Taking Note: Dr. Joseph Boyle Seeks to Improve Special Education Students’ Information Retention with Strategic Note Taking


Rutgers Graduate School of Education professor Dr. Joseph Boyle (http://gse.rutgers.edu/joseph_boyle) has been awarded a $906,430 grant from the U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Educational Sciences (IES)(http://ies.ed.gov) to fund research on improving science performance of students with learning abilities through strategic note-taking.  This project will take place at Matawan Middle School (http://marsd.org/marsd/site/default.asp) and Neptune Middle School (http://www.neptune.k12.nj.us/neptuneschools/site/default.asp) in Central New Jersey, beginning on April 11 of this year and continue through the end of March 2014 with the intent to develop an intervention to improve students’ note-taking skills and retention of science content.

Dr. Boyle became interested in this field as a result of conversations he had with several middle-school science teachers who had mentioned that their students with learning disabilities had been underachieving in class.  He then did research on reading techniques and found that although these students are of average or above-average I.Q., they often lack the necessary note-taking skills required to learn important science concepts.  This is because oftentimes they record fewer total notes and fewer important lecture points. 

Working with approximately 100 seventh and eighth grade students and their teachers, Dr. Boyle and his research team will develop a strategic note-taking intervention using focus groups, interviews, and comparisons of these students’ notes with notes of their peers.  They will also analyze data from summative and formative measures such as student performance on immediate free recall, long-term free recall, pre- and post science content, weekly quizzes and chapter tests, and scores on state achievement tests in science.  The goal is to draw upon research on working memory during writing and note-taking tasks to teach students with learning disabilities how to improve their note-taking skills during science lectures and help students improve their understanding of science content. 

In order to establish current levels of performance for students with and without learning disabilities before the intervention, an initial needs assessment will be conducted.  It will focus on both the quality and quantity of the students’ notes, recall and comprehension abilities, and handwriting and motor skills.  Next, the research team will use scripted lecture presentations to allow the students to practice their strategic note-taking skills.  The notes will then be analyzed quantitatively and qualitatively to determine their accuracy and completeness.  In the last year of the project, Dr. Boyle and his researchers will take the information collected and revise the intervention for a small-scale experimental study in 40 classrooms.  As Dr. Boyle points out, “I believe that content area teachers have overlooked the importance of proper note taking, as most young students are never specifically trained to do so.  I hope that this intervention will significantly improve note-taking skills, which ultimately will improve their grades in science and performance on standardized tests.”