Tuesday, April 9, 2024

This blog post is part of our Accommodations for Students With Language-Based Learning Disabilities series. Children with disabilities have the right to the specially designed instruction and individualized services and supports they need to benefit from public education, as per the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). Accommodations are often a part of the supports that allow students to learn the same material as their peers in the way that works best for them.

This post provides examples of note-taking accommodations that can benefit students with language-based learning disabilities or any student who struggles with note-taking in the classroom. Research has found that taking notes in class positively impacts student learning, increasing students’ ability to comprehend lecture information (Faber, Morris, & Lieberman, 2000). Still, note-taking is a complex task. Students must listen to new and often unfamiliar information, transcribe the information at the pace it is delivered, and make decisions about how to organize the information as it unfolds over time. Students with disabilities have been shown to take less complete notes than students without disabilities, which can negatively impact their classroom performance (Boyle & Forchelli, 2014). Note-taking accommodations can allow struggling students and those with language-based learning disabilities to take more complete notes and reap the benefits associated with taking notes. 

Provide Guided Notes

Requiring students with impairments in written language to write out notes while lectures are taking place can lead to significant gaps in knowledge (Boyle, 2010). To accommodate for this, educators can use guided notes. Guided notes are teacher-prepared handouts that outline the lecture’s key points, leaving blank spaces for students to record further information or examples. Studies have shown that guided notes positively affect student learning, note-taking accuracy, and assessment performance (Boyle & Rivera, 2012; Konrad et al., 2009). See some examples of what guided notes can look like with this slideshow from Modern Classrooms Project or with our reading graphic organizers.

Allow for Flexibility

It is important to keep in mind that students can greatly benefit from explicit instruction on note-taking styles and strategies (Boyle, 2013). Once students have learned how to take effective notes, they should be given the autonomy to use the note-taking process that is most effective for them. Some students might find success in using the popular “Cornell Method,” and others might prefer making “‘mind maps.” Note-taking methods need to be well suited to whomever is taking, and must subsequently understand, the notes. Keep in mind the complexity involved in taking notes. The activity depends on multiple simultaneous cognitive processes: comprehending the lecture, identifying key points, connecting ideas, paraphrasing information, and writing. If one or more of these processes is difficult for a student, they can choose a note-taking method that accommodates for that (Jansen et al., 2017; Piolat et al., 2004).

For example, not all people comprehend material most effectively through printed words. Some students may not benefit from note-taking if they are expected to write their notes by hand or read their notes to review. These students may benefit more from notes if they are empowered to create visual notes, such as concept maps, pictures, and diagrams, that make sense to them (Nesbit & Adesope, 2006). For example, if the class is learning about the states of matter, students might draw examples of each state of matter in their notes or create a concept map to visually represent how matter can change from one state to another. Overall, the focus of notes should not necessarily be on how they are taken, but rather, on how effectively they can be used. If students see notes as just one more assignment to complete, they may fail to see any value in creating effective note-taking strategies for themselves. The ultimate goal should be to build independence with the note-taking process for higher education and careers.

Incorporate Assistive Technology

Another accommodation that can allow students to take more complete notes is the use of assistive technology (AT). This includes devices, software, or equipment purposefully chosen to help children with disabilities complete academic and everyday tasks (Svensson et al., 2021). Common examples include text-to-speech and text prediction software. Reading, writing, organization, note-taking, sentence structure, math, and more can be supported with technology. 

There are several technologies that can assist note-taking. For example, typing notes on a computer keyboard can alleviate the difficulties some students experience with writing by hand. For students with dysgraphia, a learning disability that affects the ability to write by hand, typing and word prediction applications can lead to more complete note-taking. In addition, students who struggle to take notes at the pace of the lecture may benefit from using note-taking technologies that record audio. Note-taking applications, such as Note Plus and AudioNote, allow students to record lecture audio while taking notes. Smart pens, such as Livescribe, sync written notes with audio recording, allowing students to tap on any part of their written notes to hear playback of what was recorded at that time. Assistive technologies like these can allow students to take more complete notes, which, in turn, improves their comprehension (Boyle & Joyce, 2019).

