How are You More Valuable Than WikiPedia? A Look at #UDL and Taking Notes

Do you remember having to take notes while you were in school? I used to absolutely dread going to ninth grade American History, because I knew that my hand would hurt by the end of Mr. H's 40 minute onslaught of notes. He used to have a giant blackboard that stretched from one side of his room to the other. Like clockwork, he would begin his lecture with a cloud of dust and a flurry of notes. By the end of the period, you were lucky if you could keep up.

In a sense, it was the survival of the fittest. If you were good at copying notes, you were successful. If you weren't good at copying notes, then you would automatically fail. Nothing against Mr. H, but this model of note taking isn't the best for today's diverse classrooms. Think about all of the barriers this type of structure poses. Ironically, he is now an administrator! Go figure! :)

I would like to share how you can provide options for your students, when it comes to note taking.

What is Your Note Taking Philosophy? 

 First of all, how do you have your students take notes? We may say "take notes," but our students may interpret this as write down this entire PowerPoint slide or everything I say. Not all students learn alike; therefore, not all students take notes alike.You may want to consider having your students use guided notes in the beginning of the year and then transition to a less structured format later in the year.

Flexible Options

Most students are fine with taking notes by hand. Providing them with a worksheet is not a huge deal, but think about students who may have terrible handwriting. They may be able to write it now, but then they may not be able to understand it later! Perhaps providing students with the option of writing by hand or using a Word Document may be appropriate. You already have the document saved it won't create too much extra work for you!

Last year, I tried a note taking experiment. I gave my students the option of taking Guided Notes or taking their own notes in a blank Microsoft Word document. I was surprised at the number of students who chose to take their own notes. I asked to collect their electronic notes at the end of the period and was surprised at how well they did.

What About Your Visual Learners? 

A good friend of mine is a very visual learner. In fact, he teaches that way. He uses a variety of mind maps and concept maps to help students make connections with materials. Could this be an option in your classroom? Could this be an activity that you could incorporate to break up the monotony or provide another option for students to take notes?

What if you have a visual student who doesn't feel comfortable drawing or perhaps you have a visual learner with a physical disability? What could you do? Using mind mapping programs like may not be a bad alternative to help your students.

Audio and Notes? 

What about the student who forgot their glasses today or the student with a permanent visual impairment? How do you help these students take notes? Perhaps you may want to think about using the power of the human voice to help these students. There are a variety of programs out there to create Screencasts and Podcasts. Some of my favorite are Screencast-o-maticAudacity, and AudioBoo.

This is not only beneficial to students with visual impairments, but it is very helpful for all students who may need to hear it again. I do this with my Accounting students. We take notes, but I have a 3 - 5 minute recording of what we did in class that day, so that they can review what we talked about.

High-Tech Options - Penultimate for the iPad

Some of your students may just hate taking notes because it's "boring." Perhaps it's not the subject that is boring, but the way students are taking notes. Some of our high-tech students, who want to be engaged in different ways - and our unorganized students, may benefit from Penultimate.

If you are familiar with Evernote, this is a new addition to the Evernote family. This iPad App is free and gives users the ability to hand write their notes into their iPad. Penultimate saves your notes in a notebook separated by topic, category or project. It even has a search feature to help users search quickly navigate through their existing notes!


Why do you have your students take notes? What could they learn in your class that they couldn't find on Wikipedia? Is note taking a classroom management tool or do you really want your students to use them?

I've really thought about how I am going to do this in my classroom. My goal is to provide them with various methods of note taking in August, September, October, and November. By January, I want them to come up with the method that works best for them. We'll see what happens.

I've learned that you have to think about what you want and how you want to get them there. It begins with understanding that our students need different ways of accessing and interacting with the information we are giving them.

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