Assessment Strengthens Writers Blog Series · writing workshop

Record Keeping- Why and How: Assessment Strengthens Writers


We teachers keep all kinds of records and notes- attendance records, records of the books our students read, records about math concepts mastered, and spelling words missed. Yet, many of us struggle to figure out the how and why of record keeping in writing workshop.

If you don’t believe me, Google “record keeping in writing workshop.” Not only will you find posts here on TWT, but you’ll discover Pinterest pages, PDFs and plenty of other blog posts.

Why keep records in writing workshop? Because. It. Matters.

Writing workshops are busy, and at any given time there are many different things happening simultaneously. The truth is, that there is no way we can keep track, in our heads, of the compliments given, teaching points shared, and craft moves tried for each and every student in our class.  The truth is, that until we commit to keeping records, we aren’t going to realize their full potential for strengthening writers. The truth is, we will strengthen writers if we use records to strengthen our teaching.

Assessment should drive instruction. And in our workshops, we are constantly assessing, albeit informally, as we decide who needs what next. If we aren’t keeping good records about what we’re instructing, and how our writers are using what we teach to grow their writing, we will miss opportunities to maximize progress.

Records and conferring notes hold us accountable. They also help us hold our students accountable.

How should we keep records?

Committing to keep records is the first step. Finding a method and rhythm that works for you and your writers, is key.

  • First, decide what you want your records to reflect. At a minimum, keep records about conferences with writers. Keeping records about other things like sharing opportunities offered and taken, and writing partnerships, is also a good idea.
  • Next, decide whether to go digital or stick with paper for conferring records.

Evernote is a great digital option. If you’re new to Evernote in writing workshop, read Cathy Mere’s guest post here on TWT.  

If you choose paper records, consider creating a simple grid or using a form like this:


Using a form like the one above, you will quickly see common needs among your writers, and forming small groups will be easier.

Another  relatively easy option is a teacher-created binder with a blank page for each writer. During the conferring part of your workshop, carry a clipboard with sheets of blank address labels with you. Jot notes from each conference on a label (writer’s name, the date, compliment, teaching point, etc). Later, paste  labels onto the corresponding students’ pages in your binder.  

What do we do with our records? We analyze them to tailor our instruction. The next whole class minilesson, the next individual student conferring session, the next small instructional group- all become more apparent from our records.

Assessment strengthens writers. Record keeping strengthens teaching. Meaningful assessment and targeted instruction lead to maximum learning. Let’s “JUST DO IT.”


To celebrate this series, we will be giving away a copy of Conferring with Young Writers: What to Do When You Don’t Know What to Do.


  • This giveaway is for one copy of Conferring with Young Writers: What to Do When You Don’t Know What to Do by Kristin Ackerman and Jennifer McDonough ( Many thanks to Stenhouse Publishers ( for donating a copy of this book.
  • For a chance to win one copy of Ackerman and McDonough’s Conferring with Young Writers: What to Do When You Don’t Know What to Do (, please leave a reaction to any post in the blog series, including this one, by Sunday, November 6th at 11:59 p.m. ET. Dana Murphy will use a random number generator to pick the winners, whose names she will announce in our blog series’ IN CASE YOU MISSED IT POST on Monday, November 7th.
  • You may leave one comment on every post in our Assessment Strengthens Writers blog series.
  • Please be sure to leave a valid e-mail address when you post your comment, so Dana can contact you to obtain your mailing address if you win. From there, our contact at Stenhouse will ship your book out to you.  (NOTE: Your e-mail address will not be published online if you leave it in the e-mail field only.)
  • If you are the winner of the book, Dana will email you with the subject line of TWO WRITING TEACHERS – CONFERRING WITH YOUNG WRITERS. Please respond to her e-mail with your mailing address within five days of receipt. Unfortunately, a new winner will be chosen if a response isn’t received within five days of the giveaway announcement.


27 thoughts on “Record Keeping- Why and How: Assessment Strengthens Writers

  1. Thanks for these thoughts, Lisa. The notes don’t have to be so onerous that they take on a life of their own, but it’s helpful to have “something” in order to actually look for patterns!


  2. My record-keeping has shifted over time. I used to use a binder with a page for each student, which worked great! Until it didn’t. Our writing time has been shortened and my class size has increased, I felt like I couldn’t get to as many students as I needed to, and I just wasn’t using it.
    So I shifted to a clipboard. Right now I’m using a grid with the standards I’m focusing on during this unit across the top and students down the side. (I have to have data on how students are doing on the standards, so I consolidated it into this form.) Then I have space for observations, compliment, and teaching point off to the right. It’s not perfect, but I’m actually using it, so that’s an improvement. And it does make it easier to see whole-class patterns at a glance!


  3. thanks for the great post. Another method I like is a class list with 3 columns – strengths, goals, next steps/notes. This is nice at secondary, when you see 150 writers each day.


  4. LOVE this! I’ve always shared with teachers how conferring and keeping track of our anecdotal notes help us hold students accountable, but I haven’t thought of how it also holds the teacher accountable.


  5. I like to use big address label sticker sheets. I keep the same information as your sheet above. I write each student’s name on a label and will not put the labels into my data notebook until I’ve seen each student at least once. Sometimes I will see a student two or three times before I finish the whole class, so I just write their name on a blank label. I use the labels to see class trends, and when I put them in the binder I’m able to see student trends. Thanks for all you do. I’m loving this blog!


  6. You have said so many wonderful things in your blog today that I will take back to my teachers. Assessment does drive instruction, but teachers need to make sure the assessments are valid and conferencing IS an assessment. So many feel that an assessment must be paper and pencil. Thank you!


  7. We are working on this very issue this year. It’s hard to guide teachers in choosing a record-keeping system when there are so many out there and really, everyone has to find what works for them – it’s not going to be used if that isn’t the case.


  8. Conferring with writers my professional focus this school year. I am finding it hard to keep track of what I have said and sometimes even harder to think of what to say to my writers. I stop by the blog most mornings or at lunch for “professional” help! Thank you for all the content you have provided in this series and others. I am becoming a better writing teacher with your help and the suggestions and comments made by other readers.


  9. This topic hits so close to home. Hown to keep notes when conferring has been my struggle since I started teaching in the workshop model. Thank you for always providing what is needed to make this work for me. Can’t wait to see what’s coming up next.


  10. I am loving this assessment series! You always write about what I am needing at the moment. I started off using a lesson plan book for my conferring notes (suggested by our TCRWP staff developer in the summer course), but have since created my own so I don’t have to write my students’ names in the boxes each week. I took it to Staples and put a fancy file folder cover on it and they put a binder on it. It’s a great tool!


    1. Conferring with writers is so important for all of the reasons you listed above! I tried for a long time to keep it all in my head, but coming up with a simple system for keeping these records really made a huge difference in my one to one, small group, and mini-lesson instruction. Thanks for the blog!


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