Looking for Notetaking Software to Make Observations of Students in the Classroom

We are looking for ways to become more efficient in the classroom. One of the areas we are focusing on is becoming more organized and systematic in the way we make notes about our students.

We want to collect data that is useful, meaningful, and timely:

  • Information that helps us to plan our lessons
    • what can our students do,
    • what can’t they do, and
    • where do we need to go to help them to succeed.
  • Information for parents to know how their students are doing.
    • So they can help their students to succeed, and
    • so there are no surprises when the report card comes home.
  • Information for students to know how they’re doing
    • what are they doing well,
    • what do they need to improve on, and
    • next steps to work on.
  • Immediate feedback
    • so students can start improving right away (instead of a month later after they’ve already forgotten about the assignment.)
    • So parents can stay on top of their students and help them to succeed.
    • So teachers can modify their lessons to better meet the needs of their students.

Things to think about:

Context: The Role of Observation in Assessment and Evaluation

The government of Ontario recently released Growing Success: Assessment, Evaluation, and Reporting in Ontario Schools. Beginning in September 2010, assessment, evaluating, and reporting in Ontario schools will be based on the policies and practices described in this document.

Teachers use informal (anecdotal) and formal observations in their toolkit to assess and evaluate students in the class. Teacher observations are a valuable part of the assessment and evaluation process.

In fact, Growing Success goes so far as to define observation in the glossary:

“the ongoing process of watching, listening, and being attuned to students behavior, emotional state, interests and abilities, patterns of development, and progress in learning in order to meet the needs of students and assess and evaluate the development and learning.” (Page 150)

Current assessment and evaluation dogma recognizes three purposes in assessment:

  • Assessment for Learning (“understanding where learners are in their learning, where they need to go, and how best to get there.” – page 31)
  • Assessment as Learning (“developing and supporting student metacognition,… [so students] monitor their own learning; use assessment feedback… To determine next steps; and set individual learning goals.” – Page 143)
  • Assessment of Learning (Evaluation)

The Ministry of Education views Assessment for Learning as a “high yield instructional strategy that takes place while the student is still learning and serves to promote learning.” (Page 144)

Current policy on assessment informs teachers to obtain assessment information through a variety of means, which may include formal and informal observations, in addition to other tools: discussions, learning conversations, questioning, conferences. Other assessment tools listed include homework, group work, demonstrations, projects, portfolios, developmental continua, performances, peer and self assessments, self reflections, comments, essays, and tests.

The new policy on evaluation (i.e., for report cards) identifies three different sources for teachers to look for evidence of student achievement:

  • observations
  • conversations, and
  • student products (i.e. rich performance tasks, demonstrations, projects, essays, tests, exams, assignments, etc.)

In short, observations and conversations with students are an important part of assessment and evaluation practice.

The million-dollar question is, how can we collect meaningful information that can be shared with teachers, students, and parents in a timely fashion.

Making Notes in the Classroom – Current Practices and Ideas

A lot of teachers make anecdotal notes on their students while observing them in the classroom.

Different teachers have different notetaking systems. Here are some examples:

  • Some teachers walk around the classroom jotting notes down on sticky notes and then at the end of the day, they file those sticky notes into a binder. The binder has a section for each student, so at report card writing time, the teacher simply looks at all the sticky notes as an assessment and evaluation tool.
  • Some teachers team teach with a colleague who comes in to work with a group of students. Sometimes, there is a communication book which the two teachers use to jot down their observations of the students when they are working with them.
  • Some teachers make anecdotal observations, but don’t jot down any formal notes.

Making Notes in the Classroom – Wish List

We want to become more effective in the classroom by becoming more efficient and organized with our anecdotal observations and notetaking on student performance.

Here’s what we would like:

