The content of this post has been lightly adapted from Writing Pathways: Performance Assessments and Learning Progressions, Grades K–2, part of the Units of Study in Writing, K–2. Writing Pathways: Performance Assessments and Learning Progressions, Grades K–2, is a component of the Units of Study in Writing, K–2 boxed sets.
While your writing students look over their checklists and record their goals, you want to do the same. Of course, the challenge of record keeping as their writing teacher is exponentially harder for you because you need to keep track of goals for all your students, as well as for yourself.
If you are anything like the teachers we know, you’re constantly on the prowl in search of the best system for record keeping to support your students learning to write. You’ve probably tried your hand at half a dozen systems and found to your dismay that not one of them turns you into the organized person you long to be. No system keeps us from having little sticky notes adhering to every surface, each containing a very special reminder of something that needs to be done sometime, somewhere, somehow.
But there is no fail-proof answer to effective record keeping as a writing teacher. Record-keeping systems are as individual as the teachers who create them. What works for one teacher will not work for another, and all record-keeping systems take work.
An Effective Record-Keeping System for Writing Teachers
An effective record-keeping system will allow you to do four things:
1. Consolidate data so you can see patterns and trends across your whole class and across certain small groups. After you’ve given the on-demand assessment and studied the work of your students, you’ll need a way to mine the results for patterns. Many teachers find it helps to create a chart with all of the traits that have been assessed across the top of the chart and with students’ names running down the side of the chart. Then you can go back and give a code to indicate how that student does with that trait. Later, you can box out the names of a cluster of students who especially need help with something, and plan ways to address their common need. Ideally, this system will allow you to note students’ strengths, as well as their next steps. That way, you’ll be able to rely on students as peer mentors, highlighting their work as exemplars.
2. Look back at an individual writer’s progress to see needs and evidence of growth. You will also want to have a place to record research and work with individual writers. Many teachers make binders with a section for each child; others create folders for each child. And then there are those who keep all of their notes on their iPads or computers. Whichever way you choose, you will want to be sure that this system enables you to look back at evidence of the writer’s progress and your teaching. This kind of record-keeping sheet can function as a cue card, reminding you of things that you may want to teach writers.
3. Track the frequency with which you meet with each student. As you develop your record-keeping system, you’ll want some way to ensure you’re meeting with all your writers regularly. Some teachers add a quick grid to the first page of their clipboard, noting the dates they met with each writer, so they can easily look back and see who they haven’t met with recently. The exact system isn’t important. What matters most is that you meet with all your writers.
4. Easily access and update your data, so you continue to use your record-keeping system across the year. Above all, you’ll want to make sure the system you create is sustainable, one you can actually implement reliably over time. You’ll want to collect and record enough data that it can guide your instruction, but not so much that the data collection process is overly onerous and keeps you from looking at your data in the first place.
5 Ideas for Teacher Record-Keeping Systems
We’ve highlighted examples of record-keeping systems that allow you to consolidate data, study individual progress, track the frequency with which you meet with students, and easily access and update your data across time.
Whole-Class Data Collection for Conferences and Small Groups
Many teachers find it helpful to keep their data on a class grid so that they can easily look for whole-class trends. You might even leave space for small-group planning based on these trends on the bottom of the grid. If each student has the same location in the grid each week, it is also easy to flip back to track student growth over time as well.
Individual Student Data Collection Sheets
Some teachers find it useful for every student to have his or her own data collection sheet. This allows the teachers to write with more detail about what they notice while conferring or leading small groups, including strengths and next steps for a student. It also provides the opportunity for a teacher to understand how a student is growing across the school year.
Some teachers like to keep their conference notes on mailing labels. This allows them to collect data and look across their whole class at a glance, which allows them to more easily note trends for small-group work. Then, at the end of a week, teachers can transfer students’ labels to individual data collection sheets so they are also able to track student growth over time.
Anchor Chart Data Collection
A favorite way of observing and collecting data aligned to the Units of Study is to write students’ names on a one-page version of the anchor chart, which you can print from the online resources for each unit. Teachers either walk their classroom during writing time, analyze writing samples while kids are out of the room, or confer with a writer with a copy of the anchor chart nearby. They write students’ names near strategies with which they may need some individualized, in-the-moment feedback. The teacher can then pull all students whose names are written near a specific strategy into a small group, or they can follow up with a student in a one-on-one conference.
One more way of looking at your class with a bird’s-eye view is by creating and using a checklist. Many teachers will create checklists for each unit based on the big goals of the unit and the expectations of the writing checklist. Then, teachers can analyze on-demands and in-process writing using the checklist to determine next steps for individual students and to create small groups.
No system is perfect, and we hope these examples inspire you to create the system that will work best for you.
Whatever system you invent for yourself and whatever system your students invent, you can be sure of one thing: you will need to revise it! This is not a problem. It is a result of having your record-keeping system feed your ever-evolving needs and purposes. If your record-keeping system hasn’t changed for a while, focus on what information you are getting with it—is it still the most pressing information? If not, what information do you need, and in what form can you collect it? Has a colleague already figured this out? If so, what have they tried? With this information, you will be off and running, reinventing and recollecting, ready to interpret what you’ve collected to tailor your teaching more exactly to what your students need.
Grow confident writers with K-5 writing instruction resources that provide effective methods and tools to teach foundational skills and improve students' writing. Learn more about the Units of Study resources for K-5 Writing.