Anatomy of a [Reading or Writing] Conference
Conducting reading and writing conferences with your students is really the heart of any workshop classroom. They are very quick, but so powerful, for several reasons:
- They are differentiation at its finest.
- They are huge rapport-builder.
- They are a window into a child’s right-now thinking, so you can be super responsive.
- They build tons of confidence in kids.
- They give you insight into your next teaching steps.
But HOW do you do them?
I learned how to confer with kids from the staff developers at Teachers College Reading and Writing Project. All of the things I learned (and continue to learn) from them have truly transformed my teaching. So I can take no credit for designing the anatomy of a conference.
It took me some time to get them down, but once I had the structure in my bones, and as I learned more and more and more about reading and writing development, I can now say with complete confidence that this is one teaching practice I will never, ever abandon. Other practices, not so much!
Many books have been written about conferring. A few to begin with, if you’re interested: How’s it Going by Carl Anderson, A Teacher’s Guide to Writing Conferences, by Anderson and Katie Wood Ray, Teaching Writing by Lucy Calkins, and A Teacher’s Guide to Reading Conferences by Jennifer Serravallo. All of these books, and all of these people, have taught me what I know how to do today. And no, I’m not an affiliate marketer. These are just great, foundational books.
A conference, in a nutshell:
- Do a bit of research. Sidle up to the child–rather than having them come to you–and just ask them, in Carl Anderson’s words, how’s it going? As your students get used to this, you might have to tack on “as a reader/writer” to the end of that question. While they talk about what they’re working on, what they’re thinking, and what they might be grappling with, you’re doing more work. You’re glancing over their writing or the book(s) they’re reading, and you are listening. You’re ALSO taking notes!
- As you look over their work (writing, book, etc), you’re looking for evidence of your teaching. You’re looking for things the child is taking on for themselves and applying independently. Compliment this! It’s human nature to repeat what we’ve been complimented on, which makes this a wise teaching move. You are essentially high- fiving them, and letting them know that you’ve noticed their good work.
This also sends the message to the child to keep doing whatever it is you named, AND it lets them know that you expect them to keep doing it. All unspoken and powerful messages.
3. Now, the hardest part. It’s time to decide what to teach them. You’re looking for something in their ZPD, and even better if it’s tied to the compliment you just gave. In this way, we nudge kids forward, bit by bit. But here’s the caveat–the part soooo many teachers miss.
4. You haven’t taught it if you just tell it. In order to teach the next step, you’re going to do a very mini mini lesson here, and actually show them how in some way. But you still don’t stop there. You’ve also got to get them to try out the work, right there on the spot. To liken it to a mini lesson, this is the active involvement. It’s what builds their muscle- memory so to speak, and gets them started on continuing to do that work.
While they practice, you’re coaching, encouraging, and…jotting it all down in your notes. This is your record of what has been taught, and the path to helping you decide on next teaching steps in the coming days.
That’s it! A very simple, yet powerful process, with so much teaching power. In another post I’ll share with you ways to take simple and effective notes as well as how to use them to quickly and easily guide your next small and whole-group instruction. Stay tuned!
Want some help getting student conferences underway or guidance on how to conduct them? Contact me to set up a coaching call, so we can think it through together! And, join my private FB group for immediate support from like-minded educators!
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Related posts: Getting to Know Your Readers and Writers to Save Time Later | Lesson Planning Tips That Help You Do More, Better [In Less Time], | “Small Group Instruction” [What Does it Really Mean?] | Getting the Most from Reading Assessments
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