on un-fancy things…

AISL librarians amaze me. Courtney Walker is bringing in creative experts, taking students on field trips, and having her students engage with working muralists! Dottie Smay RUNS a makerspace in her library! Alyssa Mandel singlehandedly runs TWO facilities on her campus!

Oy! I don’t know how you people do exciting, fancy stuff like that!

Me, I seem to be stuck in a loop trying to figure out stuff as basic and as un-fancy as how to teach our students to take notes.

Yes, I’m a librarian that doesn’t know how to teach note taking.

There, I said it.

We actually do teach two research note taking techniques to students so when I say that I don’t know how to teach students to take notes, I guess I mean that I try to teach note taking and I’m never happy with the results.

Happy Librarian Research Notes Must:

  • Allow for any fact or quote to be traced back to the source from which it came.
  • Allow for facts to be regrouped easily to help students do thoughtful analysis on the way to thoughtful synthesis.
  • Be reasonable and easy enough that students don’t HATE the process so much that they’ll only use the process under duress because if I have a perfect process that nobody uses, I’ve accomplished nothing…

What We’ve Been Teaching:

I know many of you use online note cards in Noodletools, Easybib, or similar service. As a 1:1 iPad site, however, we’ve found that the inability to have windows open side-by-side on student iPads in their current configuration has made online note taking extremely cumbersome to the point of being unworkable for most students.

Right now, therefore, we’re teaching what we call “note card-style research notes” and “document-style research notes.” Both have their drawbacks.

Note card style notes

Note card-style notes

Screen Shot 2015-10-14 at 7.29.48 AM

Document-style note taking

Note Card Style Yays! and Note Card Style Nays!

  • Allows for quotes and facts to be linked back to specific sources. Yay!
  • Easily manipulated in ways that support student analysis. Yay!
  • Teachers have observed that ability to physically move an artifact (card) around a table top seems to help some students engage more deeply in analysis on the way to synthesis. Big yay!
  • Disorganized students struggle terribly when they have to keep track of large numbers of loose pieces of paper. Nay!
  • Students typically feel that there is too much writing required for each card so they HATE it and flat out won’t do it unless their teachers require it and continually check it! Big nay!

Document-Style Note Yays! and Nays!

  • Allows for quotes and facts to be linked back to specific sources. Yay!
  • Reduces demands on organization challenged students need to keep track of many pieces of paper. Yay!
  • Students don’t seem to mind the process of adding a parenthetical citation to the end of each fact or quote and the process reinforces the parenthetical citation format. Yay!
  • Allows for notes to be cut into strips and regrouped, but the process is laborious and frustrating which makes teachers not want to use it as an organizational strategy. Big HUGE nay!

Hybridization Works for Gardeners… Third Time Lucky?

The saving grace to being a librarian that doesn’t know how to teach note taking is that I work with amazing faculty who partner with us to find solutions to the parts of our information literacy instruction that aren’t getting us where we want to be. In our upcoming round of research projects I’m gong to propose that we try having students take notes on note cards using our document-style format, then capture and digitize their notes with the 3M Post-it Plus app for iPad. This abbreviates the writing process for note taking, addresses the needs of students with organizational challenges, and allows for easy manipulation and regrouping of content to facilitate analysis.

It looks like this:

Click to view slideshow

Click to view slideshow

Please share what you are doing with note taking! At this point, we’re just dealing with work flow and mechanics. We haven’t even started to address how you learn what to write in the notes that you take!

#Oy! #LOL

Have a great week!

2 thoughts on “on un-fancy things…

  1. Hi,

    This is so timely. We are starting notecards and notetaking tomorrow with world history. We generally use the noodletools notecard system, but with one additional caveat: I have them write around the fact. Why did they choose that fact? What makes it important? They may not know at the time, but if they do and can add a sentence or two of their own original writing to their notecard, it can make understanding the reason for the notecard later on in the process easier and it gets some of the writing out of the way. So that when they go to print their notecards they have half to 2/3rds of the paper written (rough draft).

    Just a thought.


  2. I think you make great points, and this is a struggle for many of us. I’d argue that it’s a worthwhile struggle though. We have been talking a lot at my school about the quality of student writing. Specifically, because I had a wonderfully organized librarian before me, I can look at records of assignments for History and English classes going back to the early 2000s. We used to require our students to write a lot more than we do now, and we required them to follow particular steps to reach their final product. I love the more creative projects that are assigned today, but the fact is that writing a well-reasoned and well-argued essay is difficult. Practice is tough but is the only way to improve, with teachers offering feedback every step of the way. We go back and forth on notecards/notebooks/note styles each year, and it’s worked well to have a panel of teachers describe what works for them and to model it for the students. The most important piece of advice for them is not to cut and paste because you get too much and you haven’t done the prioritizing of information until you’re frantically working on the paper right before it’s due. Good luck, and please share any updates later this year!

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