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Note-Taking: Finding the Method that Works

Empower Your Child
Here are the tools you need to empower your child to take ownership of what she records during class. Bear in mind that all kids need not copy down the same information. Most people assume that the purpose of taking notes is for the student to record in an abbreviated way what took place during a class period. In other words, kids need to get down the main themes, some sub-themes, and some details, like a reporter might record the facts of a story. This mold assumes that there is some objective content that all kids have to take down in their notes. But that's no longer the case.

The "reporter" model ignores the fact that kids encode or remember information through a variety of different cognitive filters. Each child has the right to record information through a filter that is right for her mind. Some children can remember the content of the class by recording themes and details -- these kids tend to be concrete and linear. But they are only a small minority. Others may be anecdotal or pragmatic learners and may need to record the stories their teacher tells in class, their emotional reactions to a topic, or how the information applies to their lives.

The trick to better note-taking is to help your child find the filter that works best for her and then integrate that strategy into her notes. In the end, all kids, even the best note-takers can benefit from using the filter that works for them. The goal is for your child to take ownership of her notes -- not to conform to someone else's system -- but to get what she needs, in her own way, from any class.

The Filters
The Question Filter
This is the one that got me through my education. It's a pretty simple concept: Encourage your child not to just record what's being said in class, but to write down two or three questions that come to mind for every topic. Pretty simple. It's important, however, to limit this to just a few questions and then move on to the next topic.

The Relationship Filter
I spent the vast majority of my college career never getting past the first main point in a lecture. Instead, I followed all the ideas, connections, and relationships which came to mind after that first point. I used to feel ashamed until I realized that this was my filter: a unique way of using class time that I should celebrate.

The relationship filter is great for non-linear associative thinkers. (In conversation, these types of thinkers will bring up something completely out of left field.) This child is often bored in class or overwhelmed and discouraged by trying to cram their dynamic minds into nice, neat, main topic Roman numerals. Forget that.

Help your child spend time in class connecting the subjects at hand to other classes and ideas. Tell her it's okay to use her notes as one giant brainstorm. The strategy is to have your child get down quickly and briefly what's said, and then let her mind wander. It's great to use this filter with the extreme mapping structure. One warning: If your child spends class time doing this, it's likely she will have gaps in her knowledge of details. To mitigate deficits, work with her to come up with a plan to supplement notes with a more concrete source. It could mean tape recording the class or copying another student's notes (my personal favorite).

The Detail Filter
This filter was inspired by a professor at Landmark College in Vermont. She told me she never thinks about the information presented in class, but just gets down the bare-bone facts and details and connects them later. A great idea for kids who think very concretely.

The Builder Filter
This filter is for children who think about the world and ideas in mechanical and pragmatic terms. It draws on the power of the mind to remember information on the basis of touch, function, and its relation to the broader world. If this describes your child, encourage him to ask and answer questions in his notes like, "How does this work? How does it apply to the world and to my life?"

The "What Makes the Blood Boil" Filter
Unfortunately, emotions are discouraged in note taking (and often in school in general). I once had a teacher who told me never to record an emotional reaction to something presented in class. But guess what I always remembered best from any given class? The ideas and details that affected me emotionally. For many kids, emotions are the key to retaining information. Encourage your child to record her emotional reactions to ideas, subjects, and to the class as a whole. It's simply good learning.

The Story and Irrelevant Information Filter
Many kids remember information through narratives -- either they remember the stories best from class, or they make up their own stories with the information. Moreover, many kids remember information by associating it with seemingly irrelevant asides or details like what the teacher was wearing on a given day. If you have a storyteller or a child who seems to focus on anecdotes that you find irrelevant, tell him to keep doing that in his notes. Anecdotes and stories can be powerful tools for remembering and recalling information -- and they make life that much more fun.

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