Thursday, July 7, 2011

Conferring: The Keystone of Reader's Workshop Part 1

First things first, I would like to thank Cathy, Jill, and Laura K for hosting this blog book chat around Patrick Allen's Conferring:  The Keystone of Reader's Workshop.  It's been in my to be read pile for some time or I should say my Kindle wishlist and their idea made me take the plunge.  Splash!

I couldn't put the first two chapters down!  I find author's hook me by sharing tidbits about the personal life.  I feel like I had a friend in Patrick by the end of of Chapter 2 and was ready to get to the nuts and bolts about conferring for Chapter 3.  I found the first two chapters to be soothing and reassuring, just like I feel when I read books by Debbie Miller or hear her present.  I enjoyed reading Patrick's reflections and I didn't feel rushed to read more pages to find out more answers.  So far, the book feels more like a journey in helping me wrestle with an internal struggle of mine.

I have missed regularly conferring with students.  I have missed...
-"Purposeful conversations that provided me with meaningful instruction-rich in strategy, inquiry, vocabulary, and skills.
-"...conversations that stretched my thinking and monitored my understanding."
-"Purpose is uncovered during the reading conference,..."
-"Conferring helps me find out new things about the reader and provides an intimate opportunity for a shared "coming to know"
-"Conferring helps me uncover a reader's learning in a manageable, thoughtful way while leading to documentable data..."

In kindergarten, I am still trying to find my groove and balance the organization within reading workshop with guided reading groups and conferring opportunities.  I think guided reading is essential for emergent readers.  I don't think it's the end all be all for emergent readers.  I miss the amount of conferring I did with third graders.  I am wondering and want to keep reading to see what Patrick might suggest for emergent/young readers/teachers.

I think the the first thing I've taken away from  reading Part 1 is the guidance and need our students have to make a workshop model a success within a classroom community.  Patrick is very explicit at the beginning of his year.  In kindergarten, we have to be very explicit with everything to establish our routine, community, and learning.  Patrick is explicit as he starts his year with conversations about stamina, trust, respect, endurance, and responsiblity.  He provides questions to help you dig a bit deeper with your students during conferencing.  He provides mentor text for endurance and gradual release.  I think it's important and I've found it successful to explain to students what we are going to do in various parts of reading workshop.  There are teacher expections and student expectations and Patrick shares them with students.  I think it helps the students understand how they can use and interact within a workshop model.  To quote Patrick, "learner's perception of who they are and what they can do has the greatest effect on what they learn."  Patrick provides the reader with many of examples for nudging, guiding, and increasing independence.  I know I learn more about a student by conferring, I know conferring is invaluable to help a student grow, I know I need to find a way to do both conferring with individuals and and strategy instruction in small groups with five days of attendance over two weeks. 
If you, my readers have any thoughts, please let me know.  Your thinking will help mine. 


  1. Mandy,
    The tug of guided reading in the primary grades is really big. When I was a literacy coordinator the best classroom I visited was a teacher who could balance both the small group and individual conferring time. To be honest I am not sure how she pulled it off, but I do remember she had to stick to a disciplined schedule for herself. She found herself wanting to linger with the guided reading groups, which then was taking away from her conferring time. I think she met with 2-3 groups a day for only about 10 minutes a group. Then she spent 20 minutes per workshop conferring with individual students. She also was masterful at building routines for her young learners so they were able to be pretty independent during the 40-50 minutes a workshop she was using for what Patrick would call composing time.

    Not sure if this helps, but I can empathize with the idea that small group instruction is a key component in a Kindergarten room. At this point in my career I am not sure I could go into a k or 1st grade room. Teachers like you who take that challenge have definitely earned my respect.

    It was great to read about your thinking,


  2. You are right on target with how we learn more about our students when we confer more. I challenge myself every year to find time for more reading/writing conferences. I agree 100% even as a a fifth grade teacher that I also need to establish routine, community along with stamina (which is huge in 5th grade). Thanks for your post.

  3. I loved reading your post. So many things to think about, especially as a teacher of kindies with limited contact! My biggest struggle is finding the right tool to collect my conferring data that reflects the students thinking, next steps, and nudge!! What do you use to track your conferences? I am also wondering if you have a para professional that you use which could help (with your guidance and training) to confer with more kids in your limited time? Let me know how you collect your data!

  4. Mandy,
    I enjoyed reading your post. I especially liked your reflection on all that is missed when we aren't regularly conferring with students. I think I need to hang it in my classroom as a reminder of the importance of making sure conferring is consistent in Reader's Workshop. The challenge of balancing conferring with small group instruction has been discussed on more than one post. I think it is something we all wrestle with in our classrooms. How do we best meet the needs of our students? How do we make the biggest shifts in learning? How do we get to know our young readers?

    When I taught kindergarten it was in a half day program. Time was not my friend as our half days quickly disappeared. However, I'd think every other day would be even a great challenge as the amounts of time students can attend to a task is limited.

    I'm hoping as our discussion continues we will be able to talk more about this balance for young readers.


  5. "Balancing the organization within reading workshop with guided reading groups and conferring opportunities" is the key and every year is a new journey. In second grade I struggle with trying to do it all as well as jumping through the hoops that are set before me.

    This quote of Patrick's, "learner's perception of who they are and what they can do has the greatest effect on what they learn" also stood out to me. It is so rewarding and sometimes startling to uncover those perceptions. More importantly, our efforts are in vain without this component.

  6. Mandy,
    Thanks so much for adding to the conversation! You really made me think (again) about that balance factor. As primary teachers, how do we balance small group individual instruction and time for conferring with individuals? My friend Karyn (@Karynteaches) uses Daily 5 time for small group instruction and a separate independent reading time for conferring with individuals. Your comments have led me to ponder this again today! Together, I hope we can all find our way to that balance.
    ~Laura :)

  7. Mandy - Your post rings true to my heart. Conferring with our students, even the youngest, is so beneficial to their growth as readers.
    I agree with you that guided reading isn't the end all, be all. I see that in my little resource room. I also hope to get more guidance from Patrick's book regarding the balance between small group and conferences.

  8. Thank you for your insights on this book, Laura. I love to hear about others' reflections from books before I go out and get it for myself. Saying that the author hooks you with "tidbits from his personal life", makes this a must-read for me. Those personal connections authors make are what hook me, too.

    I don't think we can ever learn enough about conferring with kids during reading workshop. More power to you for conferring with your kindergarteners!

    Do you think primary teachers feel the urgency to be able to meet with all students every day? I think because primary readers can read their familiar rereads so quickly that we often feel an obligation to be guiding them through new books often. Balance is hard!

  9. Mandy,
    I completely understand the time issue involved with trying to fit both guided reading and conferring into a day in the primary grades. Your post and ecks post have started ideas swirling in my mind and I may have to write a post about them either as part of this "Conferring" conversation or after it is finished. I love how reading ideas in other's posts really helps me think through my own ideas. Thanks for inspiring me.

  10. Mandy~
    I had to laugh when I read you found the first two chapters "soothing and reassuring." We shared these same comments as we read and blogged Debbie's book, Teaching with Intention. As I read your post I found your writing soothing and thought provoking at the same time, what a great balance you have!
    Looking forward to this newest journey with you!