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Using Notebooks as Portfolios to Measure Student Growth

By Julie Ballew on March 25, 2013
  • Grades: PreK–K, 1–2

This year, my campus has been focusing on writing about reading. Teachers in kindergarten through 5th grade have launched reading notebooks and have worked hard to help students deepen their thinking about reading. You can read more about our notebook work in my previous posts about making connections, analyzing characters, and retelling stories in sequence. The notebooks have been a valuable assessment tool all year long. Teachers are able to see whether students have mastered a given concept and can make decisions about future instruction and intervention. Another benefit to using a reader’s notebook is that they have all of the student’s thinking bound together, making them a great portfolio for the year.

Kathy Howie, a kindergarten teacher at my school, recently shared several students’ entries with me, and I was so impressed with the thinking spread across those pages! Since the year is zooming along quickly, I took a moment to look through some kindergarten notebooks for evidence of student growth. I definitely was not disappointed!

Character Maps

I believe that an understanding of fiction is heavily dependent on an understanding of the characters in the story. When students are able to understand a character’s traits and feelings, they can better understand why they say and do certain things. This also helps them connect the events of the story to what might happen in real life. One way to deepen understanding of a character is with a character map. In kindergarten, a character map is often a drawing of the character with traits added as they discover them. Often, students will list feelings on a character map as well, which is not something we worry about in kindergarten. (By 2nd grade, we will help students make a more explicit distinction between traits and feelings.)

I borrowed three students’ notebooks to look at how they’ve grown this year. The entries on the left are from a reading of Corduroy by Don Freeman in October. Those on the right were completed this month after Ms. Howie read Dusty Locks and the Three Bears by Susan Lowell to her class. Just look at the growth in their character maps!

Student Notebook Entry           Student Notebook Entry

Student Notebook Entry             Student Notebook Entry

Student Notebook Entry          Student Notebook Entry


Making connections is another skill we begin teaching to even our youngest readers. Connecting books to themselves helps students understand the story better, and encouraging them to make text-to-text connections increases their higher order thinking skills like comparing and contrasting. These photos are from the same three notebooks. The entries on the left are from October, when Ms. Howie encouraged students to connect the books No, David! by David Shannon and Dinosaur vs. Bedtime by Bob Shea. The entries on the right were completed this month. Students were encouraged to make a text-to-text connection between Dusty Locks and the Three Bears and any other text. Again, the growth is amazing!

Student Notebook Entry          Student Notebook Entry

Student Notebook Entry          Student Notebook Entry

Student Notebook Entry        Student Notebook Entry

I loved looking back on the journey these students have taken in their reading lives. I know that their parents will be thrilled with a tangible track of that journey when the notebooks go home at the end of the year. What ideas do you have for tracking student growth? Leave a comment below!

Comments (5)

I actually do something like this in my k5 class. I almost annoy my parents with how much I let them know about their kids. I make copies of things that require parent's attention, like the writing samples. I send the copy home and keep the original in their file. In time, I send them home for the parents to keep though. My parents love getting even a copy. They understand the importance of keeping up with work.

Hi Crystal,

Thanks for your comment. Sending home a copy is definitely a solution that has the potential to make everyone happy! :)

I like the idea of a reading notebook, however I don't like that at my child's school, it's left there all year and the parents have no idea how the child is doing till the end of the year. If you want parents to be the child's primary educator, you need to involve them as well. Finally my child's teacher started sending home the drafts however we still only received these once a quarter. How can notebooks be used for the teacher's benefit as well as the students and parents throughout the year?

This is definitely a valid concern. Often times, notebooks aren't sent home for fear that they will be lost or forgotten, and it's a precious tool in the classroom. At my school, older students take them home often, while younger students tend to keep theirs at school. They are brought out at every parent conference, though - do you have opportunities to meet with your child's teacher in conferences?

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