Innovative Ideas for Using Cell Phones to Summarize and Take Notes

Editor's note: This is part two in series of posts focused on the nine instructional strategies that are most likely to improve student achievement across all content areas from the book Classroom Instruction That Works by Robert Marzano, Debra Pickering, and Jane Pollock.

Summarizing and note taking promote greater comprehension by asking students to analyze a subject and determine what is most important and share that information in a new way that makes sense given the task at hand. According to research, this requires substituting, deleting, and keeping some information while having an awareness of the basic structure of the information presented. To do this students must be able to analyze information at a deep level. Here are some ideas for ways that strategies to summarize and take notes can be enriched with cell phones.

Classroom Practice in Summarizing: The "Rule-Based" Strategy

The rule-based strategy is a summarizing technique developed by Brown, Campione, and Day (1981) and follows theses simple rules: 1) Delete trivial material unnecessary to understanding 2) delete redundant material, 3) Substitute superordinate terms, and 4) Select or create a topic sentence.

  • Subject: Social Studies
  • Topic: Current Events
  • Lesson Overview: The teacher will introduce a current topic in the news and ask students to find out more about it from a recent news story using print or digital newspaper, video, or magazine. The teacher will show students how to find the Twitter tag related to this current event. The teacher will ask the students to use the rule-based strategy to create an engaging tweet that summarizes the current event and to also reply to someone else's current event-related tweet using information they have learned in their studies. The teacher will model this activity for the class showing how the rule-based strategy can be implemented around a trending topic on Twitter. Ideally in the modeled lesson, the teacher will tweet a summary that leads to replies and retweets as part of an authentic global conversation.
  • How technology enriches the lesson:
    • Students gain an important 21st century skill necessary for success in the world of social media which is how to have a global conversation about current issues. Twitter instantly opens the door to others interested in common topic and enables thinkers and learners to connect.
    • Summarizing in this way instantly provides students with an authentic purpose for summarizing.

Classroom Practice in Summarizing: Summary Frames

Research on summarizing indicates that being aware of the explicit structure of information is an aid to summarizing information. Marzano, Pickering, and Pollock suggest summary frames as an effective summarizing strategy. With summary frames the teacher provides students with a series of questions designed to highlight critical elements for specific types of information. The 6 types of summary frames they identify are 1) The Narative Frame 2) The Topic-Restriction-Illustration Frame 3) The Definition Frame 4) The Argumentation Frame 5) The Problem/Solution Frame 6) The Conversation Frame.
  • Subject: Literacy
  • Topic: Summarizing books
  • Lesson Overview: In this lesson the teacher is working with students to develop summaries of their school library's fairy tale collection. The teacher will select a summary frame to use with the students to walk them through the process of summarizing their selected fairy tale. The teacher will begin by modeling this as a class activity to summarize a previously read book. While at school each student will pick a fairy tale to summarize using a summary frame. For homework each student will call the teacher's Google Voice number to record their book summary. Note: All summaries should follow a standard format such as: name of book, summary, name of student (first name only). These will be placed on the "Fairy Tales" page of library area of the school's website. When visitors come to this page they'll see book covers with the Google Voice summary recording underneath. This will help other students in the school select books that might be of interest to them when visiting the library.
  • How technology enriches the lesson:
    • Using Google Voice to capture students summaries provides students with a real reason for summarizing a book. The work they do will be added to the class website and shared with other students to help them make book choices. The use of cell phones implicitly answers the question, "Why do we need to learn this?" This is a skill that is not only useful for students in school, it's also an activity that they can use for their home libraries. In fact kids in a neighborhood or apartment building may even work collaboratively to share summaries of each child's home library to encourage book trading and swapping.
    • Capturing the audio of a summary enables students to hear their writing. Listening to your writing read back to you is helpful in checking if it is clear and makes sense.

Classroom Practice in Note Taking
While note taking is commonly thought of as a school activity, the reality is that in life people take notes all the time. Perhaps you're having a conversation with someone and they mention a book you should read, perhaps you're enjoying a delicious meal with a friend and she shares the recipe, maybe you find yourself lucky enough to run into a pro athlete who plays a sport you are involved in and she gives you tips. These are all great times to take notes. In Classrooms Instruction that Works the authors share the following research on note taking. 1) Verbatim note taking is, perhaps, the least effective way to take notes. 2) Notes should be considered a work in progress. 3) Notes should be used as study guides for tests. 4) The more notes that are taken, the better. While traditionally in school students are taught techniques for taking notes in class on paper, more and more students are using their cell phones for taking notes. Even basic cell phones these days have a note or memo feature and using this to take notes provides a number of advantages over traditional paper and pen.

  • Subject: Any subject
  • Topic: Any topic
  • Lesson Overview: More and more digital immigrants share that they prefer texting on the cell phone to typing or handwriting stating that the closeness of the keys makes it a fast and easy way to create a message or idea. Educators who embrace this preference that many students have can support students by letting them take class notes on their phone. Doing so allows students to take notes in a medium many prefer.
  • How technology enriches the lesson:
    • Notes on a cell phone are searchable. Just go to your cell phone memo or notes application and start typing in the name of your notes. They instantly pop up.
    • Notes on a cell phone are available on demand, anytime/anywhere. Students take notes about concepts that are important for their learning. By taking notes on a cell phone they are instantly accessible anytime, anywhere you need them.
    • On many cell phones notes can be shared. This could be helpful for a student who is absent or for study groups that want to compare notes.
Cell phones are powerful tools to enrich learning for students who are summarizing and note taking. Stay tuned for my next post focusing on how cell phones can support students in reinforcing effort and providing recognition.
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