Thursday, September 20, 2007

Key Word Notes Update

After Chris, KC and Sarah reported great success with the Key Word Notes strategy, I wanted to try it. I was amazed both times that I have used the strategy this week. The students were able to synthesize the information being learned into high level summary statements.

The first time that students completed Key Word Notes was Monday during setting presentations. Each base group presented information on the details of a different setting in Brave New World. Those presentations also included information regarding Huxley's intent for including such a detailed setting in terms of character development, symbolism or theme.

While a group was presenting, all other members of the class had to listen attentively and come up with a one-word summary of the entire presentation. Not only was I amazed that the audience was practically on the edge of their seats to cue into a key word, but also the words that were chosen were usually at the symbolic or thematic level. Words like sterile, brainwashing, unnatural, inhumane and conformity were captured on the Key Word Notes page of their notebooks. After each presentation, I asked a few students to share their words and reasoning, and again students displayed a high level of thinking during this synthesis activity.

In fact, the summary sentence at the end of the Key Word Notes chart was often a thesis statement for an essay on Huxley's intent regarding setting details.

The second time that I used Key Word Notes this week was during a classroom discussion. The last time that we had a full day of classroom discussion on the novel, I noticed that many students were tuning out, and I was kicking myself for not providing some type of formal reflection activity. So today, which was slated to be another full day of classroom discussion, I had students create a Key Word Notes chart. After about seven minutes of an open forum discussion (where students pose questions for other students to answer), I would say, "Timeout! Summarize the past seven minutes into one word."

After each reflection minute, I had a few students share their word and reasoning. I was disappointed that the words chosen were not as high level as the ones earlier in the week during the setting presentations. There was no unifying theme for the seven minutes prior to reflection time because two or three unrelated questions were posed by the students. I feared then that I had misused the Key Word Notes strategy in this artificial task.

I feared that the words were so disconnected that the summary sentence would not make sense or be too difficult to write. Before I had students write the summary sentence, I told them that this sentence should capture their closing thought of the day; what they had gotten out of today's discussion. I was pleasantly surprised that the sentences shared were as high quality as the setting ones earlier in the week.

I've concluded that the Key Word Notes strategy gives students the framework to make personal meaning out of classroom discussions, even when a number of various topics and questions are raised.

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