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How To: Adjust Your Teaching Style to Your Students' Learning Style
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How To: Adjust Your Teaching Styles to Students' Learning Styles
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How To: Implement Standards, Curriculum, and Assessment

Using Window Notes
Sharon Longert

Sometimes the demands of a content filled curriculum put demands on some of our students that are greater than their ability to understand.

Today students are asked to separate important information from the trivial and inconsequential. Reading now makes up the majority of all content area tests, not just “reading tests.” Our students are asked to:

  • Interpret maps, graphs, tables and charts (mathematics, history, science)
  • Draw and support conclusions (document based questions - DBQ’s)
  • Establish meaningful connections between multiple texts (critical lens essay, comparative essays)
  • Collect, organize and critique evidence used to establish a claim or support a hypothesis (thematic essay)

Our students are asked to ”go beyond the information given” (Jerome Bruner, 1957). They must think as well as read. And after reading, create a written response.

It is our mission to give students the strategies to learn the content; the skills to comprehend the texts given; and to combine thinking with reading to go beyond the information given. The question is whether students are really “understanding” what they are expected to learn and how are they making this understanding useful.

Different students reveal different levels of comprehension or understanding. Some have only a minimal understanding of the ideas, others can analyze and see implications with ease. Children who are deficient in understanding may become bored and inattentive or rely on memory of stored information, but they are rarely able to interpret and show understanding. When they are not doing anything, they are not having fun, and they are not learning. Reducing this boredom is about increasing student effort.

When a reading is related to the students’ experiences or to previously learned information, it is engaging and most probably understanding is occurring. When students are working on a text they can organize the information from the text into sections for facts, feelings, questions and ideas about what they are reading. Strong and Silver suggest creating “window notes” to address these four areas. (Window notes are a form of non-linguistic representation. After the child creates a visual image of a concept, then they can convert them into the verbal key ideas and details. Also the student can draw a 4 or 6 pane "window" and enter relevant information into each pane.) Then the teacher can ask students to discuss or write about what they have noticed. The deficient or reluctant learner believes that no one is interested in what they think, this a strategy that asks them what they think and lets them have their own opinion. Their motivation to learn is enhanced because they are engaged.

Mel Levine suggests that there are many reasons why a child may have comprehension deficiencies. The most common is weakness in language processing. Some students have semantic deficiencies, they have a superficial handle on word meanings. The words they know have vague meanings and have little or no connection to other words or shades of meaning. These students are very literal in their interpretations or cannot grasp words that are out of the context of everyday life. Other students have language processing problems at the sentence level; syntax and word order doesn’t register. They have difficulty following directions, interpreting word explanations and understanding what they read. These students often develop attention deficits that are caused by a lack of comprehension.

The previously discussed window notes strategy would be helpful to these students because there would be an emphasis on the understanding of understanding. By thinking about thinking while they are thinking, students can measure whether or not they understand. Students who are taught to represent new information in their minds in pictures, verbal descriptions, diagrams, formulas or examples develop tools that aid them in comprehension and improve their test scores as they are better prepared to complete the tasks on the test with better understanding.

Reading for Academic Success, Strong, Richard W. and Silver, Harvey F., , Corwin Press, 2002.

“Getting at Getting It: The Quest for Comprehension,” Levine, Mel, www.allkindsofminds.org.

I hope you’ve found these basics helpful. If you have a question or suggestion, don’t hesitate to e-mail me.


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