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This is the year I’m going to keep better records.

August 2018 Blog Series and Twitter ChatI craved chocolate chip cookies, eight summers ago, when I was pregnant with my daughter. Despite needing compression stockings to quell the swelling in my legs, I had no qualms about standing in the kitchen to bake chocolate chip cookies from scratch. I was very pregnant and willing to try many recipes in the search of the perfect cookie. After tasting what I thought would be the best cookie yet, I was happy for a while, but after eating several cookies, I typically had a complaint. Some recipes were too crunchy while others were too greasy. Therefore, I’d try to figure out what to change (e.g., a different ratio of brown sugar to white sugar, softened butter instead of melted butter) and bake another batch.

Besides finding the perfect chocolate chip cookie recipe, there are a handful of things I’ve become obsessively passionate about getting right. One of the other things I’ve tried to perfect are my conferring records. In fact, I’ve obsessed over record-keeping forms even more than chocolate chip cookie recipes. When it came to record-keeping forms, everything I tried worked for a while for the purpose of organization and documentation, but the information wasn’t truly driving my instruction.

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Click on the image to enlarge.

Why does record-keeping matter?

Record-keeping can seem challenging. But, like anything else, it’s important to think about why we keep records. Record-keeping helps you distribute your time equitably amongst your students. It allows you to see the tracks of your teaching. Record-keeping helps you monitor student growth. It also helps with goal-setting.  Finally, keeping records of conferences and strategy lessons allows you to determine the next steps with each student, small groups, or the whole class.

Regardless of what kind of record-keeping form you use, it’s helpful to jot down notes in the moment, rather than waiting until the end of the school day. I suggest teachers take notes when their students are actively involved in trying out the strategy you taught them or in-between writing conferences. Writing notes when you’re in the moment allows your record-keeping to be accurate and detailed.

Now that we’ve established that record keeping matters, I want to share my record-keeping journey with you (complete with a variety of forms you can download at the end of this post).

Timeline - Conferring Notes

Class-at-a-Glance Grids

I started obsessing over my conferring record keeping sheets when I was a fifth-grade teacher in Manhattan. I tried using a class conferring manifest, which is a single sheet of paper that has all of the students’ names, dates you conferred with them, and the teaching point you delivered on one sheet of paper. Thing is, I taught 26 – 32 fifth graders so I couldn’t fit all of my students on one sheet of 8.5” x 11” paper! Therefore, I had to keep two sheets of paper on my clipboard, which meant I couldn’t glance at the manifest quickly. In addition, the manifest didn’t feel detailed enough for me since I couldn’t keep track of the compliments I gave to my students when I met with them.

Three-Column Notes

Next, I created sections for each student in a spiral notebook that allowed me to track my observations and teaching points or the compliments and teaching points I delivered every time I met with a student. I used stick-on tabs to separate each child’s section, which was four back-and-front pages, from the next. I used a sheets like these on and off for a few years. What I didn’t know then, that I understand now, is that these pages were too sparse for me.

Carbonless Notebooks

I went through a period where I used this same three-column system, but housed it in a carbonless notebook so my students could have a “carbon copy” of my conferring notes. (They housed their carbonless copy in their writing folder.) Eventually, this system became cumbersome since there were always a handful of students who misplaced their carbonless copy. Once I learned about the idea of leaving behind a tangible artifact for students at the end of a writing conference, my carbonless notebook became obsolete. Another idea, which I learned about recently from Melanie Meehan, are conference cards, which can be a useful tool for a teacher as s/he has a conference and for the student to recall what s/he discussed in the writing conference after the teacher has departed.

Forms for Three-Ring Binders

After studying with Lucy Calkins and Carl Anderson in the summer of 2008, I realized my conference record keeping forms needed a massive reboot. I bounced around a lot that year, going back and forth between my old three-column chart and using a three-ring binder to house a variety of record-keeping sheets in every student’s section that captured more information (e.g., next steps, mentor texts).  

I took a week-long course in Assessment-Based Writing Instruction with Carl Anderson at the 2011 TCRWP Summer Writing Institute. After studying with Carl, I realized conferring record-keeping sheets should have a space for students’ writing goals so they can be kept top-of-mind. Therefore, I updated one of my three-ring binder forms so it had space for each student’s name, his/her writing goals, and then ample space to record a compliment, teaching point, and future teaching plans. Finally, after seven years of tinkering with record-keeping forms, I finally felt like I got a record-keeping sheet right.

Digital Records

In early 2013, my PLN was a buzz about Evernote. (I purchased a premium subscription that same summer and have allowed Evernote to transform my life by digitizing all of the paper that used to surround me.) Cathy Mere shared her expertise for using Evernote to keep digital conferring records in a December 2013 guest blog post here on TWT. Once I read her post, I decided digital conferring notes would be a smarter way to go for me since I see kids in different schools due to the nature of my life as a literacy consultant. Having paper records just doesn’t make sense for me at this point in my career.

