Note-taking as an Inclusive Pedagogical Tool

‘How will you live your life, so that it does not make a mockery of your values?”

~Bill Ayers

 ‘Teaching and Learning on the Open Web’ learning community has been one of the best learning experiences in my professional career. Whenever we meet, there are conversations that inspire me, question me, or gently nudge me to think about pedagogy in refreshing ways.  

One such discussion happened this past week about ‘note-taking’ a seemingly benign topic that has nothing to do with equity and inclusivity, right?  As my colleagues were articulating the rationale for engaging in note-taking, the conversation boiled down to two big ideas – record keeping and students’ desire to learn. Indeed, when we have a written record of classroom conversations, it benefits all students – not just those who might have trouble hearing what is going on.  Additionally, it might help students know about missed materials as well as connect their own understanding with the big ideas discussed. This ensures that all students are on the same page (literally and figuratively) with regards to their learning.

We then moved into discussions about the logistics of note-taking: Should teachers assign students to note-taking or should students volunteer to take notes? Other questions that surfaced in our discussions were about disproportionality when students were asked to volunteer for this task, student responsibility to the classroom community versus the use of points as the motivating mechanism, intentionality around the use of note-taking as a pedagogical and classroom management tool, number of students per class session taking notes, the use of Google docs versus other tools (such as Padlet) for note-taking.

The part that was most illuminating and that directly connects with the Ayers quote above was about inclusivity and truly demonstrating teacher values around inclusivity. Lightbulbs went off in my head when a colleague mentioned that students could be invited to use the language that they are most comfortable in for note-taking. Additionally, we could expand the definition of note-taking, this colleague suggested. So, students could be welcomed to use other strategies such as visual note-taking, the use of doodles to share classroom learning. Another colleague chimed in and discussed the use of annotation tools (such as hypothes.is) on Google slides as another way to increase flexibility while allowing students to take notes on materials posted by the instructor.  

I value student diversity in my classroom and strive to find ways to welcome and build upon diversity. Much like what Chimananda Adiche discussed in the ‘Danger of a Single Story’ I realized that the single story of note-taking was prevalent in my own thinking. It was refreshing to rethink the use of note-taking as an inclusive pedagogical tool.  This is a simple yet powerful way to convey my values of not just welcoming but utilizing diversity and student strengths to the classroom discourse. I am constantly looking out for strategies to fortify my instruction in ways that align with values of diversity and inclusion and I just learned that I might not always need to look beyond but could also critically examine existing strategies to further this value.

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