Turning Teaching Theory into Practice #3 – Teaching the Skill of Notetaking to Gifted Students

Todd Stanley

We often read or hear of methods to help students study. Many include reviewing their notes, such using the SOAR method that involves:

                          Selecting and noting the critical lesson information

Organizing it using graphic organizers such as hierarchies, sequences, matrices, and illustrations

Associating it with other information, both inside and outside the lesson

Regulating learning through self-testing

The SOAR Method is all very well and good, but the student must capture the information in the notes in the first place. If the student comes home and is missing large concepts that were shared in class, they are not going to have the foundation they need in order to learn the material. How do we turn the SOAR method into a practice—we teach notetaking first.

The way notes are usually organized is as a collection of facts, but not thoughts. This can run contrary to gifted students who are constantly thinking, sometimes to the detriment of their paying attention and getting what they need to get. The teacher has brought up something, the gifted student begins to wonder about all the cause and effects of such a thing, meanwhile the teacher has moved on to something else important that the student is now missing. How do we allow gifted students to capture what they need, but still allow them to explore their thoughts and feelings? What if we taught them a notetaking method that provided them with the ability to collect the information, but also the opportunity to give their thoughts or insights to the information?

I was always very purposeful in teaching my students how to take notes. Part of the reason is because I got all the way through high school and into college without anyone showing me how to take proper notes. I just listened in class and captured enough of the material in my head in order to pass the test. Unfortunately when I got to college, I discovered this was no longer going to work. I remember my very first class in a lecture hall with 300 students, the professor began to speak and, like Pavlov’s dogs, 299 of them opened up a notebook and began to scribble furiously. I on the other hand sat there wondering what everyone was doing. It was then I determined I would have to learn to take notes in order to survive. I didn’t want any of my students to find themselves in that position, so even for young 3rd graders, I made sure they knew how to take notes.

I always liked to present my students with choices. I would show them the outlining method of notetaking, one of the more commonly used, where ideas were organized in sections and subsections. I presented the mapping method for my more visual learners, during which students place a concept in a bubble and then attach terms and examples that connect to the concept But the method I always made sure to show my gifted students was the Cornell Method.

How the Cornell Method works is you divide the paper into columns. There should be a smaller column on the left, about 2-3 inches wide leaving a larger column of 6 inches or so on the right. The larger column is used as the main area to take notes. For each new topic, the note-taker skips a couple of lines to indicate a new topic. Using the column on the left, students place important phrases and terms that help them recall the more detailed information. The key words and phrases in the left-hand column act as a trigger for remembering the more detailed information they need for the test. It looks something like this:

The Shot Heard Around the World

The first battle of the American Revolution was when English troops advanced on Lexington and Concord in order to seize weapons in the armory there. The American Minutemen, named so because they could be ready at a moment’s notice, armed themselves and fired upon the British troops. This took place before America had even declared Independence.

Old North Bridge

They stopped the British at the Old North Bridge with about 400 men turning away nearly 100 British troops.

Declaration of Independence

A committee of 5 men wrote the Declaration of Independence to list the injustices King George had done to the Colonists. Thomas Jefferson is often credited as the main author of the Declaration. It was ratified on July 4, 1776 which is why we celebrate the Fourth of July.

For my gifted students, I then showed them ways to capture their mental wonderings. We added a third column where they could capture their thoughts or anything the information stirred up. It looked something like this:

The Shot Heard Around the World

The first battle of the American Revolution was when English troops advanced on Lexington and Concord in order to seize weapons in the armory there. The American Minutemen, named so because they could be ready at a moment’s notice, armed themselves and fired upon the British troops. This took place before America had even declared Independence.

How loud would that shot have been to be heard all around the world?

Old North Bridge

They stopped the British at the Old North Bridge with about 400 men turning away nearly 100 British troops.

What would have happened had they not stopped the British troops?

Declaration of Independence

A committee of 5 men wrote the Declaration of Independence to list the injustices King George had done to the Colonists. Thomas Jefferson is often credited as the main author of the Declaration. It was ratified on July 4, 1776 which is why we celebrate the Fourth of July.

Why aren’t there any women on the committee?

Then, after I had finished lecturing to them, I would ask if anyone had any questions concerning their wonderings or if they simply wanted to share an idea they had developed in that column.

I feel this method does a couple of things. One, it helps students to organize themselves, not something gifted students are always good at. It makes it easier to go back and study before putting the concepts into practice. They can definitely use SOAR with a set of notes like this and it also allows them the freedom to explore their thoughts, something I wanted to encourage with my students. I wanted them to wonder, I didn’t want to stifle this.

Consider teaching the Cornell Method to your gifted students. If you don’t use that method, be purposeful about teaching them what good notes look like, even with older students who should have this skill by now. Don’t assume they have been shown this.

Todd Stanley is the author of many teacher-education books. He served as a classroom teacher for 18 years and is currently the gifted services coordinator for Pickerington Local Schools (OH). You can follow Todd on Twitter @the_gifted_guy or visit his website at thegiftedguy.com where you can access blogs, resources, and view presentations he has given concerning gifted education.

The views expressed herein represents the opinion of the author and not necessarily the National Association for Gifted Children.

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