iPad for Instructional Coaches

I’m super lucky…over the past few months, I have had the opportunity to play around with one of our school’s 30 iPads.  As I started to work with it, I focused mainly on researching and testing out different apps and iBooks to support literacy instruction.  Then I began to wonder about how I might use it to support the work I do as an instructional coach…hmmm…

After a few Google searches, I found a wealth of information on how to use the iPad in the classroom.  There was very little information however (none really!) on how to use an iPad as an instructional coach.  OK, I thought, I’ll just figure it out on my own.  Well, this figuring out piece ended up taking much more time than I thought…but I thought I was on to something.  Up to this point, I had been doing my observations and debriefs with paper and pencil and keeping them all in a binder.  I like paper and pencil because it feels much less intrusive in a classroom than a laptop and it’s also what I’m used to, so I feel comfortable with it.  On the other hand, I really don’t like it.  I wasn’t doing a good job of making my notes accessible to teachers and my notes felt more like a jumbled mess than a solid record of our work together.

By using an iPad, I had the opportunity to not only improve my efficiency and effectiveness, but to also serve as a model for other teachers for how they might use an iPad.  So I persevered and finally came up with a functional system.  I’ve been test-driving my new system for the past few weeks and I like it…a lot.  In case you’re an instructional coach (or teacher) wondering how you might use an iPad to support your work, I hope the ideas below will save you some time in “figuring it out.”

Notes Plus

Notes Plus is $7.99. There are less expensive handwriting apps also available.

I knew that I didn’t want to use a big, bulky laptop to take notes when in a classroom observation, so my first task was to find an app that would support handwriting.  After some thorough review, I narrowed my choices down to “Notes Plus” and “Ghostwriter”  I tried using consumer reviews and information on each of their websites, but I couldn’t make up my mind…so I bought both.  The plus of Ghostwriter is that you can upload your notes to Evernote.  This is one plus however compared to the many pluses in my mind of Notes Plus (no pun intentended). With Notes Plus your handwriting feels super smooth and natural.   You can also easily organize your notes into “Coaching Notebooks.”

My coaching notebooks organized in Notes Plus

Once I’ve collected notes from a classroom observation, I upload them to Google Docs where I create a folder for each teacher I work with.  Without making any adjustments, you can upload your notes in a PDF format and add them to your teacher folders for later use.  I like to do some editing of my notes before I debrief with teachers however, and I prefer for these notes I share to be typed.  In comes the “convert handwriting to text” feature of Notes Plus.  Yes, it’s an extra $1.99, but it’s pretty cool and a feature I definitely use.   During the debrief, I can easily add information from our discussion to this existing document.  This is then housed in my teacher created folder, which I share with them.  In doing this, there is no need to email the teacher your notes (which I sometimes forget to do).  It also ensures that you both have an organized system for storing, accessing, and using information collected during the coaching cycle to support your work.

My teacher folders in Google Docs on my laptop

My handwritten notes using Notes Plus

My notes after converting to text

I also use Notes Plus to take notes during other school meetings.  I store these notes in a “School Notes” notebook. (see photo above)

One last cool feature of Notes Plus is that you can take pictures during a classroom visit or walkthrough and add it straight into your notes to refer to later!

GoDocs

GoDocs is $4.99

As an add-on to Google Docs, GoDocs allows you to quickly and neatly manage your Google Docs on your iPad.  You don’t need this, but GoDocs leverages the iPad interface making it easier to work with your Google Doc files.   I love how well organized my files appear and how quickly I can access my docs.

My teacher folders organized in GoDocs

Evernote

Evernote is free!

For keeping up with small chunks of information and taking more thorough notes, I turn to Evernote.  I have the Evernote app on my iPad, computer, and phone and it’s free!  I have one main “School Notebook” setup with different stacks, which allows me to organize my information more thoroughly than I can in Notes Plus.  While I still use Notes Plus as my primary teacher observation tool, I prefer Evernote for other teacher meetings, planning sessions, and jotting down quick ideas.

