March 26, 2021

Using a Notebook to Teach Information Storage and Retrieval Skills (Part 2 of 2)


The Teachers’ Corner:

In the last session, we talked about helping students organize their notebooks and I indicated that, in the process, I had to re-examine:

1)  What my board outlines looked like

2)  How I could use the notebook to teach the information and retrieval skills

The first task:

I stopped at the end of a lesson and looked at my board.  It was a mess! There were words and ideas and lines, and I could not really quite connect to meaning.  Then I thought: “If the kids copy this down as is and return to it a month from now, would they really understand it.  Would the notes be any help at all?  The answer, was, of course “No.”

Want to try an experiment?  Take a picture of your board work on your phone and look at the photo in a week or so.  I think you’ll be surprised at how little it means even to you by that time.

I decided that in the preparation of my lesson plan, I would write down exactly what I wanted students to record (form and content) — and then I left in my notes (and on the board itself) a place where the emergent information that came up from class discussion could be added.  Then, towards the end of the lesson, we could see where it could be fitted in to the outline in a more rational and organized way.  My first task, then, was to organize my notes as a prelude to organizing the students’ notebook.

The second task:

This was a little more complex.  If I was requiring the students to keep organized notes, I had to find some way of building the notebook into my teaching.  Here are a couple of suggestions.

First, I began to build my assignments using references to the notebook.  Here’s an example from a Grade 10 English course.  We had just finished two well-known short stories, “Leiningen Versus the Ants” and “To Build a Fire.” In the first we dealt with conflict and the students had taken down in their notebooks a definition of conflict, its role in literature and its three types (person versus person, person versus nature and person versus self).  We did not discuss conflict in “To Build a Fire” but I wanted to come back to the learning of the first story and apply it to the second.  Here was part of the assignment:

In “Leiningen Versus the Ants” we dealt with the notion of conflict in literature.  We did not discuss conflict per se in “To Build a Fire.” Re-read “To Build a Fire” and make a case for which kinds of conflict you see in evidence in this story.  You are expected to use the materials from your notebook (Note # 7, February 26) on “Leiningen Versus the Ants” as a basis for your response, as well as direct quotations from the text.

In other words, I made the notebook a source as much as the text and in doing so, showed them how important it is to record and retrieve information.  I also used the notebook as an aid on tests.  I told them that they could use their notebooks during the test which, of course, provided a challenge for me in setting questions on the test that got at application and synthesis in terms of a learning typology rather than pure recall.  That accent on higher skills was, in itself, a side benefit.

Not to make it all hard work, I made up a game called “Notebook Detective” which was part of my repertoire for “Friday afternoon games” which I used after a week of hard work by the students.  I divided my class into teams and made-up questions like “In what note would you find …?”  The game was a hit, of course, but in the process, I was giving them another incentive to keep their notebooks in order.  I know they liked it because they would pester me relentlessly on Fridays to “play the detective game.”

In the end, I felt I could use the good, old standard notebook for a range of activities with part of my teaching being directed at skill development in organization, information storage and information retrieval.  Did I care about what they remembered about “Leiningen” or “Fire”?  Absolutely not!  But I did care about teaching them to organize themselves in this small — as a prelude to what many would be required to do in their places of work in the future.  In the age of information, knowledge is the new currency.  Best to start them out on a road that will help them deal with it.

Dr. Dan

Note:  Consider taking Planning Your Blackboard and Student Notebook Entries” (the fifth webinar and eBook in the Art of Teaching Series).