January 29, 2013

Note-worthy Note-taking (Part 3 of 4)

Now that your child has all of his/her research materials in place for the upcoming long-term project, it’s time to begin the process of taking notes. Like with any multifaceted project, this can be made more manageable with good organization and pre-planning. And for students for whom organization is a struggle and who benefit most from pre-planning, the importance of this aspect of note taking can’t be emphasized enough (hence our decision to focus on that, rather than the actual, often subject-specific content of the notes themselves.)

Many teachers will have a prescribed approach to the process of taking notes and creating a rough and final draft or project out of them and, of course, if that is the case then that is the approach your child should follow. But if that is not the casein this blog, we are offering a couple of suggestions as to how your child can effectively and successfully tackle this aspect of a long-term paper or project. And, as always, your child’s Engaging Minds tutor can work with him/her through this entire process, from choosing materials to deciding what is noteworthy to taking the notes to putting it all together (next week’s topic). That’s part of why we’re here!

Creating a Bibliography the Easy Way

The first step your child should take is to create a bibliography of the resources s/he will be using. Microsoft Word actually has a tab called “Document Elements” that easily allows your child to create a bibliography. It will format the sources for him/her in a variety of styles that conform to most teachers’ expectations of what a bibliography should include and allows for a wide variety of types of materials (books, magazines, web pages, videos, etc.). It is a lot easier to create this bibliography before your child starts taking notes, and hit the “delete” key if/when a source isn’t actually used, than it is to go back and try to figure out which materials s/he actually utilized.

Organizing Source Material

Next, have your child assign each of his/her sources a number; this is especially important if s/he is going to be doing footnotes for his/her paper or project (and Word’s Document Elements feature also allows for an easier way to do this, by the way). Put a Post-It Note with the designated number on the inside cover of each book being used (notes tacked on the outside of a book tend to disappear), and create a document (computer-based or hand-written) that lists all sources, including websites, videos, etc., by number. As your child takes notes from a source, have him/her jot down the number of the source on the notecard or Post-It Note; this will make it easier to go back and clarify information as needed and will help when it comes time to organize the notes into an actual paper.

Multi-color post-its

Color-code Now For Ease of Organization Later

Color-coding can be an extremely valuable technique to use in note taking, especially for kids who struggle with organizing their information. And Post-It Notes and notecards are particularly valuable tools for students with Executive Function issues to utilize with this approach, because they are more easily organized and grouped in preparation for your child writing his/her rough draft. The limited space on these materials also helps ensure that your child’s notes will be concise and will help him/her stick with a single subject per notecard or Post-It. Have your child come up with a working list of sub-topics for his/her research; again, more is better as s/he can always combine topics or eliminate them due to lack of information as s/he goes along. Then purchase Post-It Notes or notecards in the number of colors that corresponds to his/her sub-topics (and maybe an extra in case s/he decides to split up a sub-topic). Make sure that, if you want your child to work on his/her research project at Engaging Minds, s/he brings all his/her materials – including the bibliography, blank Post-Its and notecards, list of sources, etc. – to his/her session!

Getting Down to Taking Notes

For the actual process of taking notes, there are as many approaches as there are topics on which students can write. It may sound like a truism, but encourage your child to make his/her notes legible and decipherable, even if s/he is using shorthand and abbreviations. Remind your child that s/he should be putting things in his/her own words on the notes (rather than copying text verbatim), but if a quote is used it is important to write that on the note. Some students prefer to write their notes on Post-Its and stick them right on the corresponding pages in their source books; others like to keep rubber-banded or paper-clipped stacks of notecards. There are advantages and disadvantages to both of these examples, but the unifying advantage is that the Post-It Notes and notecards can easily be manipulated when organizing the information as a precursor to writing the first draft of the report.

Stay Tuned…

In next week’s blog, we will talk about ways to organize these notes and how to turn notes into an actual rough draft. It is important to keep in mind that this can be a very challenging process overall, particularly for kids who find this sort of long-term project rather daunting. Encouraging and praising your child for the work-in-progress s/he is completing can go a long way towards ensuring a productive process and an end product of which both you and your child can be proud.