Listening and taking notes: harder than just listening?

I’ve been meaning to write something about this for a couple of weeks months now.

I started doing listening exercises this year in my university reading classes. Students listen to graded reader CDs as a class while taking notes, then talk in groups checking their understanding, and finally write a short summary of what they heard.

So far we’ve been doing short (two three minute) sections of level two reader CDs. These are texts that my students would be able to read easily, but they have trouble following it as audio. I presume this is because most high school students rarely if at all practice listening for more than a single sentence or short dialogue.

The feedback so far has been pretty good, with most students finding the practice interesting, challenging, and useful. They also appreciate the chance to practice listening, speaking, and writing in a short time.

However, there was one thing that came up that really surprised me. Many of the students have mentioned in feedback that they find it much harder to listen and take notes at the same time. I had assumed that taking notes would help them focus, but it seems that for a substantial minority this is not the case.

After receiving this feedback I allowed the students to take notes or not in the following class, and that seems to have solved the problem.

Does anyone have any similar experiences or articles/theories that address this? It was fairly counterintuitive to me, although I guess it makes sense that the increased mental load of having to filter the content to take notes would make it harder to actually process the language…

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