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Digital Conferring Notebook

A Note from Stacey:  A little over a year ago Amy Platt, who is a sixth grade teacher at Melissa Ridge Intermediate School in Melissa, Texas, contacted me with a question about something I had written in Day by Day.  One thing led to another and we landed up writing back and forth about conferring.   I asked her if she knew of any quality apps for writing conferences since I was looking for one to recommend, but couldn’t find anything that I liked.  She began telling me about the work she and a colleague were doing to implement digital conferring notebooks in their reading and writing workshops.  I was intrigued and asked if she’d be kind enough to share her thinking about creating digital conferring notebooks with our community.  Sure enough, as Amy’s thinking has evolved, she has documented the evolution of her digital notebooks in the post she shares today.  There are seven images below, which should help you get a visual about exactly what she’s talking about.

Amy doesn’t have a blog for you to check out, but she will be monitoring this blog post.  Therefore, please leave any questions or ideas you have for her by leaving a comment at the end of this post.

Weary of lugging around my monstrous conferring notebook and my status of the class clipboard, I created a digital conferring notebook.  It combines the reading workshop and writing workshop status of the class checklists and conferring notebooks in a digital format.

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Using Microsoft Excel, I created a spreadsheet that mirrored a status of the class grid, modeled after Nancie Atwell’s.  To allow enough room for comments, I found it worked best to have the students’ names across the top, and the dates and comment spaces down the left.  On the first row, aligned with the date, I enter the  book titles and page numbers my students read in class.  The row below is for any standard comments I need to make.  I created a drop-down menu using data validation so they are quicker to enter.  A third row allows space for any additional or free-form comments.  I formatted the two comment rows to be in red, italicized font to differentiate them  from the other information I enter.

Click on this image to enlarge.

I locked the top row and the left column with the freeze panes feature so that even as I scroll down, I can still see the students’ names, and as I scroll right I can still view the dates.  I created additional spreadsheets within the workbook for each class I teach during the day.

Each week, I add the next week’s dates to the bottom of the chart, using copy and paste, so the current week is always at the bottom of the spreadsheet.  I can scroll all the way back in the school year or scroll across from student to student.

Click on this image to enlarge.

I added a hyperlink to each student’s name, so that clicking on the student’s name will take me to his/her conference notes and goal-setting forms.  My conference notes took on more structure after reading Patrick Allen’s book Conferring: The Keystone of Reading Workshop, and I formatted my conference notes using his RIP model. I cut and paste blank conference forms to the bottom of the document as I need them during the year.

Click on this image to enlarge.

After Daily 5 and CAFÉ training with The Sisters, I added a meeting calendar for each class.

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When my school district started using the Fountas and Pinnell assessments, my colleague converted the PDFs of the recording sheets to Microsoft Word, and I linked those to the status of the class spreadsheets.  I can click on the large red FnP icon at the top of each student’s column to see his/her most recent Fountas and Pinnell assessment.

Click on this image to enlarge.
Click on this image to enlarge.

For writing, the layout is the same, but I document the working titles of their pieces and where they are in the writing process (prewriting, drafting, revising, editing, and publishing).  The stages of the writing process are in drop down menus, and the conference notes row allows short comments.  For longer notes, I can click on the students’ names which are hyperlinked to conference notes pages.

I like that my digital conferring notebook can be backed up and saved multiple places so that I don’t have to worry about losing it.  It is virtually unlimited as far as how much I want to add and link, and I can print reports for an entire class or an individual student.  New reading and writing ideas can be easily integrated into my digital Conferring Notebook.

For the last few years, my school district has provided me with a Toshiba Tablet which works as a laptop computer, but the screen can swivel and fold down flat, allowing me to enter notes with a stylus and take it with me as I move around the classroom and confer with readers and writers.

I am currently looking into a way I can access my digital conferring notebook with an iPad because it is smaller and more lightweight than my Tablet computer.  Doceri Desktop is an app which allows the iPad to mirror your computer.  I would still have my files stored on my computer, but would be able to use Doceri Desktop as I move about the room and confer with my students.  I am excited about the possibilities with our ever-changing technology!

12 thoughts on “Digital Conferring Notebook Leave a comment

  1. Is there any way for you to provide a google docs link to the notebook template? I would love to create something like this but I’m not too good with excel and would need to see the pages in more detail.

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  2. Thanks for sharing! I use the confer app with my ipad, & love it! Would love to see how what amy is doing could somehow be immersed with the confer app, like how you could link up to the assessments. My district is a TC school, so we use Lucy’s assessments, very similar to Fountas assessments, would love to have them web based so I could get them whenever & wherever. This post has my wheels turning! Thanks so much amy for your generosity in sharing all your thinking! I am off now to go play with my confer app!

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  3. Thank you, Stacey, for thinking highly enough of my ideas to want to post them on your blog. I am truly honored.

    @Chris: I have seen the Confer app and love all the capabilities it features. If it had a Status of the Class feature or a way to link the two, I think it would be perfect for what I need in my classroom. The developer’s website doesn’t have any contact information and says a new website is coming soon. Maybe he would have a way to add that feature to his app. Definitely worth looking into!

    @Diana & Kevin: I, too, have played around with Google Docs. I had to redo some things for the hyperlinks and drop-down menus to still work, but was able to eventually convert it. I just ran into problems looking at the mobile version on an iPad. The desktop version worked better, but then inputting data with the iPad screen keyboard and scrolling through the document was much slower and more difficult to do. My technology coordinator suggested trying it out with some other browsers instead. Then he showed me Doceri Desktop. But I do like the idea of having it web-based if possible (except when the server goes down! Ha!) And I love Live Binders, but had never thought of it with my conferring notebook. You have got me thinking!

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  4. I’ve played around with setting up conference notes in Google Docs, but I think I don’t know enough about how to format everything to make it useful. These look fabulous. I’ll definitely have to keep tinkering and see if I can figure out something that works for me. I’d love to be able to share conference notes with my colleagues without having to trade forms from my notebook back and forth!

    The downside would be that my laptop is way heavier than my notebook. But I think it would be worth it to be able to access all notes about a student in one place.

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  5. First, I want to formally thank Amy for the time she put into this incredible blog post. I’m so glad she shared her process with us in this forum.

    @Chris: I just purchased the Confer app for my iPhone. I am looking forward to trying it out in advance of a presentation I’m giving about conferring in writing workshop next week. Thanks for the suggestion.

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  6. I have just started using the CONFER app on my iPad in the last two weeks. I LOVE it…I can carry my iPad around with me, make quick comments in all subject areas, make groups, flag kids for various reasons, and send conference notes off to my teaching partner via email attachment and she can see all of the conferring I did with kids on the days she was not in the classroom.
    I am finding I write more and love the less clutter on my desk, and visibility of my work with the kids at home with me. It really is an amazing tool with which to work to record conferring notes…and like I said, I’m pretty new at using it. It is $15.00, but so far worth every penny! Check it out.

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  7. I’ll have to spend more time with the ideas here, and wonder if Google Docs (or some online doc site) might also be a possibility. That might help with your question of how to shift platforms and concerns about backing up files (in anticipation of computer crash possibilities). It does seem like someone should get to work on an app that does this, and more.
    I keep spreadsheets for our F/P data, too, but I often feel like I have too many systems. One central location, via one central interface, would be idea.
    Kevin

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  8. WOW! This is incredible! I have been working on making something of my own to use on my Droid – I like to have something small to carry around. I think this is a brilliant way of synthesizing multiple ideas and approaches in a way that makes sense. Thank you so much for sharing this, Amy!

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