A Digital Pensieve for the iPad

This is a guest post by Jonah Salsich, a grade three teacher in Connecticut, USA. He and his students love buddy blogging with 2KM & 2KJ!


Starting this September, I will be implementing The Daily 5 CAFE model as the key component of my literacy instruction.

The Daily CAFE

The Daily CAFE

While I am very excited about the model in general – especially the potential for increased student independence, giving me more time to confer with students and get to know them as individual readers – one thing I’m not terribly excited about is “The Pensieve” – the name for the conferring notebook that is essential to the CAFE approach.

The Pensieve

I have never been good with keeping papers organized. Digital files and folders just make more sense to me. My computer desktop is incredibly neat and compartmentalized, while my actual desktop can be a scary sight. I also like to be able to move lightly around the room. So, while I love the idea of having everything in a big binder that even I couldn’t lose, personally I’m not crazy about spreading it out on a desk and flipping between different tabs while conferring with a student.


So, this summer I set about trying to make a “digital pensieve” for the iPad. My first thought was to use Evernote (much as Russ Goerend details here). I love the automatic syncing and the ability to access notes from any device that Evernote provides. However, I wanted to follow the conferring template from The CAFE Book, and currently Evernote doesn’t support any kind of rich text formatting or tables on the iPad so all the notes would have to be in plain text.


After playing around with various apps and formats, I found that the pdf forms that come on The CAFE Book’s CD ROM are fillable. This means that text can be entered directly into the form’s fields by typing. PDF Expert is a fantastic universal app for reading and annotating pdf files. It is also the only app that allows you to enter text into fillable forms.


Below is a slideshow tutorial of how I used PDF Expert and the fillable forms from The CAFE Book to make a digital pensieve:

(View in fullscreen for best resolution)


While it may not be a perfect solution, I am hopeful that this set-up will meet my needs of; ease of use, portability, and access from any device. Here are what I see as the pros and cons:


  • Light and small – easy to work with in a variety of spaces
  • Universal access to folders and files through Dropbox
  • Can email forms for sharing with parents or colleagues
  • Can add notes on desktops and laptops using Preview or Adobe Reader
  • It’s cool! – more like Dumbledore’s magical pensieve


  • Light and small – easier to misplace?
  • Can’t include audio files in folders like you can in Evernote (but you can’t do that with a paper notebook either…)
  • Can only type text into fillable forms


Do you have any suggestions or questions?

How have you modified “the pensieve” to meet your needs?

  14 comments for “A Digital Pensieve for the iPad

  1. August 1, 2011 at 2:39 pm

    Hi Kelly,
    Your post shows how integrated pieces of tech can work together to give you comprehensive notes about your student.

    With the young children you teach, I imagine that almost everything you do is some kind of formative assessment. I’m not familiar with the Daily 5 or this pensive journal…but it sounds very sound and something that would help me with classroom management (even if the papwerwork is a bit daunting)… will it allow you to capture more data than just the Daily 5?

    • August 2, 2011 at 5:43 am

      Hi Marsha,

      Thanks for the comment. Yes, formative assessments are pretty much embedded into everything we do at the primary level. Or at least I try to make it that way. So, having someway to capture your observations is very useful.

      The Daily 5 is a great way to develop students’ reading independence, allowing you to work closely with individuals and small groups. The Daily CAFE link in the post gives a decent overview of the program.

      Unfortunately, the digital conferring notebook outlined in the slideshow really only works with fillable pdf forms. A more universal way to take notes and record data outside of Daily 5 forms on the iPad might be Evernote, Confer (app), or Onenote (as described in the comment below). I haven’t done much with the iWork apps like Pages or Numbers because they don’t seem to be easily transferred or synced across devices.


  2. August 1, 2011 at 7:19 pm

    Hi Jonah and Kelly,
    Thank you for the post about your adventures with the ‘pensieve’.

    As I’m sure you are aware, I’m one of many teachers using the daily 5 who have been following Jonah’s tweets about his successes, failures, trials and questions regarding setting up a digital pensieve.

    Like Jonah, I originally thought of using Evernote. I tried it out as my ‘pensieve’ for a month or so however for a variety of reasons it was not able to fulfill what I needed in a digital conferring notebook.

    After a recommendation from @mr_mitch-hughes, I’m now using onenote which is part of the Microsoft Office Suite. As I use a windows laptop, I already had the software; I just didn’t use onenote.

    My digital ‘pensieve’ is used for more than daily 5. I have been able to set up seperate folders for each of my students. Each one of these is then further divided into maths, literacy, and assessment. I’m able to add pages to each section.

    Where Jonah has been able to use the fillable pdf from the CAFE CD, I have had to ‘rewrite’ them so I can fill the forms in however I have made each different form into a template which I then can copy and paste for each student.

    I am able to video or audio record the students reading or at work and add to their assessment part of the ‘pensieve’.

    I have also developed a google doc daily 5 choices sheet for the students to fill in each morning before school starts. At the end of the week, this form is able to be copied and pasted into my ‘pensieve’.

    I also use google calendars as my ‘pensieve’ calendar. This allows me to share the calendar through the computer on our IWB. The students are then able to ‘book’ a time slot with me as they feel is necessary as well as review what is ‘booked’.

