conferring · record keeping

The Case for Record-Keeping

Ruth and I are putting the finishing touches on the Conferring Section of our book just as I’m starting to work on presentations for two separate school districts about conferring in the Writing Workshop.  Hence, conferring has been on my mind a lot lately!

Wordle: The Point of Conference Records

Record-keeping is always a hot topic when you talk about conferring since most teachers are perpetually looking for the perfect record keeping system.  (I, personally, searched for three years until I came up with the perfect one for me.)  The point of record-keeping helps us keep track of who we meet with so we can look for patterns and make future plans.  Additionally, it helps to know what you complimented a child on in the past, so you don’t continue to compliment little Susie for the same thing week-after-week.

As Ruth and I were chatting about the importance of conferring records the other night, and how it’s hard to find a system that works for every individual, we got onto the subject of how record-keeping systems can be misused.  Sometimes administrators require the use of one record-keeping system so they can go around, look inside of teachers’ conferring notebooks, and see what’s happening with kids.  (After all, it’s easier to do this when everyone’s conferring notes look the same.)  However, mandating one system isn’t good for teachers in that, I believe, it undermines the essence of Workshop (i.e., differentiated) teaching.  When conferring notes are used by anyone other than a teacher, they become something that is kept for show.  This is counter-productive since conferring notes should be something that moves instruction forward.  They shouldn’t be pretty, nor should they look perfect.  (Gosh knows, my conferring notes were often hastily written, in-between students, and were sometimes, I-kid-you-not, written in French!)

The Bottom Line: When you keep conference records for yourself rather than for someone else who mandates how you keep them and what they should say, you’ll notice that they become a useful tool to drive instruction in your classroom.  Find a system that works for you, but don’t be afraid to tweak it.  Finally, do examine your records frequently, to the point at which it becomes a habit, so your conferences truly become the heart of your Workshop.

8 thoughts on “The Case for Record-Keeping

  1. Stacey, you are so right. It backfires on all of us when administration requires one record keeping system from all teachers. I think this happens when the administration has only a surface understanding of the workshop approach to teaching. They want their teachers to have workshop classrooms, but they don’t realize that this requires them to have a workshop approach as well. Like you say, their insistance that the teachers all use the same form undermines the the essence of differentiated instruction.

    Thanks for posting.


  2. I really like the Cafe system by “The Sisters” ( I use one notebook for reading and writing. The calendar piece is useful and is loved by my students. They look forward to our follow-up “appointments.”


  3. Thank you for reminding me that my notes are for me…

    I don’t think our administration is going to require us to go a system of everyone keeping notes the same way, but if they do, I am going to show them this post.

    I love workshop and one of the greatest things is the freedom that it lends each teacher to work and record the way it works for them (and the same way we let students choose their paper, way to plan, and choice of topic). Hmmm… 🙂


  4. The thing I found was that keeping records consistently helped me put the pieces of the puzzle together. Sometimes information in isolation doesn’t mean much, but when you look at notes for a kid across a span of time you suddenly realize…oh! That’s what’s going on.


  5. This is my third year to do WW and I feel like I finally have a way I like to keep records. Your site has been so helpful in that! I too can’t wait for your book!! Thanks ladies!!!!


  6. I am so excited for your book. This is my first time trying out a full-on workshop approach, so I am working through all those details to find a system that works for me in different areas. I have a to-do list to have in place by the start of second quarter (in one more week) in order to make sure that I am more organized with my record keeping and balancing out who I meet with (both groups and individuals) better. I started out the year completely organized with a binder, but realized that it was too cumbersome and that I need to switch back to my clipboard that I used in the past and put the completed forms into the binder once they are filled out for a more permanent storage. I want to get that organized and in place within the next week.


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