Thursday, July 14, 2011

Conferring: The Keystone of Reader's Workshop Part 2

I would like to thank Jill for hosting Part 2 of this blog book chat around Patrick Allen's Conferring:  The Keystone of Reader's Workshop.  I finished reading Part 2 this morning and felt I needed to let my mind wander longer with my thinking.  I purposefully haven't read anyone else's thoughts from my Conferring Book Blog Chatters in hopes to share my own original thinking.  I know I will agree with everything they say but how can I apply Part 2 to my world. 

As I read Part 2, I found myself easily applying every word to my third grade classroom from my past.  However, that's not where I am now and I had to remind myself to focus on what could I take from Patrick's thinking into my room of emergent readers.  As I was reading, I realized part of my struggle with my shift to kindergarten is missing the conferring piece that was easier with transitional readers and students that came daily.  These ideas from the text helped me with my thinking.

-"The ritual of conferring is consistent, but there is a fluidity and flexibility of thought that continues to develop as we confer."
-"Your conference notes are solid testaments to the kind of formative assessment that can inform reading instruction."
-"Conferring allows me to gather written evidence as my students move along the gradual release model; conferring happens in the moment and so does assessment."

Hmmm, I first realized my conferring needs to be more consistent and yes balanced with small group instruction.  I've struggled with wondering if they are as effective with emergent readers.  My kindergarteners are babies and I say that with all due respect and affection.  I've had kindergarten conferring sessions that have just taught me so much but they've been far and inbetween.  When Patrick wrote, "Bringing the think-aloud into the conference is a technique to use when you first start conferring", I made this note...think alouds may need to be done much longer in a kindergarten classroom.  Then Patrick quotes Lev Vygotsky, "What a child can do in cooperation today, he can do alone tomorrow."  Tomorrow does not need to mean the next day.  This all returns to the notion of slowing down.

So far, I've planned daily for small group instruction.  I did a better job of conferring a little bit the second year but I'm thinking for the third year I need to know when I can/will confer and make it happen daily.  I  did it with every other grade, it only makes sense and I feel encouraged it's important with all readers.   With two classes of children coming through my doors I need the one on one, side by side time to truly know individuals.  I've known I've needed a Reading Conference Check Off form but seeing Patrick's with an official title just stared me in the face and I wondered why didn't I do that before?  Every bit of organization is crucial in my world of two classes.  I also love the idea of thinking about conferences as side-by-side and touchstone.    

I'm also thinking I am going to have two binders for reading workshop (per class).  One for conferring and one for small group instruction.  Previously, I've put all that information on the same format for a recording sheet but now I think having a thinner binder focused on one type of documentation will be easier to use, manage, and think about.  I loved Patrick's willingness to share his forms, share how a conferring session went in written form, and then show what his notes consisted of for that session.  I might dabble with Patrick's conferring form as he suggests the reader does and I loved he asked his readers to include adapted from on their own pages. 

I'm sure other's have shared about Patrick's RIP format, his thoughts on rigor, assessment, and 3 cheers for the section, How Might We Make Note of What We See and What We Learn, all in the name of data and children.  I can't wait to see how Part 3 is going to impact my thinking.


  1. Mandy,
    I understand your dilemma with conferring in K, though I have to say I often miss the perks of conferring in K. For me, I found the shortness of texts made it much easier to keep to a time schedule. I could often meet with individual students in the same time it would have taken to see a small group. I could often address reading needs in writing conferences which gave me another opportunity (reread writing, oral language, vocabulary, word study). It was also easier to manage the room if I was up and conferring instead of tied to a group. Still with 26 Ks and limited time to do so much it is a dance.

  2. Mandy~
    So much to think about as you set out to conferr with your young learners. Many challenges with age and schedule. Becasue you see and understand the value in sitting side-by-side I know you will strike the balalnce for your class, looking forward to upcoming post about conferring in K!

  3. Mandy,
    When I read your post and think about the conversations I have with my wonderful first grade teaching wife about trying to balance conferring and small group instruction it makes me think how happy I am that I am not working with k-1 students. I think that I would be a ridiculous mess with 5 and 6 year olds. It is a very good thing that their are great teachers out there that want to work with the little ones. Good luck with your two notebook plan, I can't even keep one notebook organized, which was why I switched to a paperless tool this past year.

  4. Mandy,
    You really made me think! Being in first grade (also with emergent readers,) how will I keep track of notes & observations from small group instruction as well as my conferences? I'll be pondering that one! Your reflections also made me think about how important conferring will be... especially for my pre-readers and struggling readers.
    Thanks, Mandy!
    ~Laura :)

  5. Mandy,

    I completely understand your challenge. I find it difficult to do much regular conferring in the beginning of first grade. I do it but not nearly as much or with as many students a day as I can at the end of the year. I think that as long as we are conferring with our students even if it is for a very short time we will make a difference. And that makes the effort worth while.

    I am looking forward to hearing how things go for you this year.


  6. Mandy,

    As always, I love the thoughtful and honest way you reflect on your own teaching. Never having taught younger than 3rd, I'm sure it's different to confer with younger children. I love that you're going for it, however. What little I do know about Kdg is that they are often delighted and curious about life - would be fun to hear how that curiosity transfers to a conference.

    So glad to have your voice be part of this group!!

  7. Mandy,
    Saturday night and I finally finishing up reading people's conferring posts for this week. Can I just start by saying I love how you did another blog post to respond to people's comments. What a great way to really have a conversation.

    I'm going to be teaching fourth grade for the first time this year, all of my previous classroom experience is in first and second (oh, and my first year I taught a half day kinder but I didn't know anything about conferring). Like some of the other folks have said, I found that early in the year my conferences were not all that rich, they tended to focus more on emergent reading behaviors and unknown word strategies. Most of our really great discussion happened after read aloud. Even so, I think that one on one time can be incredibly valuable. And like Cathy said, because the texts that most of the kids were reading tended to be pretty short, I could do quite a few conferences in one day.

    Like several of the others have said, I think you are really ambitious to try to keep two notebooks going. I am worried I won't even be able to keep one for one class, let alone two for two different classes. You will have to let us know how it goes.


  8. Mandy -
    I think you are going to have some great conversations with your kiddos this year. I see my Ks for 20 minutes each day, and they have a LOT to share in our resource time. I think it would be neat to record them. I have a few students that are silent in their classroom, but open up in a smaller group.
    I can't wait to read your posts during the school year.
    Thanks for your ideas!