Initially, I created templates for 1:1 conferences and strategy lessons on Kustomnote. However, when Kustomnote was bought out by Transpose, I started keeping more simplified notes in Evernote. This was ineffective since I often forgot to write down key information. Eventually, I came across an Evernote how-to about creating templates. Therefore, once I created conferring and strategy lesson templates, all I have to do when I want to use a template from my template library notebook, is to right-click and choose “copy to notebook” from the pop-up menu. Then, I select the notebook I want to copy a template into and I’m ready to keep my records.

What’s great about Evernote (BTW: I don’t work for Evernote. Simply put, I love their product!) is that you can take photos of student work to embed in each student’s note file. Also, you can record audio clips of your conferences or strategy lessons and place them in your notes. Not only will this help you hold onto what students are working on, but your digital conferring notes can make parent-teacher conferences come alive since parents will get to see and hear their students in action.

Why did I take you on this journey?
I could’ve written this post and included links to a variety of record-keeping forms (You’ll find links to all of the above-mentioned forms below!) with the hope one of them would transform your record-keeping this year. However, I wanted you to realize that even if this is the year you’re going to keep better conference records, then you must understand that you, too, will go on a journey to find a record-keeping system that works for you. Don’t let anyone tell you what form to use! You must find a system that works for you even when it feels messy and giving up (and not keeping records) seems like the better option. Therefore, pick something and try it out for a week. Reflect. Refine your record-keeping tool or start anew. You’ll know you have a record-keeping system that’s working when you regularly examine your notes in order to plan for future conferences, strategy lessons, and mini-lessons. Don’t be afraid to tweak your record-keeping system until you find one that feels as right as the perfect chocolate chip cookie tastes.

Let this be the year you’re going to keep better conferring records!

Ready to get started? Here are some action steps to take depending on how much (or how little) you’ve kept records in the past.

Start Conferring Tomorrow

Links to Record Keeping Forms:

Bonus Links to My Favorite Chocolate Chip Cookie Recipes:

Kids1stFromDayOne_med
Leave a comment on this blog post for a chance to win a copy of this book. Please read the giveaway information before you leave a comment. Thanks!

Giveaway Information:

  • This giveaway is for a copy of Kids 1st from Day 1: A Teacher’s Guide to Today’s Classroom. Thanks to Heinemann for donating a copy for one reader. (You must have a U.S. mailing address to win a copy of this book.)
  • For a chance to win this copy of Kids 1st from Day 1: A Teacher’s Guide to Today’s Classroom,  please leave a comment about this or any blog post in this blog series by Sunday, August 12th at 6:00 p.m. EDT. Melanie Meehan will use a random number generator to pick the winner’s commenter number. His/her name will be announced in the ICYMI blog post for this series on Monday, August 13th.
  • Please leave a valid e-mail address when you post your comment so Melanie can contact you to obtain your mailing address if you win.  From there, our contact at Heinemann will ship the book 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, Melanie will email you with the subject line of TWO WRITING TEACHERS – KIDS 1ST. Please respond to her e-mail with your mailing address within five days of receipt. A new winner will be chosen if a response isn’t received within five days of the giveaway announcement.

 

Stacey Shubitz View All

Literacy Consultant. Author. Former 4th and 5th Grade Classroom Teacher.

49 thoughts on “This is the year I’m going to keep better records. Leave a comment

  1. I SO wish this had been posted just a few days sooner! I recently presented to 3rd grade teachers in my district on independent reading and how critical it is to keep records when conferring. The resources you have provided would have been perfect examples to share with our teachers. Although I didn’t have the opportunity to share whole group, I will use these resources as I begin visiting individual teachers and schools. Thank you!

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  2. I have also been on a journey to find the perfect record keeping form! I’m looking forward to trying a digital form this year. Thank you for all of the great ideas!

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  3. Your record-keeping progression/stages will be great for sharing with colleagues this year. Thanks! (I am also GF and appreciate your cookie reviews, too. The ATK arepa recipe is good!)

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  4. Thank you for sharing. I think I am going to start with one of your hard copies and try to incorporate Evernote for the samples. I use Evernote for my home life and would like to use it for workshop time.

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  5. Thank you for sharing so many beneficial resources for conferring. I am still in search of an efficient system and am eager to look at your forms etc.

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  6. This blog was so helpful.As I have moved each year recently teaching different grades ( 1 st to 5 th) I find myself starting over, finding solutions on how to keep records on my writing conferences. I love the conference cards using compliment, teaching and challenge and will definitely try this with my fifth grade writers this year,

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  7. I love this post. Up until 2 years ago, I was an avid Evernote user and you encouraged me to go back to it and see what I might do with conferring! I was pleased to find so many treasures I had stored there. I want that book…it’s in my wish list cart!

