Monday, October 12, 2015

Homeschool: College Prep, Note Taking

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With my kids in and nearing college it occurs to me that I haven't written much about specific ways that I have worked to prepare the kids for college. Having been to college ourselves, my husband and I have spent over 12 years between us in college, we have thought about essential skills for success in college. Let's talk about note taking.

We didn't start learning about writing lecture notes in the kids' teen years, we started this in the so-called elementary years so that it would become second nature for them. We started out by learning about outlining. I created simple outlines and then lectured to them from that outline so that they could see that most talks are organized in outline fashion for the speaker and that the listener, if they can recreate that outline, can use that lecture framework to recall all of the important information from the lecture. No need to record long sentences spoken by the lecturer, only the need to figure out important key words to represent the main ideas.

We then moved on to viewing lectures together (some in real life and some online). Each of us would write our own notes for the lecture and then we would compare our notes and talk about what we wrote and why, again with the reminder that we were attempting to recreate the lecturer's outline notes, always improving our listening skills. Being able to remain an active listener while creating the note document is a learned skill.

Another type of note taking is a regular part of our lessons as well. Each week we do biographies on lesson days. Each lesson day we do three biographies: an ancient, a middle age, and a contemporary person. These biographies create a different type of note taking practice. Each entry into our notes would include identifying information (name, dates, location), accomplishments or important life events, impressions, and connections with others.

Why to We Take Notes

Knowing the purpose of note taking helps the process. Understanding that note are being written down to aid in recall, to jog your memory, to reinforce the learning helped the kids to be more effective note takers. So many students write notes without understanding what they are doing or why they are doing it. We spend time talking, still, about the process of note taking, it's challenges and it's purposes. Note taking is a truly challenging process because the listener is trying to actively listen and participate as well as to create a written document of the lecture at the same time. Concentration is stretched to its limits!

We also talk about understanding the purpose of preparing for the process of taking notes. Reading or preparing for the lecture, preparing the paper for notes, getting into a listening place, figuring out how the notes from before this lecture fit in the grand scheme of the material, figuring out what to write and how to continue to pay attention, identifying key points of the lecture, documenting examples/charts/graphs, reviewing notes, keep a log of vocabulary/important figures/major events...all of these skills can be learned and improved upon with time. More effective note taking strategies are a regular part of our lessons.

When I was in school all notes were written in notebooks with, GASP, ink pens. Today's students have the added bonus of being able to organize their notes on their PCs and laptops, cool note taking apps, spell check, format to create outlines, highlighting, locating references, sub documents, synthesizing notes, sharing information, etc. 

I've read research that suggests that handwriting notes improve recall over typing notes on a laptop, but I'm sure your kids will have their own preferences...mine sure do.

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