Do Conferring Notes Really Matter?

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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.

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