The unsung heroes - Telethon Speech & Hearing

The unsung heroes

Despite steady advancements in technology and the way in which teaching material is presented in the modern classroom setting, some students living with disability require extra assistance to ensure they receive the same level of education as their peers.

Students with hearing loss, in particular, often struggle to keep pace with the lesson as, unlike their hearing classmates, they need to access auditory information through their eyes – by focusing on the speaker or reading the real-time captions. On top of that, obtaining information visually for large stretches of time takes an enormous amount of concentration and can be exhausting.

Enter the note taker. Armed with a selection of monochromatic ball-point pens, college-lined notepads and retractable highlighters, these of Telethon Speech & Hearing’s Outpost program. Their work, generally from a quiet corner of the classroom, supplements that of the Teachers of the Deaf and gives our hearing-impaired students the freedom to focus all their attention on the teacher.

The Outpost program supports children with hearing loss to fully access the same educational and social engagement opportunities as their peers, offering comprehensive in-school support across primary and secondary partner schools in the metropolitan area.

Telethon Speech and Hearing currently has 14 note takers, some of whom are also Teachers of the Deaf or Education Assistants. We spoke with TSH Teacher of the Deaf and note-taking extraordinaire Rachael Scott about what it takes to be a note-taker in the Outpost program.

What goes into your role as a note taker? Please describe how the process works.
Rachael: Each note-taker attends the classes with the Outpost student, positioning themselves at the back or side of the room. The note-taker does not engage with the class unless requested and will copy down all written information in the notes to be presented to the student. Note-takers may also write down any verbal questions and answers given in class and highlight all new vocabulary for the lesson.

At the completion of the lesson the note-taker will deliver the notes to the student via a pre-arranged format, which is devised by the Teacher of the Deaf, the student and their family. This may be in the form of a hard copy handed straight to the student at the end of each lesson, a scanned electronic copy being sent to the student, or a collection of hard copy notes from the Teacher of the Deaf once a week. The role of the note-taker is not to make any value judgments in their notes, but to record the information as it is presented by the class teacher.

How does your taking of notes assist the student with a hearing loss?
The completion of notes by the Note-taker allows the hearing-impaired student to maintain their focus on the speaker at all times, which increases their capacity to follow conversations and reduce the need to look down at their page and potentially miss vital information.

The provision of notes also helps to reduce listening fatigue and cognitive load for the student. It is important to note that the student has a responsibility to also complete their own notes in-class. Students use the TSH notes to assist them when completing assignments, preparing for tests and assessments and during their Teacher of the Deaf sessions, when content needs to be learned/clarified.

How much preparation is there before each class?
Each note-taker ensures that they have ruled paper, stationery, a student timetable, school map and any relevant handouts before each lesson they will be note-taking in. If required, the Teacher of the Deaf will also highlight key information that may be covered in a lesson that the Note-taker will then ensure detailed information has been recorded.

Is it important to understand the preferences of the student you are assisting so that you can customise your notetaking? Or do they work according to your style?
TSH has developed a set of guidelines and training protocols for all note-takers that is implemented across all Outpost units in a uniform manner – this includes setting out, key information to be included, and delivery of notes. Individual note-takers may choose colour preferences when writing the notes and students may request certain stylistic elements in conjunction with the Teacher of the Deaf, for example all new vocabulary is written in red pen.

How has the note-taking process changed over the years?
Previously, note-takers worked more within the capacity as Education Assistants in the classroom and wrote any notes taken according to their own personal style. It was not uniform across all Outposts.

How do you ensure you are able to capture a complete picture of what has happened in the classroom?
In addition to writing notes on our own pre-ruled paper, note-takers may request a copy of any handouts given in-class and record information on them to hand to the student with their notes. In the classes where a lot of written information needs to be recorded, the note-taker may write key points down and take photos of whiteboard/written material to send to the students with the notes (student may also be allowed/encouraged to do the same). Strong literacy skills are a must as the pace in class can be quite fast and the language complex, particularly in the ATAR subjects.

Do you share your notes with other students, or just those with hearing loss?
Legally, the notes produced by the TSH note-taker belong to the student and the families. However, the host school and Allied Health Support Staff may request to access copies of the notes, which is then up to the discretion of the student/family to decide if sharing will occur.

Are you evaluated on your notetaking?
Following the recent implementation of note-taker roles/responsibilities protocol, all note-takers and their notes are now evaluated a minimum of twice a year. All note-takers must also complete the TSH note-taker training.

What are 5 everyday keys to good note-taking that students and parents can put into practice?

  1. Include a heading and date on each page – and number each page for future reference
  2. Include a separate section for recording new vocabulary to assist in studying content.
  3. Leave white space around your writing so it is easier to read back over – don’t visually clutter the page. It is preferable to write on only one side of a piece of paper.
  4. Underline or use a box for each new heading – this makes it easier to read back over notes to find key information.
  5. Include diagrams where relevant and label them clearly.Bonus tip: Highlighters are your friend. Use them wisely and develop your own code for different colours. For example, vocabulary that will be in the test = blue; words I don’t know the meaning of = yellow.


About Rachael
After being the only Western Australian graduate Teacher of the Deaf, Rachael began working in the Outpost and Pre-primary programs for TSH in 1995.

Since then, Rachael has worked in Language Development Centres, as an Art Technician and relief Art Teacher at All Saints College, lectured for an RTO and has run her own Art Therapy practice.

In 2014 she returned to TSH to take on a note-taker/Teacher of the Deaf role at the Aquinas Outpost Unit, where she is currently working with students from Kindy to Year 12.