To find the technology that best assists each student's needs, an AT consultation is highly recommended. This is an informative session that considers the student's specific needs and explores technological resources for the student. The IRRC offers free consult appointments for families, both in-person and virtually. Visit our website to learn more. 

Note: AT is not intended to be a replacement for explicit instruction in foundational reading and writing skills. It is most useful when the purpose of a task is to learn content-specific information rather than to practice specific skills. To learn more about responsibly incorporating AT into instruction, read this blog post by Dr. Deborah Reed.

Eliminate Far-Point Copying 

Copying text from the board, or far-point copying, is a complex skill that is commonly taken for granted. Far-point copying relies heavily on phonological and morphological skills that have been learned and can be executed with automaticity. For students with dyslexia, far-point copying can be an extremely difficult skill to execute quickly and accurately (Blampain et al., 2020). 

Therefore, students can benefit from receiving copies of anything requiring copying from the board, such as daily tasks, homework assignments, and study guide material. If providing a printed copy is not feasible, students should be allowed to use technology to take photos or videos of the presented content. Students who actively use assistive technology can benefit from receiving digital copies of presented content, more accurately emulating a professional environment and reinforcing skills that will be utilized in the future.

As we encourage students to use technology to its fullest capacity, we also encourage educators to do the same. Technologies such as digital, interactive whiteboards (e.g., SMART boards or Smartboards) offer a quick and easy way for teachers to print notes from the board, thereby eliminating far-point copying for students.

Taking notes in the classroom is an important activity that can benefit students’ comprehension of classroom concepts, but many students require accommodations in order to realize those benefits. By offering flexible note-taking options and assistive technologies, you can ensure that each of your students is equipped with the materials that best facilitate their learning.  


Blampain, E., Gosse, C. & Van Reybroeck, M. (2020). Copying skills in children with and without dyslexia. Reading and Writing34, 859–885. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11145-020-10094-6

Boyle, J. R. (2010). Note-taking skills of middle school Students with and without learning disabilities. Journal of Learning Disabilities43(6), 530-540. https://doi.org/10.1177/0022219410371679

Boyle, J. R. (2013). Strategic note-taking for inclusive middle school science classrooms. Remedial and Special Education34(2), 78-90. https://doi.org/10.1177/0741932511410862

Boyle, J. R. & Forchelli, Gina. (2014). Differences in the note-taking skills of students with high achievement, average achievement, and learning disabilities. Learning and Individual Differences35, 9-14. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.lindif.2014.06.002

Boyle, J. R., & Joyce, R. L. (2019). Smartpen technology for note taking in inclusive English/language art classes. Reading & Writing Quarterly35(6), 525–538. https://doi.org/10.1080/10573569.2019.1579130 

Boyle, J. R., & Rivera, T. Z. (2012). Note-taking techniques for students with disabilities: A systematic review of the research. Learning Disability Quarterly35(3), 131-143. https://doi.org/10.1177/0731948711435794  

Faber, J. E., Morris, J. D., & Lieberman, M. G. (2000). The effect of note taking on ninth grade students’ comprehension. Reading Psychology21, 257-270. https://doi.org/10.1080/02702710050144377

Jansen, R. S., Lakens, D. & IJsselsteijn, W. A. (2017). An integrative review of the cognitive costs and benefits of note-taking. Educational Research Review22, 223-233. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.edurev.2017.10.001

Konrad, M., Joseph, L. M., & Eveleigh, E. (2009). A meta-analytic review of guided notes. Education and Treatment of Children32(3), 421–444. http://www.jstor.org/stable/42900031

Nesbit, J. C., & Adesope, O. O. (2006). Learning with concept and knowledge maps: A meta-analysis. Review of Educational Research76(3), 413-448. https://doi.org/10.3102/00346543076003413

Piolat, A., Kellogg, R., & Thierry, O. (2004). Cognitive effort during note taking. Applied Cognitive Psychology19(3), 291-312. https://doi.org/10.1002/acp.1086  

Svensson, I., Nordström, T., Lindeblad, E., Gustafson, S., Björn, M., Sand, C., Almgren/Bäck, G., & Nilsson, S. (2021). Effects of assistive technology for students with reading and writing disabilities. Disability and Rehabilitation: Assistive Technology16, 196–208. https://doi.org/10.1080/17483107.2019.1646821