Monday, January 28, 2013

Taking it down: Notetaking practices of L1 and L2 students

I just came across this article from 1995 by Rosemary Clerehan in English for Specific Purposes. Clerehan studied the notetaking practices of native English speakers (L1) and non-native English speakers (L2) in a Commercial Law lecture in Australia. She mapped the hierarchical discourse structure of the lecture into three levels: level 1 - exposition headings; level 2 - propositions relating to the headings; and level 3 - legal case examples.

After the lecture, the L1 and L2 students' notes were checked to see how many of the hierarchically ordered topics were included and how many were missed. As compared with the L1 students, the L2 group was found to be "at a huge disadvantage, given the fact that they [did] not adequately record 19% of level 1, 43% of level 2 and 43% of level 3 elements."

What does this mean for those of us teaching international students? Well, a previous study looked at the effect of discourse markers on L2 comprehension of lectures and found that the use of "macro" markers, which signal the lecture's direction and sequencing or significance of information, facilitates greater recall. Thus, Clerehan suggests that signalling the overall structure and interrelationships of elements is important for L2 listeners.

She says:

We may infer from the large number of L2 omissions in the current corpus that many L2 students are missing the rhetorical/logical structure of the discourse. The structure serves to develop the legal arguments, based on the underlying rules of law as they emerge from the findings of the courts (levels 1 and 2). The arguments are driven by the relevant material facts of the cases (level 3) [citation omitted]. For these students, once one element of a sequence in the lecture is missed in the notes, whether it be level 1, 2 or 3, frequently the whole sequence is missed.

To me, this suggests an opportunity to help international students take better notes (and possibly comprehend the material more easily) by signaling the discourse structure and interrelationship of principal elements. Whether verbal or visual, signaling techniques should help L2 students follow and get the point of the lecture.

Clerehan, R. (1995). Taking it down: Notetaking practices of L1 and L2 students. English for Specific Purposes, 14, 137-155.

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