Evernote on my computer

Wunderlist

Wunderlist is free!

Awhile back I read David Allen’s “Getting Things Done” and because I’m always looking for new ways to stay organized and on top of things, I was immediately hooked.  I tried out his system with a paper notebook, which worked for awhile.  Then I came across Wunderlist…love it!  You can sync it across all of your devices and it’s completely free.  When I’m out and about in the building and something pops into my head, I immediately pull out my iPad and record it.  When I meet with a teacher and we discuss any actionable next steps, I can create a list and share it with the teacher so that we both remain accountable.  My lists are pretty simple, but you can make them as specific as you want.  Everything in Wunderlist is considered an “actionable” item.  If something comes to mind that I don’t need to take action on right away, I store it away for later in Evernote to reflect on when I have more time. 

Wunderlist on my iPad

Diggo

Diggo is free!

Last, but not least, I would recommend adding Diggo to your collection of tools.  An easy way to think about Diggo is that it’s a smart bookmarking tool.  It allows you to highlight information on a certain web page and add personal notes.  You can the share these notes and highlights with others.  With the Diggo iPad app, you can quickly pull up your organized bookmarks to refer to when meeting with teachers.

 

 

 

Although the apps and ideas described above have worked for me, you may find an iPad system that works even better for you!  Please feel free to share how you have used the iPad to support the work you do as an instructional coach or teacher.

Manageable Monitoring Part II – Nifty Note Cards!

In my last post I wrote about one of my top two ideas for making monitoring student work and thinking more manageable.  In this post, I will describe my second manageable monitoring system.  I came across this idea while reading, “Making the Most of Small Groups: Differentiation for All” by Debbie Diller.  Being a huge fan of teacher organization tips and tricks, my attention shot straight to Debbie’s section on getting organized.  In this section she shares some of her thinking on using note cards as a monitoring tool.  I put her ideas to action in monitoring my students as readers and I also began using note cards for monitoring in writing and math.

Note Cards in Literacy

What will I need?

  • 3×5 white note cards (this helps me distinguish literacy notes from math notes), one for each student
  • 5-6 pocket dividers (different colors to indicate small groups, see below for clarification)
  • One divider for each student in your classroom (coordinate the color with their small group instruction color, see below for clarification)
  • One 1.5 inch binder (or larger if you anticipate needing more space)

How do I put it all together?
Before you put your literacy monitoring binder together, you will need to first put your students into flexible small groups for differentiated instruction.  Once you have done this, give each student a color divider and put them behind the same color pocket divider for that group.  You can put a few sheets of notebook paper behind each student’s divider tab to take running records for miscue analysis.

What do I do with the note cards?
Assign one note card to each student.  I use one side for anecdotal reading notes and the other side to jot down notes about their writing.  You can keep these note cards in the pocket of your pocket dividers.  If you decide to switch around your groups, note cards make it easy to do so.

When you meet with your students for reading groups, simply take out the note cards for students in that group and place it in front of each reader so that it is ready for recording observations.  This also makes it easy to see who you have made several observations on and who you haven’t.

Other thoughts
You can store your lesson plans for groups in or behind the pocket divider.  I also like to keep informational sheets with ideas for strategy instruction in the front of my literacy monitoring binder.

If students are involved in an expedition (long term unit of study), you can also keep your learning targets for that expedition in the front of your binder to keep your monitoring on track.

Note Cards in Math

What will I need?

  • 3×5 colored note cards (3 packs to start should get you through a couple of units)
  • Clipboard

How do I put it all together?
It’s super easy.  First, write each student’s name on the bottom of a note card tape (see below).  Next, tape them to the clipboard (start at the bottom of the clipboard and work your way up).  Try to keep them all the same color if you can.  You can use colors to help distinguish the unit you are taking monitoring notes on. I use a sticky note to jot down the look fors of that day’s lesson and put it on the clipboard.  This helps guide my focus.

