Friday, April 27, 2012

Tutorial - Build a Conferring Notebook with Evernote

The week of standardized testing and my sinus infection proved to be an exhausting combination that sapped all of my blogging strength. It's finally the weekend, though, so I'm back. Hooray!!!

Today I want to share a tip for building a conferring notebook for any subject -- especially reader's and writer's workshop.

Perhaps one of my very favorite tools to use for keeping track of things is Evernote. It's a free service that you can use to organize notes, pictures, and web clippings, and it works on any device -- laptops, iPads, smartphones, etc. It also recognizes text in pictures, and can search for that text. In my personal life, that feature comes in handy when I want to snap pictures of the label on a bottle of wine worth trying again or the hair dye color I'll need for doing touchups in a few weeks. But in my classroom, I like to use it for my conferring notebook.

This tutorial will help you get started with setting up your own conferring notebook in Evernote. All you'll need is an email address.

After you register, you'll need to check your email for a confirmation code to complete the registration process, but once you have that, you'll be ready to sign in and get going!

Underneath the elephant trunk in the upper left of the screen is a list of all of your notebooks. When you first get started, you'll have a default notebook that is your user name's notebook. I like to create special notebooks for the different subjects, however, so today I'll build a notebook for Writer's Workshop by clicking the down arrow by "Notebooks" and choosing "New Notebook." I'll give it a name (Writer's Workshop) and save it.

Once the notebook is created, I can make it my default notebook (the first notebook that launches when I open Evernote and the place where new notes get saved). You can do this by hovering your mouse over the notebook's name and clicking on the arrow beside it, then choose properties. You'll know which one is your default because it will have a star beside it. 

The next step is to make a new note. Typically, I create a new note for each student. 
(Note: I'd show you my real conferring notebook on Evernote, but it's got lots of student info in it that obviously can't be shared online. You'd mostly be looking at a blur. I'll revisit this topic as it gets closer to the next school year, though, and share more tips as I clear out this year's class.)

In the actual entries, I'll type the date and a brief note about what we conferred about. It automatically saves as I go, and I can set it to sort my files by the last updated date. This is useful so I can keep track of the kids that I haven't conferred with in a while. I can also take pictures and drag and drop them into notes. This is helpful if I want to take an image of a student's writing or a book he or she is working on reading. You can also send emails to your Evernote account and specify what notebook it should be filed in. 

The real advantage of Evernote is its portability. In the past, I've never really had a notebook system that worked for me. I couldn't keep up with all of my papers and artifacts, or I'd forget to bring it home with me over the weekend to plan instruction for the week ahead. Evernote works on any device and automatically syncs, so I can access my notebook anytime, anywhere. It's perfect for me as I circulate throughout the classroom, because I can use it on my phone or iPad -- items I'm likely to have on or near me anyway. If you're looking for a new system to use next year, I would highly recommend that you give this a try!

What do you use to record your conference notes? Do you use Evernote? Feel free to share your experiences in the comments below!


  1. Thanks so much for sharing this tutorial. I look forward to playing around with Evernote. Another friend told me about the Confer app. I plan to take a look at it as well. I am really enjoying your posts - please keep them coming!

    1. I tried the Confer app for a while this year, and I really liked that, too. The biggest problem for me with that one, though, was that I had to have my iPad with me to use it because the information wasn't synced to any other devices. So if I left my iPad at home (which happened often because I have a personal iPad and a school one that has all of my students' apps) or hadn't charged it or something like that, then I wouldn't have my conferring notebook. And I was not particularly good at transferring handwritten notes into the app later on. So Evernote works better for me because it's all stored in the cloud, and I can access it from anything.

      Thanks for commenting! I really appreciate it!

    2. I just looked at Confer app. Does Evernote do the same things as this app?

  2. Alison,
    I looked at the Confer app too. Is Evernote like that one? It seemed so great when I played around with it, but I've read reviews of Confer crashing. I like the idea of being able to enter notes about the student rich there, and use the same notes for different students. Saves time. Thoughts?

    1. Evernote is much more generic than Confer in that it wasn't designed with conferring with students in mind. I did like the ability to use the same notes for different students in Confer, and that's not as easily done with Evernote. Now I have to copy & paste if I want to reuse comments. Still, despite the extra work there, Evernote has 3 major advantages for me:
      1. Web accessibility - I can access my student notebook from any computer or mobile device if I log-in to Evernote. This one is HUGE for me.
      2. Picture features - I can take pictures of student work and comment on them using Evernote, and then save those pics to each student's conferring notes. In that way, it's becoming more of a portfolio for me.
      3. Audio recordings - I can audio record portions of my conferences if I want to through Evernote and save the audio to the student notes. This is helpful for fluency probes and work examples, or if I want a student or her parents to hear what she sounds like when she reads.

      Confer is definitely not a bad app, though. I liked a lot of aspects of it, although it did crash on me a couple of times. I just think that Evernote works better for me and the needs I have for my conferring notebook.

      Hope that helps!


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