Tip: Gather ye notes on students while ye may...
The semester is a-flying!
As the end of the semester rapidly approaches, there’s one extra task that future-me always thanks past-me for doing: writing up notes about students while their work is fresh in my mind. Whether you get many requests for letters of recommendation for jobs or graduate school or only a few each year, I find it so helpful to have an easy-to-search collection of notes about students. Back in the pre-LMS days, it was relatively easy to keep these records, as I saved each semester’s grade spreadsheets and had hard copies of their final papers or exams to flip back through. Now that grades and assignments all live inside the LMS, I find it’s harder to access material from semesters past. For faculty who teach at several institutions, or move institutions, it’s even more challenging to maintain access to old courses and student grades.
Last spring I shared one method for keeping student notes in a spreadsheet with the student's name, class taken and semester, final grade, a column for notes about attendance and participation, a column for notes about their writing, and a column to note any concerns. These are the pieces of information most helpful for me when responding to job recommendations or writing letters or when I have the student again in future semesters.
When all of this information is fresh at the end of the semester, it only takes a minute to type up these notes and enter them into the spreadsheet. It's much faster than any of the other, fancier, student tracking software options out there. Plus, these notes are really intended only for your own use, unlike notes from advising appointments or concerns reported to the school about a student. If you’re particularly into record-keeping, you could copy some snippets from feedback provided on assignments over the semester so that you have examples to draw on in the future. We put so much labor into feedback and grades that disappear into the LMS and are incredibly difficult to find after the semester has ended - keeping your own record is one way to hold on to some of this labor.
I have found that filling in the spreadsheet as I enter final grades doesn’t take too much time, and it’s time well spent on behalf of future-me who always seems to receive requests for recommendations at the busiest time of the semester.