3 Note Taking Tips to Improve Executive Function Skills

Note taking for middle school

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Three Note Taking Tips

  1. Be very specific and explicit. 

Just like you’ve heard me talk about fine motor skills. We must teach grip. We must teach the kids how to use the pencil, what fingers to use, very specific and explicit. Guess what I’m going to tell you about note-taking? I want you to be very specific and intentional about how you want the kids to learn note taking tips. What does this look like? So this probably looks like something you’re already doing. These are the notes. This is how I want you to take them, but I want you to take it a step further.

I want you to make a comparison. Take your notes and sample notes and look at what’s the same in these notes. Now let’s look at what’s different. These are my notes. These are the student’s notes. What did they leave out?  Decide if it matters? Is it going to change the context? Is it going to change the information at all? Remember giving these kids as much “why” is going to help them really be like, “Oh yes, this is why it’s important!”

  1. Use fill-in-the-blank notes 

This is actually my favorite. I do think it’s very important to be explicit and specific and teach them and show them differences in note taking styles. But this one is my favorite. So this is having fill-in-the-blank notes for all the kids.

So fill-in-the-blank notes is a way to decrease the working memory load, decrease fine motor use if they have any handwriting issues and decrease sustained attention because it’s already there. So when they are paying attention, when they are writing things down, it’s just the important facts. With fill-in-the-blank sheets, it can be like one line. It can be short answers and it almost becomes, instead of these are my notes. I talk, you copy.

It’s like, these are the notes and it can become more of an interactive. So it’s really taking those multi-sensory inputs to help your student be a more engaged learner and be more active in those note taking skills. And it still incorporates the handwriting piece, which we know that handwriting is a direct access to the part of your brain that controls memory. So it’s almost like a little cheat sheet.

  1. Give students the notes

The last one, which is not my favorite, but sometimes I do feel it’s really important for the kids that really struggle with attention and executive functioning skills. They just can’t copy the notes.

The other day, for example, I had a student that had an open book test and the notes were handwritten and he, the student, did not do well because the notes were non-existent.

We weren’t actually grading the content, we were grading his ability to take notes, and that’s not what the lesson was about. So if push comes to shove, I recommend just giving students the notes, especially if you’re giving an open book test because not everybody’s note taking skills are the same. So the kids that aren’t that good at taking notes are getting penalized because of their notes, not because of the content.

So three ways you can use note taking to increase executive functioning skills and especially level out those kids that have difficulties with working memory.
  1. Be very specific and intentional when teaching
  2. Use fill-in-the blank notes for all students.
  3. Give the students a copy of your notes, especially if it’s going to be an open book test.

I hope you found these three note taking tips helpful!

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