Monday, August 8, 2011

To post notes or not to post notes, that is the question.

Recently, on a listserv I subscribe to, a new Advanced Placement course teacher wondered whether he should post his outline of the textbook for his students, or let them take their own notes.  He wrote:
Hi everyone,
> First time AP Euro teacher here, and was hoping for some advice on the topic of class notes. I have several colleagues who favor providing their students with the notes for the course, and several who do not (it has grown into a long-running debate at department meetings). Traditionally I have agreed with the point of view that the work of actually taking the notes is in itself quite important to the learning process. Now, I recently finished outlining the text book we will be using(McKay, 10th ed), and am on the fence whether I should post the notes to my website or not. As I said, my gut instinct is telling me not to, but I have noticed there are several AP teachers who do provide their students with notes. Being that this is my first attempt at an AP curriculum I was hoping to get some more experienced opinions on the matter. Do you provide your students with a set of notes? Has it worked for you in the past? Any help would be appreciated. Thanks!

> Mike
Here's what one teacher replied:
Do not most university professors have all notes, assignments, etc. al. on their websites?
I do understand your desire to teach your students note taking skills....but are not many summaries, etc. on line for their use anyway?
Almost all of the AP World, AP European, AP US textbooks with their ancillaries and supplementals  provide chapter notes for students on their websites.
I might humbly suggest that students should be taught to "use" the historical information (notes), data, and narrative analytically, ie., seeing change over time, continuity over time, comparative (also contrast) and analyzing POV [point of view] in primary sources to finding truth in the past.  In other words using historical notes from diverse sources to understand historical processes. 
And here's what I added to the discussion:
While I thought the way Mike did going into my first year teaching AP, I found that when I didn't provide notes, many students searched out and printed notes from various online sources, which many of them annotated in class.  Also, in practice I found out the hard way that the pace I had to move at was too fast for such idealism.  I found that if I provided the students with powerpoint notes or even with old-fashioned lecture outlines on the blackboard, that they did take notes during class anyway.  It simply allowed me to go much faster,  and it helped them understand and retain better.  

Ditto for our textbook.  It depends on how well-organized your textbook is and what kinds of signposting and online resources it provides, but students did find it helpful to have some way of knowing what *I* thought was important in the torrent of information the book provided.  I did this by having them fill out a reading "quiz" for homework before we started each chapter (I didn't make these quizzes up myself but modified them from quizzes I found on one of the many wonderful, generous AP teachers' websites.).  They got a modest number of homework points for completing these quizzes, and we went over them quickly in class but I did not grade them.

 About three quarters of the way through the year, I also started a blog (I used Blogspot, and there are others you can use like Wordpress etc. If your school provides you with space on its website, that can work too) where I posted homework, project requirements, links to resources and cool websites we didn't have time for in class, and other information.  Even with my stumbling first efforts at this, I have to say it made life easier for everyone. 

As an improvement for this year and to save the burden of photocopying, I would put the Powerpoints or notes up on a free service like Wikispaces (sign up for a free educational account, which allows you to sign up multiple users at once and restrict access if you like) and Slideshare and let students download and print them themselves.   I would post the links to these sites on the blog so the students could find them again whenever they needed to.  I don't think it is doing their work for them.  The students who want to learn will appreciate it and will continue to work hard, as is their custom, and those who want to cut corners will do that anyway, whether you put up the notes or not.  Everything is moving in that direction anyway (see "The Flipped Classroom"). 

What Mike is really asking is, "How do I make sure my students are learning actively?"  Note-taking (done correctly) is one way of learning actively, but it's not the only way.  Don't agonize over it.  Put the notes up and provide opportunities for active learning and synthesis other ways, with classroom activities, discussion, well-designed projects, web quests, graphic organizers (I used to call them "tables," "charts," and "diagrams" ;-)) and so many other things we've seen on the boards (including note-taking!). You can always stop putting up notes it if it's not working for your class.

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