  1. We want an organization system that is quick and easy to use. When we see a student doing something noteworthy, we want to be able to jot down a note and then move on. (We want technology to move at the speed of thought. We don’t want to be waiting for page to load to slow down our observations.)
  2. We want an easy way to find the information we need from the piles of notes.
    • We need to to be able to pull out all relevant information by student.
    • We need to be able to sort information by date so that we can see how a student is performing most recently and most consistently.
  3. We need a way to summarize the information so that all the notes can be consolidated into a single report that is easy to read. 
  4. We need to be able to share relevant information with other colleagues, parents/guardians, or the student themselves.
    • Sharing information through online access is quick and easy, but not everyone is comfortable with computers.
    • Information needs to be accessible on paper (i.e. printouts) as well as electronically (e-mail? Web access?)
  5. We want a notetaking system that is collaborative. If several teachers work with the same student, we would like a way for everyone to be able to enter information, as well as see other people’s anecdotal notes.
  6. We want all of our notes entered in the computer, so it’s easier to search through the information or consolidate information. The problem with sticky notes is that sometimes your post it note is about several different students. For example, if you notice that Serena and François are having difficulties with each other, do you file that sticky note under Serena, or François? With a digital solution, we should only have to enter the information once.
  7. We want to be efficient by handling each piece of information once. For example, we don’t want to have to jot down our anecdotal observation onto a sticky note, and then at the end of the day transfer that sticky note into the binder. We also don’t want to transcribe notes and type them in. In other words, we don’t want to have to enter in the same information twice.
  8. We want a private and secure system. Because we’re dealing with student information, we need to make sure that only the required people have access to information. The system needs to be safe from student hacking/vandalism, and accidental disclosure.
  9. We want a reliable system. The beautiful thing about paper and pencil, is that paper and pencil always works. Usually a pencil doesn’t crash, and if it does, it’s easily replaced or sharpened. Our notetaking system needs to be reliable and robust. (And backed up.)
  10. We want it for free if possible. Or cheap. Or software that we already have.
  11. We want a digital organization solution that doesn’t require special permission to install onto our teacher computers at school. Our school is fortunate enough to have Wi-Fi in the building. All teachers have access to a computer, however installing a program often requires a call ticket to the school board’s IT department. It’s often a time-consuming process, if they give permission at all to install the program.
  12. We want a solution that can be accessible while walking around in our classroom, or sitting at our desks at home. This probably means some serve collaborative app living in the cloud. Since accessing their network space on our school server can be problematic or technically difficult.

A List of Possible Notetaking Software to Help Teachers Make Anecdotal Observations of their Students for Assessment and Evaluation

It’s a big wish list, and we may not be able to find one solution that meets all of those needs.

We’re looking at several different possibilities for notetaking software. Here’s what we’re thinking about right now:

What do you use to make notes about the students in your classroom? Any suggestions on where we should be looking? Stay tuned as we evaluate some of these options.

This post was written using Dragon NaturallySpeaking 11 Premium Wireless.

  • There are 1523 words in this post. Dragon made 38 word errors. So, we had an accuracy of 97.5% in this document.
  • If you include punctuation and capitalization errors, Dragon made an additional 10 punctuation and capitalization errors. So, we had an accuracy of 96.8 % in this document.

4 thoughts on “Looking for Notetaking Software to Make Observations of Students in the Classroom”

  1. We can provide most of what you are looking for and we might even be able to do it for you for free! We specialize in developing productivity note taking software for different vertical markets. Our first product (Wiznotes) is actually a productivity note taking tool for students to help high school and college students succeed in their studies. If you are interested in our services, please get in contact with us.

    Eli Cohen
    Mesoraware (Wiznotes is a division of Mesoraware)

  2. I am a Multi-Age K/1 teacher in Florida and I am desperately seeking the same thing you are. I used to use “Learner Profile” by Sunburst with the old apple newton handheld, but it is antequated now. Have you found anything useful? If so, please share! 🙂

    1. We still haven’t settled down on one single note taking software yet. A few of us use Google Docs because you can access the information anywhere and it’s free. (Also, the new way that Google Docs handles comments means it’s a lot like a MSN chat window, so you can chat about things without actually messing up your notes.)

      Next year, a group of us are using DropBox as a way to share lesson plans and notes. It’s free (for 2 GB of space) but it’s essentially just a common folder that you can see from work and home (and you can share the folder with your colleagues.) I’m more of a fan of Google Docs because multiple people can edit the notes at the same time, but DropBox seems to be easier for people because once it’s set up, it’s literally another folder on your computer that automatically gets sync’ed with the rest of the world.

      If you’re lucky enough to have an iPad, you might consider checking out Teacher Pal which is a free app. It’s designed for taking attendance, but you can customize it for other things. (For example, instead of it saying Absent, Present, Late, we set it up so it says, Present, 1 comment, 2 comment, 3 comment, etc. That way, you have a class list infront of you and every time you tap the student’s face, it counts the number of times they participate.) We also use it for anecdotal marking. You can create an assignment and then as students speak, jot down a quick anecdotal mark.)

      Good luck finding something that works for you and let us know if you find something decent!

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