The Power of Documentation

Screen_Shot_2013-11-08_at_8.38.46_AM-2A note from a teacher’s documentation in Evernote

Its been over 6 months since I last posted here and in the interim I have taken on a new position.  As the Academic Technology Coordinator at Catlin Gabel School I have the privilege to help oversee the implementation of all sorts of technologies into classrooms pre-K to seniors.  It’s a rare opportunity work at a school that has a very strong technical support team coupled with a desire to develop a thoughtful and cutting edge vision for technologies of all types.

Of course, I continue to develop ways to squeeze in Evernote into the work I do.  I don’t have to be heavy-handed about it (I don’t want to be that way any way) as there are so many staff members who are interested in its possibilities.  With so many great new features (including presentation mode, speech to text mode on the mac, and the deeper integration of Skitch and Penultimate)  the power of using Evernote in the classroom is constantly expanding.  I will cover some of those changes in future posts (I hope in the near future that is) but today I wanted to hit on a topic that I feel has particular power and significance for teaching and learning: documentation.

Last year, as I worked at a Reggio Emilia inspired elementary school I came to appreciate the power of really watching and listening to children.  The role of documentation at Opal demonstrated what we can learn as educators when we really slow down and listen to children.   I am still a strong advocate for having students develop and control their own portfolios, but documentation, with a tool like Evernote, provides us a great opportunity to see and hear more deeply what is going on in the minds and hearts of our students.  Having a separate notebook for each student within a teacher’s Evernote account makes this possible.  The great thing about Evernote is that at the end of the year the teacher can download any and all notes they made that should be uploaded into a students personal portfolio. This year I have supported many teachers in doing just that.  They download a series of student notebooks onto their computers, put them on a thumb drive, and either upload them into individual student accounts or into the accounts of the new teachers. It works brilliantly.

In the photo above you will notice one image and short contextual documentation of what a teacher here at Catlin saw happening with a kindergartener in her class.  There is a strong image showing what is happening, a short explanation to give context, and the actual words of the child.  While this photo and text was part of a series of pictures in one note about this particular project, you can begin to see how even just this single example can begin to paint a picture of what is going on with the child.  This note was then shared with parents, providing an insight into the life of their child at school.

Of course this kind of documentation takes time but the beauty of it is that it doesn’t have to happen all the time to be powerful.  It is the beginning of November and the series of notes that are part of this context (the child working in the studio working with paper) are the first sharing of this portfolio work.  But because the series of notes (there are a total of 4 notes in this paper making series) are so thoughtful they reveal so much about what is going on for this child.

In the photo below you can see the teacher revealing the results of further paper exploration and some thoughts from the  child about what might be explored next.  All of this documentation was done quickly with Evernote and then shared with parents and colleagues.

Screen Shot 2013-11-08 at 9.08.59 AM




3 responses to “The Power of Documentation

  1. I’m just beginning to explore Evernote as a means for creating digital portfolios for my students and I love your blog! I recently met a teacher from the Opal School at the NCTE Convention in Boston and I loved hearing about all that she does with her students and I think Evernote is a great tool to document that learning in a very meaningful way. Thank you for sharing!

    • Hi Amy.

      I was just talking this evening with Susan Mackay (the director of the Center for Children’s Learning) about the Opal trip to Boston. Which teacher did you talk with? Levia, the 4th/5th grade teacher?

      I’m glad you like the blog. It needs some updating. You can get a better sense of my work by reading my e-book “the power of portfolios”. That may sound like a blatant push but it’s not meant to be. I find reading blogs in their entirety difficult so that’s why I created my book. It uses a lot of what is on the blog as source material.

      I read a bit of your blog and it sounds quite good. I’m happy to share as much as I know about using Evernote in the educational setting. If you want to chat more just send me a note at


    • You can also follow more current thoughts on Twitter. @evernotefolios


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