Thoughts on Conferring

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Day 14 of #btbc16
Thoughts on Conferring

I guess that makes conferring the most important part of my job.  
Thanks, Penny Kittle.

We are teaching kids, and each child is different. 
Sit next to them, and find out where they are on their reading and writing journey.

      I have been a literacy coach for 3 years, and conferring is the one part of Balanced Literacy that, as a whole, I would like to see more of when I go in and out of classrooms.  I know that conferring is hard to manage in terms of time.  Getting to all the kids can be a challenge, especially when you are also seeing groups.  Time management in a conference can be a struggle, too.  Note taking during conferences, or fear of saying or doing the wrong thing, also stops many people in their tracks.  But, when you think about it, conferring is just sitting down next to one kid and offering them a suggestion on how to get to their next step as a reader.  We can do this.  The more you do it, the more natural it becomes, too.

     When I had my own classroom, I used Daily 5 rotations in workshop.  I actually had 3 rotations, where students made choices and I met with guided reading groups or strategy groups.  The only way I was able to get myself into a regular conferring routine was to have a 4th rotation at the end, but it was a forced Read to Self.  The whole class would independently read from their baskets for that round, and my co-teacher and I would travel the room conferring.   My goal was to read with 3-5 kids a day.  Some days, that didn't happen.  But, because I had it in my schedule, it happened more than it didn't.  I ended up learning so much about the next steps my readers needed, and the successes that they were having as readers.  It also made a block of time for most of my class to independent read every day, which is also very important. 

     Is that the only way to fit them in?  No.  That's just the way that worked for me.  

     When I became a Literacy Coach, the first thing I did to learn what kids at different grades do was sit down and conferred with them.  Whenever I had an open slot of time my first year, I would go into a room that was reading and I read with kids.  Kids at different grades, reading books I didn't know, with kids I didn't know.  It opened my eyes to so many things that readers do, and greatly impacted the feedback I gave teachers. 

     I have taken conferring notes on paper, in Evernote, on labels, with a clipboard, and on scratch paper from the recycling bin.  I allowed myself to change my style as my style needed to change.  What I realized was it matters less HOW I recorded them on paper, and more how I communicate that feedback to the students.  

     The truth is, if we are truly responsive to the needs of our kids, then we need to know what they are doing independently as readers and writers.  Formative assessments give you a glimpse at their abilities, but sitting down with kids and giving them a few moments to show you what they can do independently is very powerful.  It also tells the student that they matter, because you made time just for them.  It also teaches us to listen a bit more to the students.  You can't just sit down, suggest something and move on.  You need to take time to listen to the child read, or talk about their reading.  It allows you to be PRESENT in their reading life if only for a few minutes.

     If you want to get your feet wet with a lower stress conference, try Compliment Conferences. Jennifer Serravallo is my favorite literacy guru genius, and she models them for us on video!  Here is a post I wrote about them a while back with links to excellent videos on the different conferences you might try.

     My final thoughts on conferring?  A few years ago, I made this graphic to show how I felt about conferring.  I compared it to the dessert, the chocolate pudding that is my favorite part of the meal.  The part that is rich and sweet, and the part you remember long after the meal is over.  That's what conferring is to me.   

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