Compliment Conferences

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

     Conferring with children is one of my favorite things to do.  I think it is the closest thing that teachers can do to continue growing those readers, after they have grown up a bit and no longer sit on their parents' lap to read.  Sitting next to a child, one on one, and reading with them (even if just for a few minutes) shows that you value them as an individual reader.  It also really helps you be responsive to their needs as a reader.

     Last summer, +Felicia Frazier and I taught a PD on conferring, and the summer before that +Marilyn McManus and I did.  The truth is, there are many ways you can go about conferring with kids.  My teacher bookshelf is filled with books giving me protocols for reading with students.  

     With so many ways to confer out there, we came up with a template that took what I felt were the key points of all those gurus.  This is what we came up with...
Research: In order to be responsive, we have to take time to see what the student is actually doing.
Compliment: Giving the student an affirmation as a reader will create a more positive conversation.  It will also make sure that you are focussing on their strengths as a reader, and what they can actually do.
Decide: What will help this child move along right now, based on strengths?
Teach: Model the strategy, and use gradual release.  Think "I do, we do, you do." 
Link: Remind the student that this strategy can be practiced beyond the conference.

     If you have 3-5 minutes to read with a kid, you can get through those steps and really be responsive to them as a reader.  Even if you skip a step, or add a step here and there, you most likely will still be responsive, because the simple act of reading one on one with a student gives you information about them as a reader.  

     I think most teachers would agree with me.  Conferring with kids is something important and valuable.  But... where do you find the time?

     We just had mid year check in meetings with the teachers in my building, and meeting after meeting described all the fantastic work they are doing in guided reading, strategy groups, and with intervention groups.  But, with all those pieces in their day, many were struggling to get to conferring.  So, we discussed the idea of a compliment conference.  The steps are a little different than the ones above.
Research: In order to be responsive, take some time to see what the student is actually doing.
Compliment: Notice a behavior that you want to continue, and compliment them on it.  
Link: Remind the student that this strategy can be practiced beyond the conference.

     In a compliment conference, you could walk around and spend 90 seconds talking to each child, and get quite a few conferences done in a small amount of time.  In the process, you will be giving accountability to the readers in your class, as well as specific feedback on what they should continue to do to be successful readers in your classroom.  Along the way, you will also notice things that are not going as smoothly, and taking note of those things will help you determine mini lessons you need to add, strategy groups you need to pulls, formative assessments you need to give, etc. 

     There is a FANTASTIC video of a compliment conferences in action, done by Jennifer Serravallo, here:

     Serravallo also has a video of a longer Research-Decide-Teach conference, like the one Calkins describes in her Units of Study.  Here is a video of that:

      Serravallo also has a video of what she calls a Coaching Conference, seen here:

     No matter what structure you use when conferring, I highly suggest that you keep notes in some way.  Either in a binder (like the Sisters' Pensieve), a sheet of labels, a clipboard, in Evernote, etc.  You should always take a moment to jot down the feedback you gave and behaviors you noticed.  Below is a snapshot of some conferring notes from this week in +Katie Cardelli's class at Hiawatha.  The sheet she uses gives her a spot to write the compliment, but also jot down possible teaching points for next time (if using a compliment conference format).  

     If the longer format conference is taking too much time, think about trying Compliment Conferences out and see how they go!

     Happy Reading!


  1. Hi- are you willing to share the form you created? Thanks so much