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Friday, March 20, 2009

ESL Teacher Blog: Student Note-Taking - What It Can Tell A Teacher

If a picture is worth a thousand words, a glance at student notebooks is worth... well, not a thousand, but definitely a few reflective pieces altogether.

Do students find the class too easy, too difficult or just right? Do you as a teacher present them with too little new material or more than they can handle at a single session? Are they able to take eligible (readable) notes in class or the board is erased too quickly? How much do they care about this class or subject?

Many of those questions can be answered by just a brief look at students’ notes. The following points may be true indicators of whether things are going well or not quite in class:

- The amount of words translated: if the story you did in class is all covered in translations, it was certainly beyond their capacity; on the other hand, if there are about 5-7 new words for a page, the lesson should have been bang on for their level.

- The medium the students use to record the new information during class: is it a proper notebook or binder where the notes are systematically taken or is it a piece of scrap paper, folded and wrinkled? How are the handouts treated? Are they brought in the next day if you have asked them to (because you didn’t finish it) or you hear a somewhat unsurprising: “Teacher, do you have an extra copy?”

- The quality of their notes: do they look similar to what you have on the board or are they half-finished? Do you give them a few moments to breathe after explaining a new language point, or they’re forced listen and write at the same time, which may be overwhelming for second-language learners?

- The way students take notes to remember new vocabulary: are those translations to their first language or short definitions in English that you’ve provided? The latter will show you that as long as they understand the meaning through examples and definitions, there is no need to care about the exact translations. The student who still insists on translations (and demands them from their classmates) is probably not ready for promotion to the next level.

Your observations should be unnoticeable to your students. They have their own learning style and don’t need to be lectured on the issue of note taking (I’m talking about adult students). But while you go around and check their written work, you’ll be able to collect a lot of valuable feedback on your own teaching.
POSTED BY Olga Galperin AT 1:21 PM
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