You can also use these note cards to record observations you make in number talks, independent station work, small groups, or any other area of your math block.

Storing and Using Note Cards

Now that you have been busily using monitoring notes as an informal assessment in your classroom and your note cards are filling up, you want to put them somewhere safe where they’ll be easily accessible for future reference.  All you need is a 4 x 6 inch card file!  Store note cards under students first or last name.  The white note cards for literacy monitoring and colored note cards for math monitoring will help you keep things straight.

When you’re ready to do report cards or are preparing for conferences, just whip out these nifty note cards and you’ll be good to go!

 

Manageable Monitoring Part I – Portfolio Power!

Last week I had a conversation with a second grade teacher who was wondering about how to setup a manageable monitoring notes system.  This is not the first time that a teacher has come to me to inquire about this and certainly not the first time that I have wondered about it myself!  Before I continue, let’s clarify what exactly monitoring notes are.  From my perspective, I see monitoring notes as a type of informal assessment that helps to document student learning and guide further instruction.  Furthermore they are seemingly simple, yet deceivingly tricky.  I mean, all you need to do is jot something down on a sticky note and stick it on a binder or on your desk for later right?  Well, not really.  That one sticky note or piece of paper can quickly turn into several and before you know it you don’t know which is which or what is where.  Agh!  When this happens, you quickly feel frustrated and wonder what the point of this whole monitoring thing is anyway. Well it definitely has a point.  They not only serve as a documentation and planning tool, monitoring notes also play a key role when completing report cards, having high quality conferences with families, and in building a thorough body of knowledge in tracking student growth.
Each year, I have worked on revising and adjusting my monitoring system to make it more effective.   In this post and the following post I will share my top two manageable monitoring systems.

Portfolio Power!

Around my second year of teaching I began to wonder…”Wouldn’t student portfolios be cool!?  I could use them to house and organize my monitoring notes, other assessments, and even pieces students have selected themselves to show their best work!  Oh, and I could even use them for student lead conferences!”  Well while I had big dreams, putting these portfolios together seemed like too daunting of a task and I just couldn’t deal.  At least not that year.  The following year I figured out how to put it all together.  Check it out!

What will I need?

  • one 1-inch binder for each student (if students didn’t bring them in with their other back-to-school supplies, I found them for $.79 each at WalMart)
  • three dividers, one for each of the main subjects you teach (reading, writing, math) — I especially like the pocket dividers as you can use them to store other assessments
  • three pieces of construction paper, cut to size (matching the colors with the dividers keeps it even more manageable!)
  • mailing labels (I prefer the sheets that have three columns of labels)

How do I put it all together?
Label the dividers and put the corresponding construction paper folder behind them…done!

What do you do with the mailing labels?
The labels are where you will take your monitoring notes.  You will need one sheet of labels for each subject you are monitoring.  Write each student’s name on the labels for each subject (you can even use pen colors that match the construction paper color you’ve designated for each subject).  I then put these label sheets on a clipboard, dividing them with stick on tabs so that they are ready for monitoring.
What are you monitoring for? 
The majority of your monitoring notes should be based on specific look fors tied to learning targets you’ve set for the lesson.  Monitoring in this way helps to focus your attention and guides next steps. Of course, other note worthy observations not connected to the learning target you make while working with students can be recorded too.  As you continue to take notes on students, you can quickly see by looking at your monitoring sheet who you have met with and who you may need to check in with.
As your monitoring notes fill up, place them on the construction paper inside of student binders.  What will result is a growing bank of knowledge about students in each academic area that you can use to track and report progress.

At the end of the day or the week, try to set aside a time to review your monitoring notes and use them to make adjustments to your lessons.   Informed instruction = better instruction!  Take the time to make monitoring student work more manageable for yourself and I’m confident you’ll be happy that you did.

As always, let me know if you have other good ideas!

Kristin