few weeks of school.  I’m incredibly strict in my “One and out” policy.  You get one warning with the iPods.  If you can’t follow directions or follow the rules, you lose the use of the device and complete the task using a textbook or reading passage instead.  It typically takes one or two students losing the iPods to prove my point, and then I literally have no behavior problems.  Instead, I have a group of students actively engaged in making their own notes and learning the material.