The University Record, April 23, 1996


'Guided notes' increase test scores for learning-disabled students

First-year student Harry Pianko and junior Andy Lincoln display their note-taking skills during Prof. Alan Deardorf's economics lecture. For learning-disabled students, it's not that easy.

Photo by Bob Kalmbach


By Randy Frank

Note taking is a necessary skill for success in middle school, high school and college, but it's a skill that many students have not mastered.

For students with learning disabilities, the lack of note-taking skills is particularly severe. Many students with learning disabilities who are mainstreamed in regular classes miss more than 50 percent of the main ideas in lectures, according to Belinda Lazarus, associate professor of special education. These students often lack the comprehension, motor and sustained-attention skills to take effective notes or to study them. As a result, they perform poorly on exams.

Lazarus, however, has worked to bridge the gap for learning-disabled students who have difficulty taking effective notes by creating guided notes, or flexible "skeleton" outlines, that enable these students to participate fully in classroom lectures, discussions and reviews.

"Teachers expect students to take good notes, yet not much time is spent teaching note-taking skills," Lazarus says. "Note taking is a low-tech, low-cost strategy that's a convenient way to summarize large volumes of information. Guided notes facilitate note taking for students with learning disabilities."

Although her work is targeted toward students with learning disabilities, Lazarus has found that all students benefit from the help of guided notes.

She found that classmates of learning-disabled students improved their average test scores when guided notes were distributed to the entire class.

Guided notes contain the main ideas and the related concepts of lectures as well as blank spaces for students to fill in during lectures. Key terms, phrases and definitions also may be included in the guided notes.

Depending on the skills of learning-disabled students and the subject matter, the amount and type of information included in the guided notes can vary, Lazarus says. Guided notes often are derived from a teacher's lecture notes.

Although teachers may spend more time developing guided notes for a course, the modification of existing notes take little time, and the results pay off, Lazarus says.

Studies have shown that students who record and review personal lecture notes score higher on tests than students who only listen to lectures or read textbooks, but learning-disabled students still scored poorly on tests---as low as 20 to 30 percent correct on exams---in one study, according to Lazarus.

However, when learning-disabled students used guided notes, their exam scores rose to almost 70 percent correct.

"Although that was a vast improvement, 70 percent is still a mediocre score," Lazarus says. "But when guided notes are used with a 10-minute review, learning disabled students scored in the 80s and 90s, mirroring the regular students' test scores."

The reviews also benefit teachers. When five- or 10-minute reviews are held at the end of class periods, teachers can evaluate randomly selected students' guided notes and provide feedback, she says.

Another advantage of using guided notes is flexibility. Teachers may choose from a variety of note-taking formats. However, once a format is chosen, it should remain consistent and correspond with the structure of the lecture, she add ed.

What distinguishes guided notes from other note-taking methods is that students have plenty of opportunities to respond to the material.

For example, a teacher may show completed guided notes on an overhead projector. By covering the transparency and revealing each related phrase as it is discussed, teachers give students access to accurate information in a way that helps them keep their place, according to Lazarus, who has advised Dearborn Public School teachers regarding guided notes.

"It enhances my teaching and from the comments I've received from students and teachers, guided notes enhance their teaching skills too," she says.

Dearborn Fordson High School teacher Jill Matthews concurs. "Guided notes are great. Students who aren't able to take notes and listen simultaneously can benefit from lectures, because they can absorb more information," Matthews says.