kidwatching · note-taking · observations · stamina

Discover What Writers REALLY Need By Kidwatching

My family and I returned to in-person synagogue services for Rosh Hashanah in September. On the first day, I noticed Isabelle flipped to the correct pages when the Rabbi announced them but was unsure of where to look since the prayer book includes Hebrew prayers, transliterations, translations, interpretations, poems, and alternative readings. I noticed Isabelle visually scanning the page to determine what passage – English or Hebrew – the Rabbi was reading from. She seemed lost, despite knowing the many of the prayers, and therefore was barely participating. After watching this play out for over a half hour, I began to point to the correct spot in Isabelle’s book. It felt intrusive, but she never shooed me away during the two-hour service. In fact, she asked me to do it for every High Holiday service she attended so she could participate. 

You might think Isabelle doesn’t know how to read Hebrew. But she does. You might think Isabelle is disengaged because she’s a pre-teen. But that’s not the reason. Isabelle has Dyslexia, which makes reading – in any language – challenging. 

During the High Holidays, I realized Isabelle wanted to participate, but couldn’t do it independently due to the pace of the service. By observing Isabelle closely, I discovered engagement was only possible if I could help her eyes settle quickly on each reading. Once we got into the groove, Isabelle began participating, which she reported: “made the service go faster.” Let’s be honest, she IS a pre-teen who doesn’t want to feel like she’s sitting through a two-hour service! Therefore, active participation was a win for everyone!


Yetta Goodman’s kidwatching framework has inspired many writing workshop teachers to set aside time to observe what students are doing. Anytime we pay careful attention and take non-judgemental notes about how students are learning what to do as writers, we gain valuable insight on how to better instruct them. Through observation, pattern-noticing, more observation, and drawing conclusions, we are able to use kidwatching data to help plan one-to-one writing conferences, small group work, and even minilessons. Plus, once we have insights about individual students, we can provide highly individualized instruction. 

Read more:

Here are two ideas for implementing kidwatching in the classroom:


I’ve helped teachers I consult with implement stamina days three to four times per year in writing workshop. (I wrote a bit about stamina days back in 2015.) You can schedule a stamina day, which has the sole purpose of giving you ample time to observe students’ habits during independent writing time. On a stamina day, the minilesson sets students up for what is to come: uninterrupted writing time and no talking with the teacher. Students make a plan for how they’ll use the time knowing that there won’t be any conferences or small group sessions. Once all students have returned to their desks, the teacher begins kidwatching for the remainder of the period. 

I suggest teachers use a form to take notes throughout the period. By taking notes during the beginning, middle, and end of the workshop, the teacher gets an idea of who has the energy to write the entire time and whose energy peters out. It illuminates what strategies students use to get themselves back on track. In addition, a teacher might record the avoidance behaviors they’re observing. 

While some teachers opt to stay in one place to observe what students are doing, there is merit to walking around the room to see — up close — what each child is doing throughout independent writing time. While some students might look busy from afar, up close one might observe off-task behaviors. Similarly, a child who may seem like they’re staring out the window might be putting more words on the page than we might notice from afar.


You’ll have lots of data after a stamina day! The data you’ve gathered can help you decide what to teach next in a writing conference or will help you form small groups that will meet for a course of study. In addition, you might even discover what other kinds of full-class instruction you need to provide.

While we often discover writing skills and strategies to teach students after kidwatching, often kidwatching helps us understand students’ writing behaviors. Once we better understand the kinds of writing behaviors students are exhibiting, we’re able to teach that — one-to-one or in small groups — by instructing students on alternate behaviors or routines that will help students grow as writers. 


Take a moment to think about one or two students who still mystify you despite them being in your classroom for a couple months. You can set aside a few minutes daily — during independent writing time — to observe them and record anecdotal notes in an effort to notice what they’re doing as writers on a daily basis. While many teachers kidwatch in between the minilesson and their first conference, I have found it’s helpful to observe students at different times. For a few days, observe your focal child(ren) at the beginning of workshop time. Then, take a few more days to watch them during the middle of independent writing time. Finally, spend a few more days observing these students five minutes prior to the class returning to the meeting area for a reflection/share session. After two (or three) weeks, you will have a plethora of anecdotal notes about your focal child(ren), which will help you make better instructional decisions.


After intensively kidwatching your focal child(ren) for a couple of weeks, you might realize your focal child(ren) needs intensive coaching to become a stronger writer. While I don’t advocate sitting beside a child to help them get started every day, there are some students who need coaching to move through parts of the writing process. If we notice students when and how students are getting stuck, we can coach that. As we see students mastering what we’re coaching them for, we can begin to release more responsibility to them as writers. 


Kidwatching is always time well spent since it provides us with the opportunity to observe students in non-judgmental ways so we can make plans to teach what we’re noticing. One of the most brilliant things about ongoing kidwatching is that it provides us with insight into how students are growing and developing as writers across the year. Come springtime, we can look back on notes from early in the school year and notice how a writer has evolved. In fact, we can use kid-watching notes when we write report cards and progress notes. Being able to share our noticings with students, as well as parents/caregivers, at the end of the year is one of many ways we can celebrate growth.