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Mixed-Methods Evidence of Study Barriers

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RMLE Online—
Volume 33, No. 2
© 2009 National Middle School Association
anticipation of one particular challenge, researchers have begun to identify effective Internet note-taking techniques (see e.g., Igo, Bruning, & McCrudden, 2005a; Igo, Riccomini, Bruning, & Pope, 2006; Pardini, Domizi, Forbes, & Pettis, 2005). To date, the vast majority of the extant research has focused on high school and college students in general education settings. Because educational practitioners must make critical decisions regarding how Internet technologies are used within middle schools (Consortium for School Networking, 2006), the present study sought
to explore Internet note taking with middle school students who are learning disabled, mildly mentally retarded, or from the general education population but who need reading support.
Note Taking and the Internet Taking notes is a common student behavior in academic settings (Kobayashi, 2005). However, students’ note-taking strategies vary, with better learning being associated with students who are better note takers (Peverly, Brobst, Graham, & Shaw, 2003). Most students’ default note-taking strategies can be categorized on the ineffective end of this continuum. For instance, many students fail to process ideas deeply as they take notes (Igo et al., 2005a). Creating an incomplete set of notes also is a typical problem for students (Kiewra, 1985, 1989).
For no other population are these flaws more evident than for middle school students, whose inexperience with note taking compounds the inadequacies of their note-taking approaches (Rinehart & Thomas, 1993).
Recent middle school research has documented this phenomenon with general education students (Brown, 2005) and students with learning disabilities (Igo et al., 2006).
For middle school students with learning disabilities (MSSLD), there may be even more problems associated with note taking. In addition to being novice note takers, MSSLD (in grades six, seven, and eight) can experience pressure and distraction stemming from spelling and grammar monitoring as they take notes (Igo et al., 2006; Hughes & Smith, 1990; Poteet, 1979). Further, creating a legible and comprehensible set of notes might be difficult.
For example, the legibility of students’ handwriting seems to plateau during the early middle grades (fifth and sixth) and plummet during the remainder of middle school (Graham, Beringer, & Weintraub, 1998; Graham, Weintraub, Beringer, & Shafer, 1998). In fact, many college students with learning disabilities struggle to create comprehensible and legible notes (e.g., Mortimore & Crozier, 2006; Smith, 1993; Suritsky, 1992), creating the potential for MSSLD to struggle with these same barriers.
The popularity of using the Internet to gather information, coupled with the aforementioned problems associated with student approaches to note taking, led Igo, Riccomini, and Bruning (2006) to ask a basic research question: How should MSSLD approach note taking when they gather information from Internet sources? Their subsequent study attempted to find an answer. Each of 15 MSSLD were assigned to take notes in three ways (type, paste, and write) from an Internet source. Immediate and delayed measures of learning indicated that students could recall little of the information they had noted, irrespective of note-taking style. Follow-up interviews with the students revealed more enlightening data. The students described typing notes as an especially unnerving task, attributing it to a troubling degree of anxiety. They described attempting to monitor spelling and searching the keyboard for the
appropriate letter keys while typing notes. Further, an analysis of students’ notes showed that when students wrote or typed their notes, they did so in verbatim fashion, which has been linked to shallow mental processing. When the students attempted to type or write paraphrase notes, however, they tended to omit certain important details from the text. Subsequently, their paraphrase notes often were incomplete.
In short, typing notes was too anxiety provoking, and writing notes yielded inferior sets of notes. Igo and colleagues (2006) thus concluded their study with a recommendation that MSSLD be instructed to use the copy and paste method to gather notes from the Internet. Based on the results obtained from their data, this instructional advice might seem reasonable. On the other hand, particular aspects of their study’s design necessitate further investigation before any instructional implications could be considered valid in actual school settings. For example, only 15 students participated in that particular study. Second, only students with learning disabilities participated in that study; the findings might not be relevant to teachers of students who display several kinds of learning problems. Finally, students were not permitted to study their notes before delayed measures of learning were administered. In developing generalizations about school-based learning, the study of notes should be considered a vital part of note learning and, therefore, included in an investigation.

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