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.
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. If your child has a 504 plan or an IEP, he might be able to get pre-printed notes. These can be copies from classmates or from the teacher.
Keep in mind that if your child get pre-printed notes, he should still take his own notes in class. It can help him stay engaged, and research shows that writing down new information helps students remember it.
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 his school about giving it a trial run. If keyboarding does help, it could possibly be added to a 504 plan or an IEP.
The more your child writes by hand, the faster and clearer his actual note-taking will be. So try to encourage him 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 special education services, you can ask his 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.
If your child’s teacher assigns reading before a class, work with your child to make it a priority. This way he’ll already be familiar with what he’s hearing in a lesson. And that can help keep him from falling behind when he’s trying to process new words and concepts. You can also encourage your child to keep his notebooks organized, pencils sharpened and other materials close at hand so he’s ready to go as soon as the lesson begins.
Even a quick glance will help your child pick out spots where information is missing or his notes are unclear. Chances are he’ll be able to fill in holes when the information is still fresh in his mind. Or, if not, he can ask the teacher in class the next day. That’s why 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.
When your child is just a few feet from his teacher, he’s more likely to pay attention to what she’s saying 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 his processing speed, too.
If your child has a 504 plan or IEP, he 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 your child hears and everything he writes down in class. If any note he took is unclear, he can touch it with his 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.
If your child struggles with math, you might find it tough to keep up with the jargon teachers use. Here are key terms to help you take an active role in conversations about your child’s math issues.
If your child has trouble with writing, sending traditional thank-you cards may feel like a chore to him. Consider these alternatives to written notes. (Kids without writing issues may enjoy these fun options, too.)
Peg Rosen writes for digital and print, including ParentCenter, WebMD, Parents, Good Housekeeping and Martha Stewart.
Ellen Braaten, Ph.D., is the director of the Learning and Emotional Assessment Program at Massachusetts General Hospital.
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