aha moment, being a teacher, Passion, students

The Problem With Taking Notes on Students

I remember the binder at the end of the year; probably weighing 10 pounds, spilling out with papers, tabs missing, scribbles everywhere.  I was ready.  I had the proof; proof of every single reading conversation that I had had with every student.  Every goal we had set, every challenge we had overcome.  The proof was in the binder and that binder was amazing.

Then I moved to 7th grade and I made 5 binders.  Tabbed for each student.  Ready with my goal sheets, my conferring template and my ever trusty clipboard.  No longer did I need to take notes on all subjects, just two, and boy did that seem daunting, but I figured I needed to gather as many notes as possible because that is what good teachers do.  Those first few weeks as I got to meet my students I used it every day.  Called them up, flipped to the page, asked them the questions, wrote down, had them wait while I was still writing, finished up, wrote some more, called the next one up.  In 10 minutes of independent reading time, I got through 2 students, at the most.  With 116 students total, I didn’t know how I would ever keep up.  How would I have all of the proof that I needed to show what I was doing every day with my students?  How would I find time to take all of those notes?  How would I be a good teacher.

Now I think I know the answer; I couldn’t.  And I don’t have to.  The thing is, you don’t need to take notes every single time you meet with a child.  You do not need to document every conference, every small conversation.  You don’t have to walk around with a binder or with a clipboard noticing every little thing and documenting it for all eternity.  What you need to do instead is notice the big things.  Find proof for the things that you would want to assess or share with someone else.  Check in where a child is on their journey once a week and allow yourself to know that that is enough in most cases.  Have enough to fill one sheet with really great observations and find your peace within that.

During a conference with a child, put the pen down and focus on what they are telling you.  Look them in the eye and listen. Jot a line down when they are done if you want but don’t beat yourself up if you don’t.  Allow yourself time once a week during independent reading or whenever you can and write down notes on all of the students.  What have you noticed this week?  Where are they at now?  What is next for them?  Then ask the students to reflect as well, give them a goal sheet to fill out and do it as a class.  Ask them three simple questions: How are you better at whatever this week?  How do you now?  And what will you work on next?

I used to think that I needed proof of every single thing.  That in case someone stopped by to ask what I did as a teacher I had to be ready.  Now I know that it is not the quantity of information that matter but the quality.   So join me in resisting the urge to document every single thing.  Focus on the big things, the necessary, and look at the kids instead.

I am a passionate teacher in Oregon, Wisconsin, USA but originally from Denmark,  who has taught 4th, 5th, and 7th grade.  Proud techy geek, and mass consumer of incredible books. Creator of the Global Read Aloud Project, Co-founder of EdCamp MadWI, and believer in all children. I have no awards or accolades except for the lightbulbs that go off in my students’ heads every day.  The second edition of my first book “Passionate Learners – Giving Our Classrooms Back to Our Students” will be published by Routledge in the fall.   Second book“Empowered Schools, Empowered Students – Creating Connected and Invested Learners” is out now from Corwin Press.  Join our Passionate Learners community on Facebook and follow me on Twitter @PernilleRipp.

3 thoughts on “The Problem With Taking Notes on Students”

  1. Pernille,
    You can’t imagine the perfect timing of this blog post. My co-teacher and I struggle with this daily! We teach 6th grade reading and constantly feel the need to keep track of everything. It’s just not possible. We both agree with everything you said and take comfort in knowing we are not alone. Thank you!

  2. Pernille, I agree wholeheartedly. I started using an app called brightloop, where I can type up my observations after class. This helps with documentation and helps sort kids for guided reading, should I need to pull a group. However, in the grand scheme of things, documenting everything is harldy possible. Each week, my 4th graders write a response letter. Those hold evidence of what they’re mastering and what they’re struggling with and it seems to be working. Sometimes, I can see the same struggles with a group of kids and someitmes I can see where a child might need to pushed a little further. In any case, response letters reveal it all. Thank you for sharing. No matter how many years teaching experience you have, your are so transparent and honest. You are a fantastic teacher to those lucky 116 students.

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