Being Responsive with Anecdotal Note Taking

Another Throwback from the iTeach3rd blog that you may find helpful this time of year!

Anecdotal notes are a huge part of my formative assessments all year round. What are they exactly? It's a super fancy word for writing down your observations. Observations can tell you A LOT about your students for both academics and behavior. Don't believe me? Here are few reasons why I use anecdotal note-taking in my classroom:

  • They help me track things in a variety of subjects including behaviors
  • They help me be responsive to my students' needs
  • They help me to notice patterns for a particular student or groups of students
  • They provide explicit examples for discussions with my team, service members, and families
  • They help teachers stay on top of each student and not just those who are struggling for the feedback that all students (and families) crave.

What's even more awesome about this formative assessment technique is how versatile it is! You can truly test out many different ways and use what works best for you. I for one have tried many different strategies to house my notes: binders, notebooks, post-its, labels... you name it. After 4 years, I finally found my "go-to" ways of collecting these notes. Here's a few different ways I collect this important data:

Paper & Pencil Strategy
Note-Taking Boxes

I give each of my students a number. That is one reason why I like this strategy and anecdotal note taking in general. Instead of trying to write down a student's name, I can just quickly jot their number down. It saves precious time.

How it works:
I write my focus at the top (an example template is in the cover photo). It might be an engagement inventory during reading, problems they got wrong on a math assessment, or participation during a group discussion. Then, I create a little "code" at the bottom. Usually it consists of symbols that are easy for me to jot quick and that might be repeated for more than one student. As I interact with students or scan the room, I jot down a quick note or symbol inside the student's box. This allows me to see who I have missed and lets me see everyone at a glance all at once. If I'm not writing a ton of information, this is definitely one of my favorite routes to go. I simply keep a clipboard with a bunch of these blank note taking boxes on hand so I can grab it at  moments notice and grab some information. And since I keep it all in one place on the clip board, I know where to find them for when I need them!

Apps and Technology Strategy
   Google Docs

What's cool about the note-taking boxes is I can take it digital too! I also have a blank Google Doc with the note-taking boxes and use my iPad to gather some data. I use the emoji keyboard for my symbols and since it saves my most used one, they are easy to find and tap and use for my students. I go digital with my note-taking boxes if I need to access them from multiples and don't want to bring my clip board or if I want to share them with my team, co-teacher, or service provides because it's easy to do so without loosing my original copy or having to make a paper copy. I still label them at the top (2) and just make a copy to start a new one. I add my key (2) at the bottom as a reference.


Another app I found last year that I liked for anecdotal notes is the app Evernote. Here I can take notes based on subject. So I have my reading "notebook," writing "notebook," etc. This way, all my notes are organized by whatever I want to name it (1) in one spot that is easy to find and just like Google Docs, I can share my notes with others (2). I especially like using Evernote if I want to take pictures of student work to keep and show at our PLC or with my co-teacher. I don't love the limited formatting of the app, but I'm finding ways around it (plus I haven't fully dove in and explored it, so I'm sure I'm missing things). Both the app and computer version are helpful to take quick looks (3) of notes before opening them.

I've got my notes, now what?

Once I have my notes I do one of the following:
1. Plan strategy groups

  • Is there a group of students who would benefit from some reteaching or the teaching of another strategy? My notes allow me to look for similarities in confusion on topics we are learning about or opportunities for students to have an extension of our learning.

2. Reach out to others for support

  • "Hmmm I notice __(insert student name)__ is repeating the same work avoiding behaviors at this specific time. I wonder if my team has any suggestions on how I can help him/her be successful at this time."

3. Reflect on your teaching practices

  • "Wow- we really struggle with carrying on a conversation. I'm going to need to help scaffold this work a bit more."

How do you keep track of student performance across the school year or unit? Leave a comment below!


Time SAVER: Math Talk Matrix

In hopes of blogging more, I'm going to try a series of posts called

All the ideas featured take very little time to implement on your end, but can have great results for your students.

Each post will include 1 tool or idea to try to help students in some way, in some subject. Pretty open ended, I know. The goal is for the posts to be short and to the point so that you can implement it right away!

The first time SAVER I'm sharing about is a math talk matrix. I learned of this concept from my EL coteacher a couple years ago. We noticed students (both ELs and native speakers) wouldn't always use the correct operation language when discussing math. Some examples included...

"I plussed 6 and 8 and got 14."

"I used times to solve it."

She used a matrix to help them and it worked! Instead of correcting students constantly, offer prompts and options so they can start pausing, reflecting, selecting and using the correct form of the word you want them to in the right situation.

When working with word problems, students need to find out what operation to use. Start by asking, "Which operation should you use?" You are asking for a noun (-tion turns words into nouns). Have students circle the noun and then speak or write the sentence to answer the question. Then they write the equation. Ask them, "What is the equation?" You are having them join numbers, so you want them to use the conjunctions plus, minus, times, divided by. Again, have them write or speak it out. I like to have them add the word to match the symbol. Finally, you can ask them, "How did you solve the problem?" You are asking for a past-tense verb here. Have them circle the word that matches their past action.

Gives this a try to help correct that math talk! Click the image below to download!


Miss Maple's Seeds pt. 2

I have blogged about this book already before. It's THAT good. I have not done it yet this year with this group of kiddos, so I wanted to add something a little different to go along with our read aloud.  But first, I must introduce you to this wonderful read!

Miss Maple's Seeds is about a little old lady who goes around and gathers seeds over the summer that did not get planted. She then takes care of them, she "learns each seed by heart all similar, yet none the same." Are you already seeing the possible connections?? I normally read it at the beginning of the year this year, but with my grade change, I always had it penciled in but never got to it. However, it makes a wonderful read aloud for the end of the year as well, which is why it's perfect for this time of year!

The book explains how Miss Maple takes care of the seeds and teaches them how to be the best seeds they can be. She explains how they all need different things in order to grow, to watch out of "sinister characters" (a.k.a. weeds) and that they will journey to different places and locations before they begin to take root and grow. 

I normally end of crying towards the end because the similarities between this story and the classroom during a school year are so spot on! You spend 9 months with these kids- getting to know them and what they need in order to grow. They have a lot to learn and sometimes, things can seem challenging and almost make us want to give up. But we also have so many amazing moments and before you know it, it's time to let them go and begin again. 

This year, I'll have my kiddos dive into some of my favorite quotes from the book and try to relate and connect them to themselves. I made this simple "mini" book that is super low prep.

After we go through and read it once for enjoyment, we'll discuss what these quotes could mean if we applied them to people. I picked 3 quotes (although there are so many more) to have us reflect on, as well as for them to compare themselves to a seed.

There's space for them to write a short reflection and after trimming off the edges and folding it twice.

I can't share enough how much I love this book. Take a peek at my first post about it to see how I've taken the whole "growth" concept and applied it to other parts of our classroom in years past. There's a freebie over there too to grab!

Want the mini-reflection book for the read aloud? Snag it below by clicking the image!

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