why take notes?
Taking notes is a foundational skill that will accompany your student throughout their entire educational journey, and beyond. Even though there is no “right” way of taking notes, it is important to learn how to extract relevant and pertinent information from a text in a neatly organized, concise manner. This takes practice. When students are encouraged to practice note taking, and engage in the work of capturing the most important facts from their reading, they will begin to recognize how all the parts of a story fit into a larger picture. Learning to take notes helps to lay the foundation for rich, clear, and organized writing.
When readers take note of character development, trace a setting, and watch a plot thicken, they are learning more than just the skill of recording facts, they are actually beginning to realize the potential of storytelling. Teaching students to dig into a story, to do the “work” of reading for meaning, enables them to discover how language has the power to communicate significance.
Some might argue, when faced with a classroom of 30 students, or even when faced with one student sitting at a kitchen table, stubbornly refusing to write, that teaching from a textbook that tells the student what to learn is an easier method than pulling teeth trying to nurture the independent skill of note taking. We would argue that learning to extract information from a story trains students to do the hard work of, not only attending to the details of reading, but more importantly to develop the skill of integrating knowledge into life outside of the book. As students discover the details and framework that make a story great, they will apply this new-found knowledge to broader academic pursuits in all subject areas.
During their weekly reading assignment, the first task Blackbird & Company students encounter is to record notes on main characters, setting, and plot. In our guides, this is called the Journal section. Here are some basic guidelines for what they should be looking for.
Like all learning, your students will require more direction and oversight from you in the beginning stages, but with consistent practice this skill will quickly be mastered. Oftentimes a student’s reading level does not coincide with his grade level, keeping this in mind will allow quicker mastery of skills with less frustration on the part of the teacher and the student. Remember to set attainable goals. For example, an Earlybird reader may only write two or three words to describe a character, whereas a high Level 2 reader will be moving toward writing phrases and observing more subtle and complex details in a story.
Level 3 Samples
Stop to consider this passage from Pictures of Hollis Woods, where, in a heart-wrenching manner, Hollis describes the foster homes she has had to endure:
The house was falling apart. I could see that from the car window. But it didn’t bother me. After a while the houses ran together, four now—no, five.There was the green house where the door didn’t quite close; the wind blew in and up the stairs, rattling the windowpanes. The white house: crumbs on the table, kids fighting over a bag of Wonder bread. The yellow house: sooty, a long—haired woman with braids, no rugs on the stairs, the loud sound of feet going up and down.
In this passage, Patricia Reilly Giff gives the reader artful insight into the character of Hollis, hinting at her gruff exterior, sharply contrasted with her desire to be loved, while simultaneously revealing the conflict of the plot and crafting mood into the mix.
The novice note taker gathering character traits about Hollis might simply write the words “indifferent, aloof, cynical or unfeeling” to describe what they read here, while the experienced note taker might write “indifference masks her disappointment in not having a real home to call her own.”
We have watched students who take the time to develop note taking skills over time, begin to recognize these passages as mentors, spelling out the potential of language in a more profound manner than any workbook or writing lesson will ever be capable of doing. They understand this because they have dared to dig into a story.