Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Cyber PD: Conferring

My stack of professional to-be-read books is leaning.  I added one more to the top of the pile this last week as I couldn't resist joining a group of educators on a journey through a new forum of #cyberPD. We are reading and responding to Patrick Allen's Conferring: The Keystone of Reader's Workshop (Stenhouse, 2009). Whenever I read PD books, I am always thinking about how I can utilize the information learned in my own classroom (a resource classroom where I work with small groups of students).  In addition, I am also thinking about what and how I can share new ideas and strategies with my colleagues.  This may just be a great book study to discuss this year!

I still do not have the actual book in hand from Amazon, any day now.  I have read all that I could of the online preview on the Stenhouse website . . . foreword (written by Debbie Miller), prologue, introduction, and chapter one.

When I first spotted this book months ago, I thought it was about conferring with writers, not readers.  (I'm guessing I skipped right over the MOST important part of the title.)  I'm so glad that I didn't skip over it again when this opportunity was shared on Twitter.  Conferring with readers is not a new idea for me, but I do believe that I need to create more time to confer and make that time more meaningful.  In the past, I believed that the heart of the reading workshop was the small group/guided reading instruction, but Patrick has changed my thinking.  Conferring keeps the reader's workshop pumping strong. Purposeful conversations must become a daily ritual and become as automatic as our heart beats.

This last year, I made an effort to meet with my students to check in on their reading.  The research explicitly states:  good readers read and read more, while developing readers don't.  I work with developing readers and my motivation for meeting with students was to encourage students to read, find good fit books, and fall in love with characters, books, and authors.  Students L.O.V.E. to get all the teacher's attention!  Through this additional attention and encouragement, students take notice that I think they are important and so is reading.  They were surprised to be meeting with me again and again, and this provided enough motivation to get kids reading.  I'm going to be honest here and I'm not proud of it.  One of the reasons why I began conferring:  I was checking on AR points.  I'm not a huge fan of AR, but teachers in my building rely on it.  It is one gauge to check on reading.  Unfortunately, my developing kids were honest: "I don't read."  That broke my heart and I knew I had to do something to change their thinking about themselves as readers and about books.

It was my goal to find out why my developing readers were not reading and help them solve those dilemmas. Usually, as I meander through the library, I overhear a classroom teacher squealing, "You need to be reading.  You don't have any AR points.  So go find a book and read."  These are KIDS were talking to -- they need guidance, support, direction, ideas.  That's our job!  It seems we have lost the love of reading and enjoying books.

As I'm reading this book, I'm also thinking about The CAFE Book by Gail Boushey and Joan Moser.  The "2 sisters" go into great detail about conferring with students, but now reading Patrick's explanation and merging his insights creates a light bulb moment:  Ah-ha, now I see how my conferring can be more powerful!

I'll also admit, just like many of you, that I was making excuses as to why conferring didn't take place in my classroom.  My two biggies:  fear and time.  Now I'm wondering why, but here are some questions that have crossed my mind:  What am I afraid of?  What if I don't know what the student needs to work on?  What if a student needs help in everything?  Why can't I make the time to confer?  How can I monitor every strategy for every student?  What about record keeping?  How can I keep the conferring time quick and manageable, but effective?  It does seem quite overwhelming, but with a new perspective, I see how conferring is the keystone of the reader's workshop.

Patrick challenges the readers to answer this question:  What emerges in a conference?
My first thoughts I jotted down in my reader's notebook:
  • Conversations: talking about books, likes, dislikes, authors, series
  • Strategy use: Connections, confusions
  • Strengths as a reader
  • Sharing thinking: What are YOU thinking?
  • Book choice: Good fit? Author/series. Abandon?
  • Encouragement: Continue to build a love of reading through encouragement and belief that every student is a reader
  • Goals: What to practice to improve as a reader?
  • Reading: Reading aloud, share thinking, check fluency, fix-ups, miscues
  • Vocabulary: new, unknown, confusions
After scanning Patrick's thoughts to this question, I would add three more ideas to my list:
  • Listening: Less teacher talk
  • Rapport: This is SO very important!
  • Records/notes: Also very important because I can't remember it all so I need to document.
"Conferring is nudging children towards independence." (p. 13)  When teachers confer, we can learn so much by spending that one-on-one time with each student.  We also teach students what is important and what they specifically need to be thoughtful, independent readers.  I only hope to inspire my developing readers like Sara.  I absolutely love Sara's thoughts that she shared about herself as a reader, especially comparing her love of reading to a pirate's love for gold . . . precious!

More thoughts to come when the book arrives in the mail!

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'm enjoying this book chat. EVERY post has given me more to think about. I'm glad Patrick has specifically talked about conferring in reading (though I notice it is hard to stay away from writing). I've always found it easy to maintain conferences in Writer's Workshop, but I find Reader's Workshop to be more of a challenge. Patrick's book is giving me some time to think about that. I'm thinking having everyone's thoughts will also help.


  2. Michelle,
    Thanks so much for joining this book chat. I loved reading your reflection. I especially felt your pain when you wrote about AR. Thankfully, I have never had to use that system. I also loved the quote you mentioned, "Conferring nudges students towards independence". I truly believe that and I need to remember that every day as I work with my students.


  3. Michelle,
    Your motivation for meeting with students made me smile. Sharing a love for reading is what it's all about after all! I've read Cafe and am implementing it (s-l-o-w-l-y) into my classroom. I really believe this book with help me to really get better with Cafe AND conferring!

  4. I too thought of Gail and Joan when reading Patrick's work! They are so explicit in explaining to children what the roles are for students and teachers to help get the year started. I found his guidance, mentor text for getting start similiar and needed for any classroom. Thanks for sharing.

  5. Michelle,
    Thanks for sharing even though you don't have the entire book yet. I am sure you will be diving right in when it arrives. Your words "these are kids ...." unfortunately rang so true to me. I am not sure why it happens but when we reduce the act of teaching to just assigning we lose so much ground with our students. I am looking forward to reading your next post.

  6. Michelle~
    My book JUST arrived last night! I will be diving in today! Like Cathy I find writing conferences easier to maintain, reading poses challenges for me. I am not sure why because readers workshop is so much richer with conferring. I look forward to reading and learning together. Can't wait for the Sara story, two of my favorites, pirates and reading!

  7. So glad I hopped over to your blog today. I bought that book this spring but have not really "dug" into it yet. I hope this is the motivation I need. All the family has left and only 4 more weeks of summer left for me. It will be great to spend it learning, reading and "digging" in with friends. Thanks for the nudge!

  8. Michelle,

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I am enjoying visiting all the blogs to read/hear everyone's thinking.


Thanks for sharing your thoughts.