9 Reasons I Keep Conference Notes

I’m putting the finishing touches on my new online self-paced workshop about establishing and using a record keeping system for writing conferences with students. (I really need a good name for it. Let me know if you have an idea. I’m terrible at naming things.)

I decided to collect some fresh conferences to use in the course, so I emailed a handful of teachers. Whenever I decide to invite myself into a classroom, I have two prerequisites —

  1. The teacher won’t panic and flip out and spend extra time getting ready for me.
  2. The teacher will be honest with me about their writing workshop habits and thoughts.
Today, two of the three teachers pushed me about the point of keeping conference notes. Both said a version of this:
I know where my students are as writers, so why should I write it down?
My inbox is filled with questions in the same vein. 
How can I make a system that makes sense?
I have a hard time getting to my notes.
I forget to write down notes.
How do I take notes that are relevant?
How do I convince teachers notes really matter?
How do I know what’s important to note?

(I have the best Email Pals who hit reply to this week’s note and let me know their questions about keeping conference notes. If you have a question, leave it in the comments.)
I might have had a moment today when I thought, Is it important to keep conference notes?
After spending lots of time thinking (I drove more than 5 hours today), I feel the same way about conference notes tonight as I did when I woke up this morning.
  1. They help me make sure I meet with every kid. Not just the ones who need me, but all of them. Regularly.
  2. They keep me intentional and purposeful. They hold me to affirming and teaching in all conferences.
  3. They prevent me from going in blind to a conference. After a couple of weeks, I’ve noted needs for every kid. Before a conference, I just look at the previous notes and I have an idea of what I’ll teach.
  4. Let’s face it, no matter how great we think our memories are, they fail. I go into the grocery store for three items, grab two things and can’t  remember the third item I needed. I don’t remember where I put my car keys. I forget to turn in my mileage. We are human. We are teachers. Our brains are filled to the brim. There is no reason to use storage space on something I can write down.
Those are just the reasons that make me a stronger writing teacher. My real motivation for keeping conference notes is because they allow students to become stronger writers.
  1. They allow me to select the most pressing need for every kid. It’s not always the first thing I think of and it isn’t always the way the conference is leading. Conference notes force me to think through students needs and goals as writers and then make a decision to teach the writer during every conference.
  2. They offer evidence of growth. Through my conference notes, I know where students are in relationship to writing standards, as well as at different milestones in the year.
  3. They allow me to have a single writing conversation with students across time. Conferences are connected. Previous teaching points guide me in reteaching or affirming new learning. Accomplishing goals allows me to see the new needs. Conferring moves from a whim to an intentional teaching move.
  4. They provide patterns in the class. I can determine upcoming minilesson objectives or organize small groups for differentiated instruction. 
  5. They become rich data sources for others in the school — special education or high ability teachers; principals and RtI teams; as well as future teachers. We can work together instead of working harder to meet students’ needs.
Leave a comment and let me know:
  1. Why do you think conference notes are important?
  2. What questions do you have about conference notes?
  3. A stellar title for me new course!


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1 Comment »

  1. Somehow I missed this when you first posted it, but that's okay because this was when I needed to read it! 🙂 I know exactly what you're saying because I find myself sometimes wondering “do they really need to keep notes?” when teachers are so adamant about not keeping them. I love your reasons for keeping conference notes because I truly do believe it's important! I keep coming back to the analogy of the doctor. I wouldn't want my doctor to try to remember me and my medical history without notes!! As far as a title for the course, I'm not sure I'm your person! 🙂 Maybe something about “tracking” or “footprints”…??