We wrapped up Unit 1 last week — square and cube roots, rational and irrational numbers, and properties of exponents. I gave students a “notes packet” at the start of the unit — 5 pieces of paper where their notes go, with a unit calendar on the pack. The packet was pretty sparse — mostly empty boxes with labels that we filled in, some number lines, some graphic organizers.
This year I’m collecting students’ notes packets and grading for completion. It’s meant to be a simple incentive — we take notes every day to record what we learned, so we can reference that learning later and use the notes as a resource if we get stuck. They don’t have to be verbatim like mine, but there do have to be ideas down for each day that are coherent and come from the class discussion.
Finished grading the packets over the weekend. Didn’t get them from a bunch of kids, but most of the packets I received I gave 90s or 100s to — they were dutiful about completing notes, and many of them were almost identical to what we wrote on the board.
What’s troubling me is that most of my students who scored lowest on the test consistently turned their notes in and got 100s on them. I message to students that notes are important, but when I reflect on my class, I’m skeptical that’s the reality.
Let’s step back and take a look at my class from a kid’s point of view — a kid who struggles at math, and with some math anxiety:
9:00: I show up to class, follow along in the warm-up without trying too hard, and avoid raising my hand.
9:07: Warm-up is over. Mr. Kane wants us to try a few problems we’ve seen before, leading up to something new he wants us to figure out. I’ll work really slowly so I can avoid the hard stuff, and take my time writing my name at the top just to make sure I don’t have to work too hard.
9:12: Mr. Kane asks us to share our ideas with a partner. I listen to the person next to me halfheartedly, then repeat something similar to what they said if Mr. Kane walks by.
9:14: Mr. Kane tries to get us to discuss what we tried. I know how to pretend to pay attention, but I’m not really listening.
9:20: Mr. Kane tells us to make sure we write down the strategies some other kids came up with for simplifying exponents. I need to copy these down so he doesn’t get mad at me for not taking notes. I’ll just write exactly what’s on the board.
9:23: Now we’re solving problems as a class. I hope Mr. Kane doesn’t call on me.
9:29: Mr. Kane wants us to try some problems on our own. I’ll just play with my pencil and if he comes near me I’ll say I’m confused.
That doesn’t look like learning, but I think it’s how a few students see my class.
How can I change that mindset? Does it require a one-on-one conversation, or intervention? Does it mean less structured notes, or more cold calling, or more partner work? Am I sending the wrong messages through the way I structure my class?
Great reflective post here. Sometimes I think the kids who struggle the most spend a lot of time making sure their notes, classwork, etc looks “good” rather than really learning the material. We keep INBs in my class but don’t really take “notes” anymore because of the same things you are saying here. I also started letting the kids get out their phones or other devices to take a picture of my notes or examples rather than writing them down. After all, that is generally how I do it at conferences, I rarely write anything down anymore, I just dump it all into evernote. I agree it is a struggle to help our learners who are struggling the most I am interested to see what you bring out of this so I can try it too!
Thanks Brooke! I’m also skeptical about the value of notetaking as a skill. Still, I want students to have notes to reference, and it feels inauthentic to just give them pre-made notes. I make the note-taking part of class as interactive as I can, but they still interpret it as “I just copy down what Mr. Kane says.” I think there’s value in making that part of class more interactive and student-centered to change the vibe around what notetaking means.
My sons had a teacher that insisted and graded on impeccable notes. Another student in their class (that I had in my computer science class) mentioned to me that she spent so much time taking notes, she didn’t pay attention to what was being said. My sons had a similar issue. Math can be dense and hard. For some kids, the more notes they are taking, takes away from their ability to focus on the concept. They just become stenographers.
I totally agree. I try to keep notetaking to a minimum — only the essentials go in notes. But that’s the part they take the most seriously…need to message that differently.