Tuesday, October 3, 2017

CONFIRMATION: How to Give/Take Notes

When I was in confirmation the only notes I took were the doodles on the sides of the pages of my catechism. "What? You mean you weren't completely engaged in the important information?" No. My pastor sat in a chair or stood by a podium and spoke for an hour or so and asked questions nobody really answered.

Recent studies have shown that students learn more when taking their own notes by hand. What does this mean? Using computers, tablets, or recording devices for note taking does not increase learning. Putting notes in handouts and handing them out, does not increase learning.

What does that mean for confirmation? It means that having students take notes is a good learning tool for better long-term comprehension and should be used by confirmation educators. It also keeps students engaged. Students who take notes by hand out-perform those who use technology in responding to conceptual questions. The problem is that most pastors don't expect note-taking and, believe it or not, most middle school students do not know how to take notes. Note-taking is a skill that is expected, but not taught in many schools today. The only people who think taking notes using a computer is better are people who sell computers.

How can you help students take good notes? 

  • Give each student a notebook at the beginning of the year. They should be able to use the same notebook for every year of confirmation. I recommend the composition notebooks that are not spiral so the pages are not easily removable. Put a big name sticker on the front of each one.
  • Develop some short-hand symbols for students to use when taking notes for those words that you use often. For example, Israelites = I, Disciples = D, 10 Commandments = 10C, Old and New Testaments = OT or NT, etc.
  • Remind students often that taking notes is not a exercise in writing down everything you say. 
  • Learn about graphic organizers (a visual display that demonstrates relationships between facts, concepts, or ideas). Sample 1 (Abraham) - Sample 2 (10 Commandments) - Sample 3 (6 Chief Parts)
  • Give periodic notes quizzes. These are short 3-5 question quizzes for which students use their notes to find answers. 
  • Play review games and let students use their notes to show them the value of re-reading them. 
  • Use clues or cue words to help students know when you're saying something they should write down. I used to tell my students, "If I write - you write." If you write while they do, you won't feel impatient waiting.
  • If you use slides, students will copy them down... without thinking about what they are writing. They will also stop listening while they write so stop speaking while they're writing. I often said, "Can I go on?" Give outlines and expect them to fill in the details on their own. Give them time to write definitions in their own words. 
  • Take a moment to ask a quick comprehension question about what they just wrote down. 
  • Either collect or look at notes once in a while and put a sticker or something on them to show that you've seen them and approve.
These are just a few things that can be done to help students take notes. It may seem a bit complicated at first, but the more you practice these things the better you will get at doing them. Remember, you're teaching them the most important thing they will ever learn. Do it well! 

Find other great teaching information in The Art of Teaching Confirmation.