Reasons Some Struggling Students Should Stop Taking Notes

Posted by Erica Warren on

For some students the act of writing notes can help to encode classroom lessons, but for others it can present an obstacle that prevents them from learning the content in the moment.  What should we do with students that have such trouble taking notes that it impedes learning?
note taking accommodations

What Types of Students Should Avoid Taking Notes?

There are those students that are auditory learners, and they often do best when they can listen to the content without the distraction of taking notes. If these auditory learners also have dysgraphia or dyslexia (weaknesses in fine motor dexterity, language processing, and memory), they should be able to receive note-taking accommodations such as a copy of the teacher's or another student's notes. The research suggests that those with dyslexia and dysgraphia often find it difficult to reproduce words accurately when taking notes.  According to the British Dyslexia Association, taking notes is ineffective for these learners and "creates serious difficulties." In addition, Dr. Kirkby, with The Language and Literacy Group at Bournemouth University discovered that many have trouble finding their place on the board after they have looked down at their notebook. Furthermore, when under pressure to write quickly, students with dysgraphia and dyslexia usually have problems copying words accurately. They may mix up words in two separate sentences, misspell words, omit words, or they may combine words they see on the board with the words their teacher is sayin into nonsensical phrases. Even if they do record some legible and readable notes, they probably will require additional instruction.

What Types of Students Require Assistance with Note-taking?

There are a number of students that may find note-taking helpful, but they will likely need assistance due to cognitive processing weaknesses:
  1. Students with slow or labored reading skills
  2. Students with weak spelling skills
  3. Students with executive functioning weaknesses
  4. Students with weak listening or poor attention skills

Technology Has Impacted Note-taking in Both Negative and Positive Ways?

Before the introduction of assistive technology, students once copied notes while the teacher wrote on the blackboard. Now, with the use of devices such as the Smartboard and software like PowerPoint, the words just magically appear. As a result, many teachers lecture while the students are trying to read and write from the projected image. This can be a multitasking nightmare for many, and it can result in confusion, shoddy notes, gaps in knowledge, and frustration.  In contrast, technology has also presented new ways of taking notes with note-taking apps like Notability and OneNote,  spell checkers, and voice to text options such as the Livescribe Smartpens.
executive functioning help

What Can Be Done to Remedy This Problem?

What is most important is for instructors to be flexible and compassionate while considering the following options:
  1. Offer a copy of the teacher's notes or a copy of another student’s notes.
  2. Present a partial copy of the teacher's notes. Be sure to leave space so that students can add their own thoughts and connections.
  3. Allow students to use technology like NotabilityOneNote, and the Livescribe Smartpens which will allows them to type or write digital notes, transfer words into typed text, organize their materials, highlight important content and go back and supplement notes from the recorded lecture.
  4. Post PowerPoint presentations online or make them available as downloads for all students.
  5. Slow down. Make sure that there is plenty of time to copy the notes before the teacher discusses the content.
  6. Continually evaluate the students' note-taking abilities and help them to “fill in the gaps.” 
  7. Give students the time to digest and get involved in the content.
  8. Use other modalities in the learning process to increase engagement such as hands-on activities, discussions, and skits. 
If you have any other thoughts or suggestions, please share them with us by commenting under this blog post.
Cheers, Erica
Dr. Erica Warren is the author, illustrator, and publisher of multisensory educational materials at Good Sensory Learning. She is also the director of Learning to Learn and Learning Specialist Courses.

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