Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Cyber PD: Conferring - Part 3

It has been a great couple weeks conferring with various colleagues across the country about Patrick Allen's book Conferring: The Keystone of Reader's Workshop.  I'm amazed at the "walk-aways" that others share in their reflections and thinking.  Some ideas are similar to my own.  Maybe an additional twist or take on it.  Other ideas dig deeper and make me think beyond the surface.  Thank you for your insights and learning!  


"We need to slow down and get back to the business of knowing children,
of knowing readers." (Allen, 181)

Listening is important.  So is sharing rich conversations and pushing thinking forward.  However, of equal importance, when conferring, is the walk-aways for both the teacher and the student.  What do students walk away with after a conference?  What do I walk away with as their teacher?  This is critical because the learning for both student and teacher shouldn't stop after a conference is complete.  I cannot continue to think students will continue to read and grow as readers after a short-shot of listening, sharing, and learning.  I need to be attentive to my conferring metacognition.  The student can walk away with a specific goal to practice and think about as a reader.  The teacher can walk away with an instructional plan either for whole group, small group or individual.  Both teacher and student being reflective learners.

The students need to feel the sense of urgency and take ownership in their learning as a reader and writer.  I want my students to be responsible for the goal we've set together.  One of the most powerful walk-aways that Patrick shared was "learners self-assess and self-evaluate."  As I think about this and how it may look in my classroom next year with my developing readers, a couple thoughts cross my mind.  My first thought was to write down the goal on a sticky and then have the kids copy it.  However, this wastes so much time in my opinion, especially with developing readers/writers!  To minimize the delay in reading, practicing, and learning, I thought about creating an "exit slip" that includes the date, the walk-away (goal), and the next conference date.  Maybe something like this:

Now the students have a simple record of the goal and know exactly what their focus is as a reader.  The students can then staple it in their reading notebook. Any ideas, thinking, questions regarding this targeted goal can be recorded below the exit slip.    The follow-up conference can begin with, "Last time we met, we talked about . . . Share some of your thinking about . . ."  We talk in depth about leaving tracks of your thinking -- this is the perfect opportunity for the students to hold on to their thinking and write in their reading notebooks with their goal in mind!  The students are accountable and through explicit language modeling, students will also improve upon self-assessment.

I appreciate Patrick sharing the transcribed conferences with his students, including his thoughts.  I was thinking: What would I say?  How would I have responded?  The reminder to listen and just wait.  Allow the students to share.  Identify what the students can do.   Provide support when necessary, but not too soon!  Nudge to look back in the text.  Extend the thinking.  Dig deeper.  Label the strategy utilized.  Identify the walk-aways and set a goal.  The conferences were also an authentic and clear reminder that conferring is brief and focuses on ONE high-quality thoughtful question/strategy.  (To be honest, I wish there were more transcripts of conferences -- maybe Patrick can add a DVD to his next book with audio and video!  Everything seems to make more sense with examples.)

Conferring ain't easy.  Well, at least Patrick is truthful.  But I'm still ready to dig in and give it a try!  I value what I can learn about my students as readers and thinkers.  I loved his list of assertions to confer effectively.  Many of Patrick's ideas I already feel comfortable following through with in my classroom.  Other ideas that resonated with me include (with my thoughts in italics):
  1.  Expect the unexpected: I may have a plan in mind, but the reader may have another idea.
  2.  You're darned write:  Encourage use of the reading notebook.
  3.  Shut up and listen:  Exactly.
  4.  Get a grip: Focus on the reader and hold onto their strengths and areas for improvement.
  5.  What did we talk about?  Take simple, effective notes. Oh, and USE them.
  6.  Help, I'm drowning! Talk about conferring with a colleague. Yes, that's you Chris.
Interesting how these premises that grabbed my attention align with the goals I set last week:

1. Start conferring -- non-negotiable, every day ritual.
2.  Use conferring form. Practice. Practice some more.  Tweak or start fresh.
3.  Utilize my notes/reflections to inform my instruction.  
4.  Take time to have those important conversations with colleagues and teachers.
5.  Reread Chapter 5 to eliminate any doubt or concern.  My students CAN do this!

Patrick summarizes my thoughts about conferring in an excerpt of his letter that he shares with visitors to his classroom: "My goal is to be authentic, not cute. Deep, not surface. Explicit, not implicit. Flexible, not controlling. Mindful, not mindless. And I've come to realize that teaching my students how learners think not just do has had an amazing effect on our learning lives." (Allen, 189)  Yes!  That's what I'm talking about!

"It's not so much that we're afraid of change or so in love with the old ways, but it's that place in between that we fear . . . It's like being between trapezes.  It's Linus when his blanket is in the dryer. There's nothing to hold on to."
 Marilyn Ferguson (Allen, 193)

Yes, we are in between, but the thrill of floating in the unknown can be exhilarating.  I am excited about conferring.  I am excited for my students.  I am excited for me.  I am excited about this journey we will take together as readers, writers, thinkers, and learners. 

Thank you for starting this journey with me.  I look forward to #cyperPD updates after school begins!


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,

    The trapeze analogy really struck me, too. When you think about it so much of what we do as teachers is in the "in between" with brief moments when we can grab hold of something and take a breath. It is nice to have people who will share the "in between" times with us. It helps make things just a little less scary.

  2. Michelle,
    There is so much to think about here. I find it interesting as I move from blog to blog and read the different quotes that catch our attention. Some quotes make me say, "Oh, I loved that quote!" Other quotes make me say, "How did I miss that?"

    I loved your closing, "Yes, we are in between, but the thrill of floating in the unknown can be exhilarating. I am excited about conferring. I am excited for my students. I am excited for me. I am excited about this journey we will take together as readers, writers, thinkers, and learners." I couldn't agree more!


  3. Michelle,
    Your enthusiasm for the conferring journey is contagious! It made me visualize myself, sitting right next to one of my first grade readers. I can hardly wait to get started!

    I like the idea of the exit slip. This would help students focus a bit more on one goal. Especially for some of my children who struggle, I think it's crucial to have them really focus on one thing at a time. I'd also like to be able to share those goals with all of the teachers who work with that child. This would provide the consistency I believe struggling readers need.

    Thanks, Michelle!!
    ~Laura :)

  4. Michelle,

    I just love as a reading specialist you see the value in conferring. Your exit slip idea sounds like a valid way to check in quickly with each student. I was wondering if they could just write in within a reader's notebook and not staple the paper into their notebook. Just thinking aloud. I can tell you ready to try some more conferring in your room.

  5. Thank you for doing this! This opened up a whole new chapter in my own learning as a teacher!

  6. Michelle -

    YES! We can confer in our tiny resource classrooms, and I will work with you to keep it going. I really like the exit slip, and if you staple it in the notebook and have them write, voila! Instant reflection!
    I talked with our friend, Jerri, today. Guess who's reading Conferring next?!
    Thanks for all your thinking - it makes me think even harder!

  7. Sorry so late to comment. Life got in the way these past 2 days.

    Michelle, what great goals you have set for yourself. They fit beautifully with what we're trying to accomplish by reading this book.

    Love your idea of having the students have a type of documentation of "what's next?". So important for both them and us to know the answer to that question!

  8. Michelle~
    Sorry I am late in commenting~I JUST returned from island time- reading is helping readjust my clock…

    You have given so much thought to your conferring, I can see you are ready to go! I am also brainstorming ways for my kids to see their goals (walk aways) to help the reader focus their learning and build that accountability.
    Thanks for sharing all your thoughts!


Thanks for sharing your thoughts.