Friday, March 31, 2017

Spotlight on Digital Conferring Notes

Teachers have forever jotted notes on student progress. Notes on paper, notes in planning books, notes in journals. And this have served us well -- they are a way to document what we are seeing at any given time so we can come back to the notes when working with students or planning lessons.

The hard part, though, is obvious. Data collection is not necessarily the strong suit for most people. Notes collected on paper need to be organized, summarized, and then analyzed to become meaningful data that we can utilize to drive instruction.  And while humans are not generally that good at this task, this is something that machines do very well!

Several teachers participating in the Model Tech Classroom work in the School District of Waukesha have been engaging in conversation around creating really meaningful digital conferring notes. This has definitely been a process, but some exciting outcomes are starting to emerge.

Quickly See How Many Times You Have Conferred with a Student

A simple count of how many times a teacher has conferred with a student does not seem that valuable, but when teachers begin to identify their patterns over time, they can take corrective actions to be sure all students are receiving the right amount of opportunities to confer with the teacher. 

Formulas built into the digital conferring notes give these teachers a "dashboard" view of who they have and have not met with to help them guide their decisions moving forward.

Determine Which Conferring Data is Most Important to Guide Instruction

There are many notes we can take on student growth and skills. Not all of those notes, though, lead us to meaningful data that will allow us to determine clear next steps for growth. 

The teachers who have been collecting digital data on students are learning that when they can identify exactly which information will help them determine next instructional steps to support student growth, then they can more efficiently look for and record that data and eliminate data that is not as useful/meaningful.
This process happens over time and it can be difficult to let some of things we traditionally look for with students go, but as the mountain of student conferring data grows, it becomes obvious that we can only utilize so much data meaningfully.

Record and Report Growth to Students

Determining a student's proficiency in various skills is one of the key reasons we confer with students. 

Paper notes require the teacher to look back in the notes to determine which skills they have noted as proficient. Digital conferring notes, though, can automatically tabulate how many times a teacher has identified the student as proficient in a skill. This allows teachers to make small group instruction decisions, helps the teacher to more accurately mark growth on the continuum, and can even be used to help students see their growth and determine next-step growth goals.

But My Paper Notes Already Do This For Me!

If you are already doing these things with notes taken in a journal, log, or notebook, that is amazing! Stick with it! Technology is intended to help us do those things that we cannot do with ease, or to do these things better. If you are already making instructional decisions based on your paper notes, then use your paper notes.

However, if the paper notes are not giving you the level of detail you need to make instructional decisions, or if analyzing your paper notes is taking you more time than it seems like you even have (and we know the main shortage of any teacher's life is time), consider how technology might be able to automate this task for you. For some of the teachers trying this now, they are either not using conferring notes to do this level of analysis already, or they are finding that they have gained additional time to invest back into conferring or other teaching tasks!