Many teachers tell me they don’t take notes when conducting reading and writing conferences. They tell me they know exactly what each student is doing and that taking notes wastes valuable time. I ask them to consider the following five points.
1. My notes inform my teaching in the moment and allow me to reinforce positive behaviors. When I write down the positive things students do, I remember to compliment them on those behaviors and this makes them think, “Oh, I’m doing a good thing as a reader/writer and I should keep doing it.”
2. When I write down what I’m noticing over the course of a conference, I make a better decision than I would if I just jumped on the first thing I saw. Here’s an example: I saw a teacher do a writing conference the other day with a first grader who was doing some very good things. The teacher wasn’t taking notes, and jumped in to teach the kid that he needed to start using appropriate capitals and lower case and spent five minutes teaching that. There were at least six other things she could have taught, and if she had written down the child’s strengths and needs she probably would not have taught about appropriate capitals and lower case. In any conference, I sit for a moment and I look at my notes and I think, what is the single most important thing I could teach right now that would have lasting impact? For me, I won’t know that unless I take notes.
3. I take notes so I can give the student back his/her exact words. This is great with little kids who may want to write a whole lot, but really can’t yet. Once they tell you the story, you can choose one sentence or a word from that sentence to record, and it’s still in the student’s voice. It’s great for older kids who may use beautiful language or use a catchy turn of phrase and not even realize it.
4. Notes are also great for noticing patterns. If I take notes and notice that three out of four students are doing X, then I’m going to plan a lesson around X. I may remember this in the moment and teach into it during the share, or the next day or that week, or I may not. If I have it written down, I can reflect back on the particulars of why a writer made a decision and teach directly into that when it’s needed.
5. If we reflect on our notes over time, we can see if our teaching decisions are making an impact. If I look at a kid’s work and notice, hm…I keep giving the same teaching point over and over and he’s still not getting it, maybe I need to teach it differently. Or maybe I need to teach a different strategy ’cause he’s not ready for this.
I wholeheartedly believe that an individual conference is the greatest gift I can give a student–my undivided attention and time. Taking notes helps me make more informed decisions and makes my conferences even better.