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How to Take Better Notes

Rule number one: There are no rules! Kids' minds work in different ways, and their notes should reflect those differences.

You can help your child become an independent learner -- and a great note taker -- by encouraging her to think about how she thinks. Then she can figure out the note-taking methods and tricks that will work best for her.

Set her on the right course with these four guiding principles:

Principle 1: Your Language and Attitude Matters

The language you use to talk about taking notes with your child really matters. Make sure your child knows that it's okay to do things differently.

Take an approach that acknowledges the frustration that many kids feel about school and note taking. Try saying, "You know what? Taking notes is hard sometimes. And class can be boring sometimes. Let's figure out a way to play this game." Then let him know that all kids take notes differently. Tell him that you'd like to help him find out how to take notes in a way that is right for him.

Principle 2: Embrace Coping Mechanisms

Often, positive strategies that children develop are discounted as "coping mechanisms." This can be true for note taking. Take the time to identify your child's note-taking coping mechanism and figure out what unique skills it represents.

Ask your child how she "gets by in class." Ask her what tricks she uses to get the information down. Does she just listen, look at other peoples' notes, draw to help pay attention, or daydream? Try to figure out what these tricks say about the type of learner your child is. If she's drawing on her notes, often that means she's a visual learner. Daydreaming while still absorbing the information means that she's an auditory learner. Help her to see that these coping mechanisms can be viewed positively as unique skills. Keep this information in mind as you look at different note-taking strategies and read "Note Taking: Finding the Method that Works."

Principle 3: Talk About Form, Content, and Notations

This is the most important discussion you will have with your child and it's one that you should continue to have throughout your child's school career. There are five different note-taking structures, but your child might already have one that is all his own. Talk with your child about whether or not the Roman numeral system works for him. Ask whether or not he has a special notation system like abbreviation or color-coding. And lastly, ask if he has a specific focus on details, themes, stories, or connections that is helpful for remembering information.

It's okay and totally normal if your child gives you the usual, "I don't know" or "Nothing." What matters is that you've taken the first step in making your child's thoughts and ideas central to the process of individualizing his notes.

Principle 4: Understand Process

Empowering your child to individualize her notes won't happen overnight. Let your child know that better note taking will develop over time. Have her take a guess at what might work and try it out. Tell her that it's okay if something doesn't work -- she'll learn from the experience and can always try something new. If you stick to that process of trial and error, over the course of a few weeks or a month you will see improvement.

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