Monthly Archives: September 2013

Assessment in the Time of New Literacies

Evernote for Teachers

Assessment has a new look! Consider the following excerpt from Teaching Literacy in Fourth Grade, a book I wrote in 2008:

Julie keeps a notebook with a divider for each child in the class. Each time she meets with a child individually or in a group, she places her sticky notes or observation sheets in the notebook with the appropriate child. Each day, she looks over the notes she has made in order plan for the next day’s instruction. Julie knows that keeping track of her students’ literacy development is important to providing the appropriate support for continued progress. (p. 93)

Today, assessment is just as important in Julie’s fourth grade classroom, but she no longer uses notebooks, dividers, sticky notes, and observation sheets. Julie keeps the same information online for ease of access, plus she is able to include many more types of artifacts. Julie uses Evernote to capture her students’ learning.

Evernote is similar to an online notebook in which you can save almost anything from anywhere.  On the left side of the image below, all of the media that has been saved is displayed and when one item is selected, it is shown in the main frame.  Web pages, emails, written notes, images, links, text messages, scanned/PDF documents, videos, audio notes—almost anything can be sent to Evernote from a computer, iPad, or cell phone. Notebooks are created for each student and items or “notes” are stored within each notebook.

Evernote content

 Cathy Mere, a first grade teacher in Ohio, has also moved away from keeping paper copies of ongoing assessment. After using a spiral notebook for 10 years, Cathy now uses Evernote to capture student learning and recording her conferences and notes. She believes that the use of Evernote has caused her assessment to become much deeper and richer. Evernote can serve as a central space to house a vast collection of multimedia assessment data for each child—including audio recordings, snapshots, scanned work or images, webpages, written notes, video, and Google documents and forms—and supports a number of ways to organize and access information by tagging and sorting.

With one click, Evernote displays all the assessment data for one student or all students. This allows for analysis across multiple sources and types of data, providing a deeper, richer picture of student learning. It is also helpful for sharing with other teachers, school personnel such as reading specialists, and parents. Cathy Mere has written about her use of Evernote on her blog Reflect and Define. In response to one of Cathy’s posts, teacher debf (2012) left the following comment:

My newest love is emailing parents directly from EN [Evernote]!

I have added all the parent email addresses to my contacts making emailing from EN seamless! In addition, I added a Parent Communication note for each child. This note contains all parent contact information and a family photo. I find having the photo handy helps me to remember my parent communications. I can email parents note, photos, videos or audio clips as I sit alongside the child!

The kids LOVE this, I even let the kids hit the “send” button.

Assessment is a critical aspect of teaching and learning. Using tools such as Evernote can make the process easier while extending the depth and complexity of analysis. It also makes it easier to share assessments with other stakeholders.

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Using the Note Sharing Feature in Teaching the Language Arts

Together, my students and I have embarked on the adventure of using a multimedia digital textbook for the first time. As a coauthor for the book, I was well aware of the book’s content, but now it was to time put the digital text into practice. I knew that Inkling had added the technology magic that would let my students and me share our notes from our readings, but I had no idea exactly how this would work. Here is what I have learned in the first few weeks:

Readers must follow each other in order to see the notes. To do this, I put my students into groups of four and had these four share among themselves the email addresses they used to set up their Inkling accounts. Next, each person accessed his or her own Inkling account, clicked on the Read link, and used the search feature on the left to find or add the email addresses for their group members. From that point on, each new note added by one of the group members would appear in the margin of their ebooks.

The instructor must follow all of the students in order to see their notes. In order for me to see their notes, I must search for or add each student’s email address. If I want my students to see my comments, they must add my email address. (The email address is simply the way Inkling users identify themselves. Your email address is not used by Inkling.)

For my class, I created a discussion assignment for our language arts course, based on students’ contributions to their group’s notes. With the goal of encouraging discussion, I shared my criteria for a substantive note: Your response should be a good paragraph in length, about 5 to 8 sentences. Refer to specific ideas from the book and blend these with your own experiences, wonderings, and questions.

I have found that the notes serve as an informal assessment of students’ reading and understanding of the text. As I began reading the notes, I was struck by something odd. Many notes appeared at the beginning of the chapter, but as I scrolled down I noticed very few notes in the final two-thirds of the chapter. The visual evidence of this observation was so stunning, I made screen shots (see below), shared these with the students, and asked for their impressions. Some laughed or looked the other way. They knew that I knew that many students had read only the first part of the chapter—enough to be able to post their required notes.

This prompted a discussion about the purpose of reading the textbook, besides the obvious reason of doing well on the next exam. These students will soon be taking the Praxis, student teaching, interviewing for jobs as professional teachers, and eventually teaching full-time in elementary classrooms. I tried to impress on the students that the reading assignments are not just something to get through, that this information will have a direct impact on their success as teachers. I will see in the coming weeks whether this discussion has impacted their behavior!

Student notes in an early section of chapter


Lack of notes in a later section



Overall, the students and I have found the note sharing feature to be novel and a bit fun. It’s interesting to get a peek into the thinking of classmates, something that is not always possible during a whole class or small group discussion. Some students feel more comfortable sharing ideas in a digital message rather than speaking. Either way, we are all learning more about how to use the technology to learn from each other.

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