    My ‘pensieve’ is still not perfect. Using a laptop can be bulky to use on your lap. I’m sure Jonah’s ipad is a lot better option than my laptop for portablility.

    My big wish to add to my ‘pensieve’ is to be able to record running records directly onto the computer without the need to put onto paper first.

    I’ll be interested to see what others are using and doing for their digital ‘pensieve’.


    • August 2, 2011 at 5:57 am

      Hi Lisa,

      Thanks for sharing the great info about “onenote”. As I am a Mac user it won’t help me out, but it certainly seems to provide most of the features I am aiming for. I’m sure windows users will be interested to test it out. It sounds like it might be software that not every user is aware of. Can you sync the files to Dropbox to access on other windows computers?

      I would love to have the ability to include audio recordings of my conferences directly into the students folders on PDF Expert. But it isn’t hard to switch between apps on the iPad, so I will still record students for fluency reflection but I’ll just have it in a separate location on the iPad.

      I also plan on using google docs to schedule my conferences and strategy groups. For iPad users, CalenGoo is a nice app that syncs to Google Calender and displays it clearly on the iPad.

      I’m sure developers will continue to produce apps for recording and collating data that will help teachers organize all our various forms and assessments. Eventually one will meet most of our needs. In the meantime, I’ll use a combination of apps and see what works best as I go along.

      Thanks for the great information!


  3. Keira
    August 4, 2011 at 7:43 pm

    @ Miss Jordan,

    I love this post.

    I like the slide show I did not understand what it meant so I read it again.

    You get lots of teachers around the world on your blog.

    See you Miss Jordan,

    Love from Keira.

    • Miss Kelly Jordan
      August 5, 2011 at 2:27 pm

      @ Keira,

      Wow, you really love blogging don’t you! It makes me smile that you go onto my blog for teachers when you’re at home.

      Our blogging buddy Mr Salsich wrote this as a guest post on my blog. He did a great job!

      Keep up the enthusiasm! 🙂

      Your teacher,
      Miss Jordan

  4. Sandra
    August 31, 2011 at 11:38 am

    Great ideas here! I just bought a Livescribe pen last weekend and am hoping to use it for my penseive. Has anyone here tried that option? The catch will be…. and I still need to find this out…. can I photocopy onto Livescribe paper? I’d like to copy my CAFE templates onto the paper so the pen picks up all my writing (and running records) at the same time as the audio.

    I’ve barely scratched the surface. All I have done is take the pen to one summer inservice and take notes. I did not use the audio record to record the presenter, so my handwritten notes are now simply a pdf in Evernote (the pen synchs with Evernote). If I had also used the record feature, a video of my writing with the accompanying audio would have been created, and touching the pen to any of those words would start the playback of the audio at that point.

    I am really hoping the pen is my solution to marrying the speed of handwritten jot notes with the efficiency of having electronic files. I’d love to hear feedback from anyone who has used all these tools, incl. Livescribe, for running records and their penseives.

    Thanks for a wonderful post!

  5. Sandra
    August 31, 2011 at 11:49 am

    I’m sorry. I posted my comments above without having watched your slideshow. Now that I’ve watched it, I’m thinking my Livescribe pen will be great for running records, but I love your very clear instructions on setting up my iPad to handle the penseive for CAFE! My weekend is now all set out for me :~)

    Anyone know if The Sisters have an app in the works???

    Thanks again, Jonah for this brilliant post! Just in time learning!

  6. Hannah
    September 21, 2011 at 6:15 pm

    @ Miss Jordan,

    I love your post.

    I have been on an ipod befoure, but I do not really use them much.

    I really like your slide show it was very good.

    I think it is amazing what you can do with an ipod like play games and learn how to cook a type of recipe.

    What a great post again.

    Best Wishes,

  7. September 26, 2011 at 8:39 pm

    Thanks for the tip–I have PDF’s that I want to fill in via Evernote, and this will help! You can set Evernote to get local files from a Dropbox on your cpu, which can be the PDF’s you edit with PDF expert.

  8. Jennifer
    October 5, 2011 at 6:10 pm


    Just stumbled on your site and this post. The digital Pensive is coming – I attended “The Sisters” workshop this summer and they announced that it will be coming by 2012.

    Thanks for sharing your tips on how to convert the pdfs!

  9. Lorraine
    February 16, 2012 at 12:21 am

    Hi from California! I am so excited to see what you are doing with DailyCafe. I too love the digital pensive idea and have been using an ipad app called CONFER as my pensive. It is great, but not as adjustable as I would like. I wish I had the time and smarts to develop my own app for my pensive needs. Please keep up the research!!! Has anyone else tried CONFER…there is a quick video to show it at:

  10. Mrs Murphy
    February 21, 2012 at 7:51 pm

    Hi Jonah,

    Was just wondering how the digital pensieve is actually going? Is the PDFexpert app working the way you want? how are the non-fillable forms going?

    I have set up a paper binder one, but love the idea of ipad app. Might have to try that next year:)

    Hope all is well with you Kelly and loving your Grade 4s

  11. March 27, 2012 at 8:53 pm

    Hi I have just introduced the reading cafe to my grade 3/4 class this year, and am just starting the conferences etc. the students love it and Think it is quite funny that I am learning too, I am sure with practice I will get better at the individual conferences.

    mrs Hazzledine

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.