Good Organization = Good Data = Good Instruction

Feb 7, 2013

This post is about one of my favorite classrooms, Jenny C.’s Kindergarten in Brooklyn. I’ve known Jenny for over five years. She’s featured in my book, and she’s the type of teacher I hope my own daughter has in a few years.

Full disclosure: Jenny’s classroom has moved me to tears. She’s that good.

One of my favorite things about Jenny’s instruction is how she records notes on student performance IN THE MOMENT. Jenny is always intently studying her students, reviewing their work, and ensuring they learn. Her outstanding anecdotals help:

  • Inform her future planning
  • Give students real-time feedback
  • Communicate “beyond the numbers” information to parents

I recently interviewed Jenny about her great practices. I think you will love her replies—and her templates!

First things first, what advice do you have for teachers who want to take better anecdotal conference notes?

  • Organize your materials in a way that’s user-friendly for you. Try different formats before you select one—and don’t be afraid to adjust. 
  • Write out a conferencing schedule and share it with your students. They will hold you to it!

Where do you keep these notes? Isn’t your clipboard EXPLODING?

  •  I keep all of my anecdotal note taking sheets in a binder.  I have one binder for each subject.
    • For Guided Reading, I use one binder with 3 tabbed sections, 1 for each reading group.
    • In my Writing binder, I have one tab for each of my 30 students.
    • For my Math binder, the daily assessment checklists are ordered by lesson. I also have the binder tabbed by math unit.
  • Then, in each binder I keep: 
    • A 3 ring pencil case. I attach the pencil case to the rings in the binder.
    • In each pencil case, I have a sharpened pencil, a stack of mid-sized Post-its, a large eraser, a yellow marker, and a felt tip pen.


Take a look at Jenny’s Guided Reading binder above!

So, what exactly is in these binders? I keep anecdotal notes during Guided Reading, Writing, and Math Time.

  • For Guided Reading, I confer with each of my guided reading kids every day.
  • In Writing, I conference with 1 table (six students) each day during independent writing time.  I have a 1-1 conference with each of the 6 scholars.  Each conference takes about 2-3 minutes.  The conferencing sheet that I use changes depending on the writing genre for that unit.  Below is an example of a Non-Fiction Conference Sheet.

And here is a filled out narrative conference sheet.

  • I use a checklist during Math time.  The checklist directly supports the aim for day and includes the key objectives for that particular lesson.

How do you refer to the notes when you plan? 

  •  The notes help me plan by informing aims sequences for the entire class.
    • For example, capturing word-solving notes during guided reading gives me several data points around what word solving and fluency strategies are being used most frequently and most successfully.  If I note that kids are successfully using a particular strategy, I will plan for teaching different strategies in the upcoming week.  
    • Conversely, if I notice that students are still unable to master a particular work solving aim, I will include that aim in the aim sequence for the following week.  
    • Also, if I notice that the majority of scholars in a group are struggling with a particular phonological skill like, vowel patters or magic “e” words, I will use one of those words as my teacher model in an upcoming lesson.  
  •  My notes also help me specifically support each student.  When I begin conferencing, I always look back into my binder from the previous week so I know what each scholar is working on. I will either affirm that they are making progress on the goal we set in the previous conference, or I will re-teach that skill again if they are still struggling with it

How do you use your notes to communicate with families?  

Every 6 weeks, I send home progress reports in reading and math.  I use interim assessment scores, along with my anecdotal conferencing notes, to identify student strengths and areas of growth.  The conferencing notes allow me to give very specific feedback to parents.  Sometimes, only providing numerical scores gives a limited perspective on how a student is doing in class.

Jenny, we are in awe! I have seen your classroom evolve over the years, and your Together Teacherness has helped your students (and colleagues!) learn so much.