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  8. This is my first year back in the classroom. I’m excited, but feeling a bit overwhelmed as well. All of the “this is the year” posts have been wonderful reminders for me about important parts of the writer’s workshop.

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  9. Thanks for sharing all of the forms you have tried! I always strive to get better with my conferring note taking! I used to use Evernote and might just have to get back at it!

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  10. Stacey! Such a timely, practical, and helpful post. Watching your artistry with Evernote was amazing and has inspired me to try harder. I loved that you gave “permission” for each teacher to be on their own path toward more effective practice. This has been a fantastic series this week and I feel my dreams growing.

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    • I’ve always started the year with a ‘grid set-up’for record keeping, and then I tend to abandon it. Most of our projects are done using Google Docs which the students share with me, so I am able me to post comments. However, I still see the value of the grid record. I really like your template, and I plan to give it another try! The hard copy grid should let me do a better job of planning mini-lessons and small groups. Thanks!

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  11. Thank you for the record keeping ideas and the GF recipe! I’m new to Readers Workshop and want the students to benefit from the input of others who have such great experience.

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  12. Thank you so much for sharing!! I feel like I’ve gone through so many different ways to keep notes of my conferences/small group teaching over the years to find the “right” one. I’m excited to share these ideas and help others find a just-right fit for themselves! I don’t think making them some delicious chocolate chip cookies would hurt either.

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  13. I always struggle with notes and how to organize them to better help me help my students. Thank you for the links to so many options!

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  14. This will be my first year with Writer’s workshop. I’ve been trying to figure out how I’ll keep my records. Thank you for all the options. I especially love the acknowledgement that it’s ok to keep trying different ideas until you find your fit.

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  15. I too have been on this journey. I tried many of the same ideas: one sheet, digital records using google forms, multiple sheets. But I came back to using labels that are preprinted with the names of my students. Last year I added benchmarks for each unit (matching the RW or WW I was in). For me, this was the most successful for my young students ( kinder) and myself. I loved reading your post and I’m thinking how I can tweak my system to make it better. Thanks for the I inspirational post.

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  16. This is an area where I have gone back and forth over the years as to what is the most effective method of taking anecdotal notes. I’ve used an at-a-glance sheet with all the students’ names on one page, a binder with a section for each student, and most recently a running Google Doc with all students listed. Thank you for sharing the many versions you’ve tried and what’s working best for you along with all the links. I’ve never used Evernote so I’ll have to give it a look. Thanks so much for your openness in sharing!

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  17. I am not alone!! Thank you for sharing your conferring journey. I was considering jumping into using Evernote this year and your blog has given me the courage to dive in. Thank you for all the great templates as well!

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  18. Thanks for posting this Stacey! I feel like I have tried every strategy for not keeping you mentioned, and then some. I am now using a combination of digital notes (love them because I can archive pictures of the student work) and a conferring sheet. I left the conferring sheet in the child’s writing folder so that anyone (resource teacher, coach, principal, substitute teacher) could write conferring notes and we’d have a record. Some did go missing, but I had a digital archive for kids who lost theirs. I loved being able to say “I see Mrs X talked to about …last week. How’s that going?” It’s taken me a lot of tries, but I think I finally have my system and will be figuring out how to replicate it for math conferences this year.

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  19. Have you shared the notes file with students? A coworker suggested I create a Google Sheet essentially like your 3-column notes for each student and allow them to view it outside of class.

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  20. This topic is so relevant! Teachers are always looking for THE BEST way to keep notes while conferring. The thing is, my best way probably won’t be your best way. Thanks for sharing insights about your journey and some easy-to-implement ideas.

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  21. This post came at just the right time. Our new school year started yesterday, and I am ready to take better notes on my observations. Thanks for the ideas.

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  22. This is definitely an area I have been working on every year! Thank you for sharing your journey. A few years ago I stopped using Evernote because, without a template, it wasn’t working for me. Now that I know you can include a template, I may try again. I’m planning on using my RocketBook to start the year and set up folders for each student in Google, but it might be worth giving Evernote a try again! Thanks again…and for the cookie recipes! 😁

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  23. Oh, my . . . so many parallels. It’s a journey and thanks for sharing yours. I love your three choices at the end. . . choose your next journey. And I’ve discovered that the notes for the first month or six weeks never look like or meet my needs by second semester. That was a huge aha! ❤

    This is an amazing series!

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  24. I swear you read my mind on this! I need to get better at this as well. I can definitely fit this into my SpEd classroom! Thank you!

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  25. I’m about to start my first year back in the classroom in 10 years! I’ve been looking for a way of keeping track of my conferring so this article is a great resource, thanks!

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  26. Record keeping is something I’m always tweaking and trying to improve, so I really enjoyed traveling along your journey and appreciate all the links you so generously shared. This line says it so well: “You’ll know you have a record-keeping system that’s working when you regularly examine your notes in order to plan for future conferences, strategy lessons, and mini-lessons.” Thanks for a great post!!

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