Teaching Methods

Retrieve Note Taking

“Ms. R I feel smart today!”

That was an exclamation I received from a student that made my entire week. What gave this student so much confidence? Retrieve note-taking.

Here’s how retrieve note-taking works.

  1. You lecture to the students as normal. Students have their full attention on you. No one is permitted to write.
  2. You stop talking and let the kids start writing.

That’s pretty much it! But wait… we can make it more powerful

3. Let students discuss their notes together so they can fill in any of the gaps
4. Put the slides back up on the screen so students can fill any gaps that remain.

I did today’s retrieve-note taking with my lecture on curved mirror rules. The first time I did this I was really concerned about the extra time it took. However, I’ve learned that the right kind of extra time always pays off in the end, and this is a perfect example.

I break the lecture down into 3 parts, and I have a packet for students to follow along. The packet also reduces the cognitive load and allows students to feel at ease that they don’t have to remember EVERYTHING

Here’s page 1. I do these notes up on the smart board for the first round:

Note: my smartboard notes are NOT a carbon copy of the packet. See below

Next we do the rules for the concave mirror, and last we do the rules for a convex mirror.

Here’s where the magic happens. When students are left to retrieve the information and record it in their packets, they are immediately processing the information. They are asking each other clarifying questions, it’s AMAZING. And because they are working with the material right away, there’s not a lot of time to forget.

So where’s the big pay off? In the homework. Previously I would find myself going from group to group re-explaining how to do the ray diagramming. Using the retrieval method I no longer have to do this and I can work with just the few students who really need extra support! My students actually complete more work more quickly and with more confidence than had I lectured traditionally.

So why does this work?

Whenever we receive new information our brain tries to fit it in to what we already know. The more connections the brain can make, the stronger the new connection will be, and the better we will be able to retrieve that information later. Making connections also allows you to chunk information, similar to why phone numbers are written like 123-456-7890.

This retrieval exercise provides students four different encounters with the material: orally, visually, written and verbal.

  1. First they get the material orally and visually as it’s presented on the slides.
  2. Then they reproduce this material by drawing and writing
  3. They are also discussing the information

By the time they are using and practicing, since they have engaged at such a high rate they are more than ready to go!

Did you like this? Read more about how I use retrieval practices in my classroom here!


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