Challenge #10: Select a tool for taking notes while you confer. A commitment to confer is a commitment to responsive teaching. Yet, time is short, so if you want to get the best return on your investment of this time spent conferring, then you’ll want to set yourself up with some sort of system for taking notes while you confer. Today’s challenge is about taking time select and prepare a note taking tool so you’re ready to capture your observations about readers from the first day of the school year.
We confer because we believe it is the best way to both know and nurture readers. We take notes because it allows us to hold onto and come back the ongoing wonderings, insights, and inklings that pop up in our conversations with readers, helping us better understand them and plan for the path ahead.
Yates and Nosek, 2018
How Does This Help Grow A Community of Readers?
Conferring is an investment in our students. It is an opportunity to better know them as people and as readers. Each time we pull up alongside a young reader we are saying, “I’m here to learn about you so I can find ways to offer my partnership.” Yet much of the impact of our conferring can be lost or diminished if remembering the important bits from a conference is left solely to the mercy of memory. Learning to jot a few simple notes can help you intensify your impact by connecting one conference to the next, like links on a chain: past, present, and future.
If you accepted the previous challenge, then you’ve already got a trusty clipboard or notebook that you’re excited to carry around. Now all you need to do is select a tool to help you organize some notes as you go. Although there are an infinite number of possibilities for how to TAKE NOTE in a conference, the information most teachers find helpful and practical to record in a conference comes in response to one or more of the following questions:
- What strengths or successes is the student demonstrating?
- What teaching was offered today?
- What next steps might be considered?
- What am I still wondering about this reader?
In our book, To Know and Nurture a Reader: Conferring with Confidence and Joy, we offer some of our favorite tools for organizing your conferring notes (you can download these tools using the links at the bottom of this post).
- Conferring Record Sheet – This tool serves as a sort of bar graph showing how many conferences you’ve offered each child over time. To use it, simply jot each child’s name or initials down the left hand side, and jot the date of each conference offered in one of the boxes next to the child’s name. Of course the goal is not to confer equally with each child, but this tool can sometimes uncover trends we wouldn’t otherwise spot, such as students we’ve given more conferring time than intended and students we’ve somehow not spent much one on one time with at all.
- Know and Nurture T-Chart – This tool is a two column T-chart. The KNOW column is for jotting what you’ve noticed or uncovered about what the child is already doing. The NURTURE column is for jotting ideas about how you plan to intentionally NURTURE the reader, either today in this conference, or in the future.
- Four Square Grid – An alternative to the Know and Nurture T-Chart, this four part grid positions you to organize notes about observations and next steps into what we refer to as the four intentional directions for conferring: book choice, healthy habits, strategic process, and authentic response (We’ve got a chapter dedicated to each of these directions in our book). By organizing your notes in this way, you can quickly start to spot patterns, strengths, and ways to extend readers.
If these tools don’t seem quite right for you, you might instead choose to simply start with blank sheet of paper, an electronic tablet, or a system you’ve designed yourself or learned from a colleague. The important thing is not which tool or system you use for taking notes, the important thing is that you choose something, have it right at your side as you interact with readers, and make it your own as you go.
Ideas to Get You Started
- Jotting notes during a conference helps you remember, to note new learning, to make a plan for checking back, and a to make a plan for moving forward.
- Once you’ve selected a note taking tool and have seen a class roster, prepare a copy for each child and place them in your conferring folder, clipboard, or binder so they’re ready to go from the first day.
- If you feel stressed and uncertain about the what and how of taking note in a conference, you aren’t alone. But notes don’t need to be fancy or detailed. These notes are for you, after all. They are a gift you give yourself in order to sort out what’s worth remembering to help with planning, follow-up, reflection, problem-solving, and/or tracking progress.
- Keep it simple. Cumbersome systems can detract from rather than support your interactions with students. When in doubt, start with a clipboard, blank paper, and a favorite writing tool. You’ll discover what else you may need as you go.
Questions to Consider
- As I consider the tools offered here, which do I feel most inclined to try out? What features appeal to me? Why?
- What system do other teachers I know utilize?
- What has worked for me in the past? What has gotten in the way of me taking meaningful notes? How might I adjust?
- As I get to know my readers in the early days and weeks of the school year, what seems most important to remember to help plan for instruction?
- How do I hope my notes can help me with follow up, problem-solving, and tracking progress?
Today we share three different tools for organizing conferring notes.
We’d love to hear from you. What kind of note taking tool have you used in the past? What might you try this year? How will you start to make this challenge come to life?Come on over to our Facebook group to share your ideas!
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