3 Annotation/Note Taking Apps for Learning Disabilities

Individuals with dyslexia, ADHD, learning disabilities, and other special needs may often benefit from using PDF annotation/note taking apps.  Annotating one’s reading is so useful in a myriad of ways and can benefit the reader not only while they read but afterwards as well.

For me, reading textbooks, scholarly articles, and more has always been a challenge.  I have the attention span the size of a sesame seed, so reading dry text was something I never excelled in.  However, in college, I discovered I greatly benefited from writing out the text, highlighting, underlining, defining vocabulary, paraphrasing, (aka “annotating”) when reading, as it made me more active while reading.  However, there were 2 major problems:

  1. I often wasn’t able to write in my rented textbooks.
  2. So I’d write out a majority of the text, which would take hours and hours. Then I would go through and annotate the text IF I had time/energy.  Blah.

Okay, so you may be wondering, “Are you a dinosaur?!  Didn’t you have computers and scanners when you were in college?  Don’t you know you can just scan the text, print it, or mark it up on a computer?”  Those are all fair questions, but well, I didn’t want to ask someone to scan a million pages for me every day…Plus, there were limits on how many pages to print…and I’m sure I could keep coming up with excuses, but let’s just get back to the exciting world of annotations!

Dave Stuart Jr. wrote an interesting article on the importance of annotations and how to make them effective.  In his article he wrote an analogy, “The core idea is that annotation should help the reader during and after reading.  It should serve as the leaving of cyanide-laced breadcrumbs…because breadcrumbs alone get eaten by birds, while cyanide-laced breadcrumbs leave a nicely traceable, bird-covered trail.”

Later on, Dave provides readers with tips on how to write annotations effectively:

  1. First, start with the end in mind.  What is the purpose of reading this text?
    • If purpose for reading is to learn the content:
      • Summarize a sentence or paragraph
      • Paraphrase a sentence or paragraph
      • Circle and define keywords
    • If purpose is to end by responding to a specific prompt:
      • Annotate toward that prompt.  “If you’re being asked to evaluate, make evaluative annotations.  If you’re being asked to analyze, make analytical annotations.”
      • If you or your students aren’t sure how to define “evaluate” or “analyze”, check out this handy dandy A-List: Essential Academic Words by Jim Burke.
  2. Annotate while you read.
    • This may seem unnecessary, but for many individuals (especially with learning disabilities) they’ll find their “eyes read the text but their brains never did.”

For more helpful tips on close reading, annotating and more, check out Harvard University’s article on Interrogating Texts: Six Reading Habits.

Now that you’ve read up on the benefits of annotating and how to do it effectively, etc., let’s dive into some apps that allow us to annotate and better interact with text!

3 Apps for Annotating/Note Taking

1. Explain Everything

Looking for an iPad app to make taking notes easier?  Explain Everything allows you to do just that and much, much more!  According to the app’s description, “If you cannot do it with Explain Everything, it probably cannot be done!”

While using Explain Everything, users can:

  • Animate their thinking
    • Create slides using an infinite canvas, use a laser pointer, draw in any color, add shapes, text, videos, images, audio files
    • Rotate, move, flip, scale, copy, paste and lock any object added to the stage
    • Record everything they do within the app (even yourself while using the front-facing camera) to create high-quality, creative and valuable content for others to learn from
  • Enjoy variety of import and export features
    • If your document is any major format and in the cloud or on device, it can be imported into this app
  • Innovative instructional design
    • “Students can import an existing presentation, draw, and highlight over the top while verbally explaining, and export a movie that encapsulates their understanding much better than mere slides.”
    • Teachers can prepare lessons, tutorials, guides of any kind and upload them as videos to Vimeo or YouTube to share with others
  • To learn more about Explain Everything and how it could benefit you as a student, teacher, parent, etc. click here.

2. Skitch by Evernote

Looking for an app to help move your projects along faster?  The developers of Evernote have also released Skitch, an app where you “Snap. Mark up. Send.”  The idea is to get one’s point across with fewer words using annotation, shapes, and sketches.

While using Skitch, users can:

  • Snap, mark up and send pictures instantly
  • Quickly annotate images from camera roll
  • Add highlights and other annotations to PDFs
  • Examples of how to use Skitch:
    • School:
      • Take a picture of a diagram on a powerpoint or notes on the board and label them in the app!
    • Work:
      • Open a PDF and annotate changes to provide clear feedback.
  • To learn more about Skitch and how it could benefit you as a student, teacher, parent, etc. click here.

3. Notability

Notability is a “powerful, yet wonderfully simple note-taking and PDF annotation.”  With Notability, students, teachers, and professionals are able to take notes, sketch ideas, annotate PDFs, mark up images, record lectures, provide audio feedback and more.

With Notability, users can:

  • Write naturally:
    • Handwrite and sketch with beautiful ink
    • Write smoothly and quickly with zoom-writing
    • Automatic Palm Detection on iPad allows users to write naturally with hand on screen
  • Type anywhere:
    • App features full-featured typing with a wide range of  fonts, sizes, colors
    • Outlines and text boxes help you quickly capture and organize ideas
    • Highlight typed text
  • Import and annotate PDFs
  • Review and give feedback with audio recordings
    • Notes automatically link to recordings, so during playback, you can watch your notes animate along with the recording, or tap them to get to the spot that needs clarifying.
  • Organize and share notes
  • And so much more!
  • To learn more about Notability and how it could benefit you as a student, teacher, parent, etc. click here.

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