Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Time to Take Notes!

Okay, so I get that I tell my teacher why I can’t take notes and then I ask for a notetaker. But what do I say to [peer] when she asks why I’m not taking my own notes?” My eighth-grade student looks at me from across the table, his notecards, history text, and class handouts spread out as we begin to prepare for an upcoming test. Like many students with hearing loss, he is not able to take notes during class lectures despite the fact that his teacher writes key words on the board, paces lectures and class discussions appropriately, maximizes the use of his hearing technology, and provides organized handouts to accompany her lectures. Our one-to-one sessions provide a comfortable, reassuring place for him to practice what he can say. “I can’t listen, lip read, and write all at the same time. When I look down at my paper to write, I miss what [teacher] is saying. And then it’s all confusing and I have to ask her to repeat. That’s why it will be helpful to have your notes. So, you know, I can listen and know what everyone’s talking about,” he rehearses.

In order to help students fully access class lectures and discussions, especially in middle and high school, peer notetakers are a valuable accommodation. Because of the way hearing aids and cochlear implants process sound, students with hearing loss require extra time to listen and make sense of what they hear. Many students also rely on speechreading in addition to their hearing technology, making it nearly impossible to write at the same time. My students have had great success with peer notetakers when there are clear guidelines and when everyone is on the same page. Below are a few tips for setting this up for your students:

  •        Communicate with the teacher(s) and explain the rationale for peer notetaking. Sample notes the student has attempted to take and simulations of hearing loss can be helpful when teachers are resistant. Some teachers initially feel that use of a peer notetaker lets the student with hearing loss, “off the hook,” eliminating any sense of responsibility for that student. It is our job to help teachers understand that peer notetakers allow our students to access instruction more completely rather than simply reducing the workload.

  •        Involve the student.  Role-play with the student and support him or her in meeting with teachers to advocate for peer notetakers. Teachers are often more receptive when students are able to articulate their own needs. Conversations may include the difficulty involved in speechreading while trying to write, the pace of the conversation or lecture, and the likelihood of missing important details of not just content but also information such as safety and instructions in science labs when using chemicals and hazardous materials. 

  •     Support the student in advocating with the peer notetaker. Teachers are often able to identify a peer who would be a good notetaker. This student should be someone who is generally organized, has good attendance, takes clear notes, and is up for the responsibility of supporting the student with hearing loss by sharing notes. Some schools identify a second student as a back up in case the primary notetaker is absent or needs a break. One of my students chose to write a letter to her note taker outlining the specific information she wanted included. Another student chose to have a conversation with her peer with my facilitation. Think about including lecture notes, details of assignments, vocabulary terms, class procedures, rules, and instructions, and peer comments and questions. Many students are just learning how to take notes themselves and may require additional support or supplemental teacher notes.


  •       Decide how the student with hearing loss will get a copy of the notes.  Some students take notes on a computer and email a copy to the student with hearing loss. Others choose to photocopy hand written notes. A popular option is to use our carbonless Note-Writer paper, which provides an instant copy of notes. (Visit to order.) The student with hearing loss will be responsible for getting the notes from the peer notetaker and as the TOD, we can help facilitate this process.

  •        Identify an adult who can monitor the notetaking process. Adults should continue to check in with both students so that any challenges that arise can be addressed with adult facilitation. This way, if there is a problem the students can express their concerns without worrying about hurt feelings or creating tension.

  •        Help the student with hearing loss understand their role in class. Having a peer notetaker does not give our students the green light to check out during class. Many of my students choose to copy key terms from the board as a way of staying involved. Students should still be expected to participate in discussions, ask and answer questions, and clarify as needed.

By checking in regularly with the student, teacher(s), and notetaker, nuances of the process can be addressed and modified as needed in order to create a smooth system that benefits everyone involved.

What other strategies have you used with peer note takers?

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