Many teachers and language acquisition researchers, myself included, have often bemoaned the apparent “under-appreciation” of listening in language teaching. You will often hear (in fact, I’ve often said it!) that listening is the “forgotten skill” or the “missing element” in language teaching. Certainly, we can find more attention given to the explicit teaching of reading, writing, and speaking — and much more seems to be known about how to teach, practice, and evaluate progress in these other three modalities.
In the area of listening assessment, most tests of listening focus on comprehension of information, particularly in short conversations that purportedly mimic naturally occurring discourse, or short monologues that represent snapshots of academic lectures. The conversation or talks are always followed by questions about main ideas, speaker attitude or stance, effectiveness of a transaction, facts and details, and inference about ideas or intentions that are not explicitly stated.
What may actually be missing in our understanding of the teaching and testing of listening is that listening is always an “enablement” for some cognitive state (such as “understanding” or “empathy”) or for some social performance (such as answering a question or completing a transaction). It’s always that we are listening to do something.
This is a lengthy pre-amble to framing a role for note-taking in academic listening, or even more broadly to the role of note-taking or memory aides in all contexts of listening. Though in the past some tests did not allow students to take notes, ostensibly to assess short-term memory more validly, most testing procedures now do permit note-taking during the listening segment and consultation of notes during the question portion of the exam. We might see this context as “listening to retain information.” The follow up questions become the “social performance” and the note-taking becomes the intermediary task that supports and enhances performance in the test.
If we assume that note-taking can enhance listening performance, then it makes sense to identify the underlying quality of effective note-taking. With my authors in the Contemporary Topics series, we identified three areas of “teachable” note-taking quality:
Does the note-taker represent the totality of the listening segment (i.e. lecture)? The main benefit here might be from training the mind not to wander, rather than from having a complete representation of the lecture text. A related benefit is in promoting resilience – though all listeners, and especially L2 listeners, will experience gaps and obstacles in following a text, an efficient listener will not give up and abandon efforts at following the entire text.
Does the note-taking attempt to organize the notes in a consistent and comprehensible manner? Are related ideas connected and presented in a hierarchy? The benefits here are in maintaining a meta-awareness of the overall text, as well as in creating a document that can be reviewed and studied later.
Does the note-taker capture and represent what is considered to be the main ideas and most important facts in the lecture? The benefit here is in cognitive training to evaluate the relative importance of various statements and sections of the lecture.
Our purpose in presenting this type of quality rubric was both to provide students with learnable structures for improving their listening (i.e. enabling skill to discuss ideas, formulate questions, and answer test questions later) and to give us, as lecturers, materials writers, and course organizers, a vehicle for organizing lectures into teachable chunks, and to grading the relative difficulty of lectures.
Here’s the rubric, on a 5 point scale:
Note-taking Rubrics and Feedback
Student: __ _______________________
Lecture # : __ _______________________
|Complete (Notes follow the lecture)||5 4 3 2 1 0||All main ideas are clearly recorded and can be quickly identifiedMost main ideas are recorded, but some are difficult to identifySome main ideas are recorded, but they are not fully clear or very easy to identifyOnly one or two main ideas written and unclearly recorded A few main ideas are recorded, but they are not clear or easy to recognizeNo main ideas were recorded|
|Organized (Notes are easy to review)||5 4 3 2 1 0||Notes are recorded using a clear, comprehensible note-taking systemNotes are generally clear using a slightly inconsistent note-taking systemNotes have some elements of basic organization, but sections are sometimes unstructuredNotes have little organization with many unstructured sections Notes have confusing structure, with most items noted randomlyNotes have no obvious organization with completely random recording of items|
|Selective (Notes contain key ideas recorded by constructing, paraphrasing or summarizing information)||5 4 3 2 1 0||Notes show consistent attempts to select, paraphrase and summarize key ideas Notes display frequent attempts to select and paraphrase and construct key ideasNotes show efforts to record and summarize some key ideas combined with some unimportant informationNotes contain generally unimportant information and/or many quoted sentences with little paraphrasing or summarizingNotes are mostly quoted sentences or phrase with little effort to construct key ideas.Notes contain only quoted sentences or phrases with no effort to construct key ideas|
Grading Scale: 14-15 A
We have found this type of simple rubric useful. It is consistent with the literature on note-taking quality, so it has “construct validity”. It is practical in the context in which it is being used – the classroom – so it has “ecological validity.” And it also has what I like to call “pedagogical validity”: it allows for students to see their own progress, in this case in their listening (or “listening to”) ability. The addition of the “comments” column in the evaluation form allows for the teacher to make specific notes of how the student can improve – this helps to open up a dialogue about note-taking and about learning to listen more effectively.