Monday, August 19, 2013

Documentation Using Notability

After some recent rich conversations on Twitter with @EmilyKrahn1 and @KinderFynes, I thought it would be interesting to share some of my own learning's using this app to document student learning. Through the rich conversations on Twitter, we have also discussed how one "app" or method for documentation/assessment compares to another based on individuals preferences.

It is important that the method you choose is one that you can sustain. Think about your personal preferences and my biggest recommendation is to download free ones to play around. Notability does come with a small fee, but for myself I find that it is worth it. Further, any WRDSB iPads have this app preloaded (which is great for those within our board).

I think it is important to note that Notability is not the only way that we document. We often find ourselves with pencil and paper (which I then sometimes later input into Notability), I use videos and photos, and monthly we use a class profile to plot out what we know collaboratively about children.

Things that I love about Notability:
-very user friendly and easy to operate
-everything is very quick and instant (e.g., you can add a photo while typing in the file without exiting the program)
-you can organize files and have a file folder with digital files for each student or for each project
-you can quickly send notes to your desktop computer
-you can create one file for multiple students
-it is NOT web based - so you do not need to rely on wireless access/speed

Challenges of Notability:
-personally don't like to format and organize my documentation pieces using Notability (however the new update offers some features that may make it easier to do this!)
-it doesn't automatically sync with your computer, you have to send files that you may want to work on further (again - the new update has fixed this problem - see below!)

Features and Functions:
On the left, you will notice student names (folders). You can create folders for each student and then within will be files about them.
On the right hand side - you will notice the "search" feature. You can search through student files based on "title" or "content". I did a search for Capacity and it came up with 1 file.
Although I haven't "tagged" files - I supposed you could simply add key words at the top of the file to search within a student for specific things (e.g, "number sense")

Within each student folder - you can create files. I like that each file has a date and time stamp on it. You can title it anything you would like. On the top toolbar you will notice that you can change the font, you can highlight, cut, copy, paste. There is a small microphone that allows you to record conversations or children as they are playing and it attached it to the file. It essentially is like a word document.

When you click on the plus symbol - you can insert a picture (from camera roll, or you can take one in the moment). You can add captions to the photos and they can easily be resized/altered.
I sometimes find when I am in the moment with students I will simply write point form, record some video and then later on add a bit of reflection to the piece of assessment.
Sometimes there is less to write and more to see. I will often just add photos to a file that tell a story about that child. Sometimes you may add some captions or short blurbs to add to the photos. I find that this is an easier way to organize all of the photos that I take over the day when capturing student learning.
While writing report cards or reviewing pieces of documentation it is great to have photos and files on a child or project all organized in one file on the iPad.
There are some functions that I haven't used such as "stickies" and "web clips", however depending on the purpose of your files these may be helpful. I know that you can import pdf files into Notability - and a colleague of mine added sticky notes to professional articles she was reading and finds that function really helpful.

After starting to write this blog last week, there has been an update (of course)!
There have been a few great updates such as iCloud and the option to print directly from the iPad app. This makes it easier to create a piece of documentation or a learning story within the program and print right away.

There are also more options to organize your files by adding subjects and dividers. If you have an AM/PM class you could also organize it that way.

There is a great tutorial that you can go through that walks you through the application once you download it! It is hands on and helps you to understand the basics of the program.

Last but not least, there is a function now to back up files and alter settings to automatically save work and files.

There are so many little tips and tricks that come with the program, but like any app you have to practice what we preach PLAY WITH IT! I have learned so many things just playing around. If you swipe the file it gives you the option to delete it and if you hold the file you can duplicate it and then drag it into other students files (which is fantastic and simple if you are writing a piece on a small group).

I also use Notability to organize my guided reading notes. I quickly type up my lesson plan and book in the groups file (very short and point form - again so that it is sustainable and practical). Then while the children are reading (or after we finish), I can add little notes about our session specific to each child or the group. It is great come reporting time or when I am planning for the following week to simply open up their guided reading file to see what their areas of strength and need are.

Near the end of the year we began to use Notability to organize Project Work. When we sat in an inquiry circle and discussed our questions or learning's - one of us would document the conversation directly on the iPad and the other would support the students and lead the conversations when needed with prompts or further questions. We were able to use our notes to reflect on students knowledge, next steps, wonderings without having papers everywhere!

Please do not hesitate to comment with questions or MORE tips. I have only included the basics and in collaborating with other educators I continue to learn neat tips and tricks for this fabulous app! If you try it out be sure to let us know if you like it and how things are going.


  1. Tracy,

    Thank you for this! You have truly made your thinking visible here, showing your process and the way you've made this work for you.

    When I asked people on twitter to tell about their assessment collection stories a few weeks back, it did turn into a very complex conversation, with so many parties providing their preferences and insights. I left with many ideas, but still unconvinced so I dabbled within the six productivity apps I'd downloaded to see which would work for what I was asking of them (pics, video, searchable tags on files). I see through your wonderfully detailed description that I was right to jump ship on the other app I had chosen and was struggling with.
    For the purpose of "playing with it" as you say (the only way I learn any new app/tool) I created files for my kids and the cat. I appreciate you noting that you can take pics and later review, adding details. It's one thing I noticed but only from toggling back and forth between apps, importing the same images and descriptions and seeing how they were easier or more difficult to format. I also think the fact that it is device internal, unlike Evernote or others which are web-based, makes it a much better choice for educators who spend much time with their kids outside, far from wifi. Your post will serve as a starting point for conversations among FDK or K teams as they head back into schools next week (like many of your posts!).

  2. Laurel, what I would give to work in a school with you!
    Being as reflective and passionate as you are is a true blessing!

    I agree with you about the wifi connection - it makes it a much more "portable" app. I just love how user friendly and simple it is. Sometimes I wonder if I should dabble with other apps, but I have strong feelings about how simple, easy, and great Noteability is.

    Did you end up deciding on one? Would love to hear how it is going - I am not quite ready to document or assess yet, had a busy first week back!!

  3. I wonder if you can help....what's the easiest way to get the files off notability/ipad? our school computers are windows, and the printers are on the network too.

  4. Hi Laura!
    I usually leave files on the iPad so I don't have as much experience taking them off to organize/print. However, I have taken files off in different ways. If you are just wanting to take a couple off at a time you could simply email them to yourself. It allows you to send it in different formats (e.g., pdf, RTF - which is compatible with word, and Note).

    If you are familiar with and comfortable with Dropbox or Google Drive - these would allow you to do the same thing.

    Does that help? Are you wanting to take them off and print them as forms of documentation?

  5. Laura,
    Where do I find the video format on Notability? Do i have to go up to the paid version for video?