Yesterday in content reading classes we did the study strategies jigsaw - what I have termed learning to learn. I have read through and "graded" all the reflections and once again find myself wondering if this Jigsaw is the way I want to go with this information. I wonder if the artificial nature of the activity makes it less useful for my students, and if there is a better way - a more economical way [with respect to time] to accomplish my instructional goals. The hard part is that these students, by and large, have already developed their own note making strategies and are good readers, making the exercise "feel silly" for some students. I get that comment every year and wonder now why it's taken me this long to see a different way to do this activity.
One idea I've thought of happened because a student needed to miss this particular class in order to teach his Internship class, an experience that I think is more valuable than the Jigsaw [or just about anything else I could drum up in class]. I didn't think it fair to penalize him because his schedule didn't mesh with one I had made up for our class way back in August. So, we talked about it and I came up with an alternate plan. Basically, he will use one of the note making strategies to hold his thinking about chapter 11 [on study strategies], then find two other students who used the other note making techniques and talk with them about their methods. Then, he will write a reflection about the methods and compare and contrast their advantages and disadvantages. As we were negotiating this, it occurred to me that perhaps I had stumbled on a better way to accomplish my instructional goals with this chapter.
In fact, as I type this, I am thinking that I might just begin the semester by teaching each of the note making strategies prior to the initial chapters - having students use a different note making strategy each chapter, then in groups discussing them. I have a couple of charts they could complete as they discuss the information, and then write a reflection on the process. That would free up an entire day - and would help students in a more authentic way. They would see how I modeled the use of note making and discussion as part of our class - it would not be as artificial. This might also be a way to feature the advantages of some of the methods that students just didn’t see in the present activity. INSERT, in particular, took quite a few hits in their reflections. It isn’t one of my favorites, either, or wasn’t until I discovered how much Mary’s physics and chemistry students liked it. Chapters 2 and 3 in our textbook are particularly difficult – written more on a graduate level than for initial certification students. INSERT would be a good strategy to use with those chapters precisely because they are so difficult.
Another related problem that surfaced in students’ reflections is that very few of them perceived the idea that even if they didn’t like one of the note making strategies, they will have students in their classes who need to be taught several note making strategies so they can choose one that works best for them. Most of my students seemed to think they will be teaching kids much like themselves. At least that’s the impression I got from comments about teaching “only 2-column notes because I really liked that one” or “I’d never teach INSERT, it’s too much trouble” or “chapter mapping won’t work with high school because there is too much information to record.” Perhaps three to five students understood that these strategies could and should be adapted to fit their particular content area and some actually gave excellent ways to adapt them. The idea about putting page numbers on the INSERT sticky-notes was superb! Someone else mentioned that perhaps students could map each section rather than the whole text – a good solution to the conceptual density of many science and social studies textbooks. Another student mentioned altering 2-column notes for math. Perhaps I need to be pleased that a few students really “got it” rather than worrying because all of them did not make the connections I hoped they would make.
So, maybe I've come up with a different way to teach the note making strategies, and do it in a more time-efficient manner. Also, this might give me an opportunity to highlight the different aspects of each strategy. One of the difficulties I noticed as I read students’ reflections is that they are having a hard time understanding where their students will be in terms of students’ ability to read and understand text . . . only one student made the connection between these note making strategies and using a CLOZE or other initial assessment to determine the amount of support students will need to read and comprehend the text. After all, most of them admitted to never reading their textbooks and they all did very well in high school. The most depressing part of all of this is students’ possible solution to this problem – it is one I fear. These students will probably revert to “giving notes” on the overhead, once again doing the students’ work instead of actually teaching them how to read and comprehend complex text such as newspaper and journal articles, primary sources, and the textbook. Giving notes is great crowd control; it feels comfortable because most of these students endured that kind of mind-numbing teaching when they were in high school. Unfortunately, it also impedes students’ literacy development and extinguishes curiosity and motivation in students.
As students completed the Jigsaw yesterday, I began thinking about how I’d handle Thursday’s class. I decided to have them take notes on the first part of chapter 7 – on guiding learning, and figure out what to do during Thursday's class later. I had originally planned to do the