Do Conferring Notes Really Matter?

Dec 2, 2011 by

I can’t tell you how many times I have been asked this question.  Teachers who ask this are not questioning the value of conferring itself, just the notetaking that comes during/after the conference.

Typical reasons I hear against notetaking:

  • “If I spend time writing notes, I end up conferring with fewer students.”
  • “I don’t know which is the right form to use or the right way to do it.”

Even before I was immersed in workshop teaching, I always believed that it was important to keep anecdotal notes on my students.  That doesn’t mean I was good at it, but I did do it.  I am here to tell you that there is not one right form or method, but I do believe that notetaking is a non-negotiable.  Here are a few of my reasons:

  • We are in an age of accountability.  If I don’t take notes on the valuable instruction I am providing during one-on-one and small group conferences, I have no record or evidence of that instruction.  When a parent or administrator asks what I am doing for a particular child, I want to be able to whip out my notes with specifics.
  • My memory just isn’t that good. I often can’t remember what I had for dinner the day before.  How can I remember the teaching points for 25-30 students as I conduct ongoing conferences with them?  I use my notes not only to keep track of what I did with a child, but also to note ideas for further instruction.  I simply can’t keep all of that in my head.
  • At parent-teacher conference time, I love to be able to show parents what their child has been working on.  A grade on a report card means nothing.  It is the evidence that supports that grade that counts.  I will never forget the time that a parent looked me in the eye during a conference and said, “Thank you for taking specific notes on my child.  That means a lot to me.”

So now that you know my stance that conferring notes are non-negotiable, how can we remove some roadblocks?

First, what is the right form to use? There isn’t one.  I have changed mine often.  I have used something as simple as a piece of notebook paper for each student placed behind a tab labeled for that student in my conferring notebook.  When I did this, I either wrote notes directly on the page or wrote them on computer labels that I carried on a clipboard and later placed on the child’s notebook page.

I have also created and adapted from other teachers a variety of forms.  Here are just a few that you are welcome to use or (more likely) adapt to meet your needs:

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Reading Conference Sheet (one student/page)
Writing Conference Notes (15 students/page)
Writing Assessment Sheet (includes 2 pages/student–make additional copies of page 2 as needed)
Reading Assessment Sheet (includes 2 pages/student–make additional copies of page 2 as needed)

If you are techno-savvy and have access to an iPhone, iPod Touch, or iPad, you may want to keep your notes with the Confer app (see my blogpost This Seals The Deal for more information.

Next, what about the concern that if we take time to keep records, we meet with fewer students?  I say, “So what.”  So what if I confer with five students instead of six today.  I’ve never given myself a conferring quota for the day.  I prefer to shoot for quality, not quantity, and for me, jotting a few notes during/after each conference contributes to the quality of the conference.

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