Friday, July 15, 2011

Cyber PD: Conferring - Part 2

Friday.  Finally, a moment during the girls afternoon nap, that I can process and think about the insights and knowledge that Patrick Allen shares in his book Conferring: The Keystone of Reader's Workshop.  [Ah . . . deep breath.]


"As Peter Johnston reminds us, the word assessment derives from the Latin word assidere, meaning "to sit alongside." (Allen, 112)

Teacher. (Check.) Student. (Check.) Book. (Check.)  That's all I need, right?

I'm all about structure.  I like things in order, lined up, ready to go with a plan.  I feel as though everything Allen says is so obvious that, of course, we should be doing this, but maybe just like kids, we need explicit instructions and scaffolding.  Thank you Patrick for doing just this!

Patrick shared his thoughtful structure of his reading conferences, the RIP model.  As I thought about each component of this model, I felt validated in many of the areas.  Shaking my head. Yes, I do that.  I've said that before.  However, I also realize there is always room to grow!  As Patrick's supervising teacher said to him: "If you ever get to the point where you think you have it all figured out, it is time for you to quit" (Allen, 107).

My conferring goals for the next school year:
Conferring Goal #1. Start conferring -- non-negotiable, every day ritual.

Looking back, many of my reading conferences just skim the surface like a rock skipping across the pond.  One idea. Another thought. "Good job and keep reading," I'd say as the rock sinks quickly to the bottom thinking I need to meet with four more students.  I need to dig into Patrick's RIP model and experiment with his form, as he suggested.  As many other teachers mentioned, I have tried it all when it comes to documenting and recording.  I'm really good at collecting too!  Patrick's form appears simple and functional with friendly reminders of the components of the RIP model.  I'd also like to compare Patrick's form with the CAFE (2 Sisters) conferring form.  Many similarities I'm thinking.  I created my "pensieve" two years ago. I was organized. I made all the blank copies of the forms.  Guess what?  Still blank forms today!

Conferring Goal #2.  Use conferring form. Practice. Practice some more and see if it works or needs to be tweaked. Or try something new!

I wish I had time before or after school to talk with colleagues, process new learning, problem solve, evaluate, plan, etc.  How lucky Patrick had so many great colleagues that really pushed his thinking!  Troy seems like a really smart guy:
"This whole dependence on narrow, program-driven data about learners is getting out of hand.  We're trying to plot children on graphs. It's like all of a sudden something like fluency outweighs comprehension and levels outweigh the decisions readers make while they are reading.  Tests outweigh thinking. The small pieces outweigh the whole child. We have to do a better job of documenting growth in a wise way" (Allen, 112). 
I've heard the saying that we are "data rich, action poor."  It's true: We are so caught up in RtI, documentation, and data collection that we forget, or quite possibly lack the time and energy to have these types of conversations.  We forget about the child waiting to learn in front of us.

Conferring Goal #3.  Utilize my notes/reflections to inform my instruction.  
Conferring Goal #4.  Take time to have those important conversations with colleagues and teachers.

As I reflect on Patrick's conferences with three of his students, I think: "Wow."  Now, I realize that these conferences didn't all happen on the first day of school.  There was plenty of modeling, thinking aloud, guidance, support, scaffolding and gradual release of responsibility.  I get that, but, "Wow."  I work with developing readers.  Some are still trying to figure out the code.  Many lack vocabulary and schema.  Some have just made it by without thinking beyond the text.  Most are looking to just answer "it" right. I'm wondering if my small group developing readers can think and share like Patrick's students. I connected with Patrick's idea of little talk, more listening.  How does this look with developing readers? Is it realistic? I have high expectations for my students. I know they have great insights to share and maybe I'll be totally amazed, but I feel a sense of doubt.

5.  Reread Chapter 5: Cultivating Rigor, Nurturing Inquiry, and Developing Intimacy to eliminate any doubt or concern.  My students CAN do this!

"What your children take home in their hearts is far more important than what they take home in their hands." Bev Bos (Allen, 139)

Want to join in the Cyber PD?  Check it out:

July 6th:
Part I:  What Brings About a Good Conference, Anyway?
Hosted by Cathy Mere at Reflect and Refine

July 13th:
Part II:  What Are the Essential Components of Conferring?
Hosted by Jill Fisch at Primary Passion 

July 20th:
Part III.  What Emerges from Our Reading Conferences?
Hosted by Laura Komos at Camp Read-A-Lot

July 21st:  
Join us for the final conversation on Twitter using the hashtag #cyberPD.   


  1. Michelle,

    I really like how you have laid out your goals for the upcoming school year. You have inspired me to actually get mine in a more formal list or format. Thanks!


  2. Michelle,
    Friday night and I'm finally finding five quiet minutes to respond to people's Week Two Thoughts on Conferring. Yikes! And I don't even have baby girls as an excuse, just teenagers that run me all over the city on a daily basis.

    I am especially struck by your comments about being data rich, action poor. If I had to give myself one or maybe two goals for this year, I would want to get better at keeping my data organized, and then better at actually using the data to make instructional decisions. And I'm not even going to tell you how many "systems" I have created and then not used over the last 20 years.

    And yes to finding new colleagues! I'll be at a new school this year and am wondering who I will find. So thankful for all the great folks
    I have met on the internet!

  3. Michelle,
    Your post is so easy to read and so well organized, I can see you are a very organized person!
    Your goals will carry you far. I too taught children with reading difficulties I know what you are asking yourself when you say they are just looking to answer "it" right. Sometimes kids need to learn there is no "right" answer. The gift is in the process not the answer. The next couple of chapters are going to speak to you!

  4. Michelle - Love that you've set out goals for the year, and your first one is to confer every day. I'm wondering if you'll pick one student each day from the group? Maybe each student has a specific day that they can look forward to?
    I feel better about organizing for next year and starting to lay the foundation for conferring to take place right away.

  5. Michelle,
    I'm glad you were able to sneak a few minutes to write your reflection. Thanks for sharing your goals. It will be interesting to watch these conversations carry into our work with young readers in the fall.

    You mention the importance of finding someone to bounce ideas off of, talk to about successes/challenges, and to think through the hard parts of teaching. Sometimes those people are right inside our buildings, and sometimes they are in a neighboring school, on Twitter, or in a book. We can make connections for our professional learning conversations in many places. It's one of the things I love most about blogs and Twitter --- a professional learning community always at our fingertips.



Thanks for sharing your thoughts.