Photo Credit: Rifka Schonfeld

Mrs. Rosen was going over the day’s math problems in room 405.

“Ok, if we are talking about multiplication, just like in addition, the communicative property applies. That means if we see a problem that says, two times four, it is the same as four times two. It doesn’t matter what order we write the numbers in, the result is always the same.”

Mrs. Rosen then wrote a few examples on the board under the heading

Communicative Property

4×2 = 2×4

3×12 = 12×3

52×35 = 35×52

Most of the children in the class were taking notes; some copying just what Mrs. Rosen wrote on the board. Others were writing down what Mrs. Rosen wrote and several key words. And still others seemed to be struggling to put anything on paper at all. They would probably just get someone’s notes before the big test.

In this article, I will discuss why some students struggle with notes, why they are important, and some techniques for successful note taking.

#### Potential Pitfalls for Note Taking

A lot of people have heard about dyslexia, a learning disability that concerns reading. A parallel learning disability that deals with writing is dysgraphia. Children who have dysgraphia have trouble spelling, going from thinking to writing, and poor handwriting. This is in contrast to their generally high reading ability and age-appropriate critical thinking skills. While dysgraphia is apparent when children write, it is a learning disability because it involves a break between sophisticated thought processes and transferring that information onto paper.

Children who have dysgraphia will have trouble taking notes because they might have a tight, awkward pencil grip and body position, as well as illegible handwriting, and will tire quickly when writing. In addition, because the task seems so hard, they will leave out words from sentences and have trouble organizing their thoughts on paper.

Auditory Processing Disorder (APD) is another reason why children might have trouble taking notes. Dr. Thierry Morlet of KidsHealth explains that children who suffer from APD cannot process information they hear in the same way as others because there is a disconnect between their brains and their ears (in the same way that dysgraphia includes a disconnect between children’s brain and their hands). He clarifies, “Kids with APD often do not recognize subtle differences between sounds in words, even when the sounds are loud and clear enough to be heard. These kinds of problems usually occur in background noise, which is a natural listening environment. So kids with APD have the basic difficulty of understanding any speech signal presented under less than optimal conditions.”

Therefore, students in Mrs. Rosen’s class listening to her talk about the communicative property might hear “two times four equals four times two” as “two and four as well as four and you.” Auditory processing issues will inevitably create problems when a child is trying to understand the concept being taught in the classroom and translate it into written notes.

Why Take Notes?

Many students think they can just copy their friend’s notes before a test, but in reality, taking your own notes is part of the learning process. Here are some benefits to taking notes in class:

• Attention. When you take notes it means you are paying attention. Learning material once makes it easier to study it later. If you are taking your own notes, you are forced to pay attention in order to glean the important information being presented.
• Deciding on high priority. Choosing what to write down helps you select the important information the teacher is presenting. This will help guide you in your later studying.
• Easier recall. Your personal notes are easier to remember than a textbook or a classmate’s notes. They contain markers for you that will trigger important facts.
• Twice reading. Writing notes utilizes a different area of your brain than simply reading them. Some people even say that writing things down helps you recall information twice as well as if you just read it!

#### Successful Note Taking for all Students

I have compiled some helpful tools for students with or without learning disabilities.

• Graphic organizers. These are visual aids that can help students succinctly and quickly write down information. Some graphic organizers are simply two columns, while others are more complex. There are different types of organizers available depending on the subject area and grade level.
• Webbing. This is a great technique for children who are more visual in their learning styles. To use this strategy, students first draw a circle in the center of their page. Inside that circle, they write the main topic of that day’s class. They then draw a line branching out of the center circle which is a sub-section of the main idea. This continues until the teacher has finished with that section or main idea. It is also possible to print pre-made webs so that students with dysgraphia will not have to draw the circles.
• Trade notes. While is important to take your own notes, it can also be beneficial for a child with a processing disorder to have a note “partner.” This way, they both can learn from what the other person picked up in class.
• Use a word processor. If your child is really struggling with writing, you should not just let it go. Knowing how to physically write is an essential skill. However, if your child will benefit by taking notes on a word processor or computer, consider talking to the school about how you can make that happen. Then, work on handwriting privately.

Active note taking ensures that children are engaged and learning. Everyone can do it – it’s just a matter of figuring out how!