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:
- Reading (includes 2 pages/student–make additional copies of page 2 as needed)
- Reading (one student/page)
- Reading (2-column form)
- Writing (15 students/page)
- Writing (includes 2 pages/student–make additional copies of page 2 as needed)
- Writing (2-column form)
- Writing (one student/page)
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.