7 ways to help kids with slow processing speed take notes in class

By Peg Rosen

Taking notes on what the teacher is saying is a challenge for lots of kids. But students with slow processing speed may have an especially hard time keeping up. Here are strategies that could help your child with note-taking.

1. Ask for supplementary notes.

Many teachers will email or post slideshows, PowerPoint outlines, and Smart Board notes from lessons. Some may even prepare guided notes, which gives kids a structure to fill in. Kids who have a or an might be able to get pre-printed notes. These can be copies from classmates or from the teacher.

Keep in mind that kids who get pre-printed notes should still take their own notes in class. It can help them stay engaged, and research shows that writing down new information helps students remember it.

2. Consider a keyboard.

For some kids with slow processing speed, using a computer to take class notes is faster and easier than handwriting. For others, the extra equipment can be distracting or unwieldy. Or they may end up typing word for word what the teacher says, rather than taking down information in a way that helps them understand it. So talk with your child and the school about giving it a trial run. If keyboarding does help, it could possibly be added to a 504 plan or an IEP.

3. Have your child practice handwriting — a lot.

The more your kids write by hand, the faster and clearer their actual note-taking will be. So try to encourage your child early (during grade school if you can) and often. Even though cursive isn’t emphasized in many schools now, it’s the fastest way to write. If your child gets services, you can ask the team about supplemental cursive instruction.

Older kids may benefit from using abbreviations, like w/ for with. Ways of taking notes that don’t rely as much on writing, like a mapping method, may help, too.

4. Encourage your child to be prepared for class.

If your child’s teacher assigns reading before a class, work with your child to make it a priority. Being familiar with what they’re hearing in a lesson can help keep kids from falling behind when trying to process new words and concepts. You can also encourage your child to keep notebooks organized, pencils sharpened, and other materials close at hand.

5. Remind your child to review class notes every night.

A nightly review is a much better option than trying to make sense of incomplete notes a few weeks later, when it’s time (or past time) to study for a test. Even a quick glance will help your child pick out spots where information is missing or notes are unclear. It’ll be easier to fill in the missing information the same day. Or your child can ask the teacher in class the next day.

6. Suggest sitting at the front of the class.

Kids who are just a few feet from teacher are more likely to pay attention and participate fully in the class. And more active listening allows students to process information more quickly. Sitting up front also means your child will be less distracted by other kids in class. Being able to stay focused can help improve processing speed, too.

7. Try a smartpen.

Kids who have a 504 plan or an IEP may be allowed to record lectures. But many students don’t have the patience to review hours of talk when they get home. Smartpens, such as Livescribe or Equil, may help. They can capture everything kids hear and write down in class. If any notes they took are unclear, they can touch them with the smartpen and replay what was said at that exact point in the lecture. Some schools may even cover the cost of a smartpen if it’s part of a 504 plan or an IEP.

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    About the author

    About the author

    Peg Rosen writes for digital and print, including

    Reviewed by

    Reviewed by

    Ellen Braaten, PhD is the director of LEAP at Massachusetts General Hospital.