Saturday, March 30, 2013

Reading Workshop: Conferring Challenges

As I have moved away from using only guided reading groups to conferring one to one with my second graders, I have realized how much work I had to do on my conferring technique. Being able to keep accurate records and notes has been a challenge. I have used all sorts of systems and rarely stuck with them for the whole year, and found myself forgetting to record and relying on my memory to remember what I had taught at our last conference! Over the last 3 years or so, I have used a 1 inch binder that had a section for each student. I have modified forms that I found in The CAFE Book by Joan Moser and Gail Boushey and Conferring: The Keystone of Reader's Workshop by Patrick Allen.  I am currently using experimenting with the Confer app on my ipad. I have also briefly tried Evernote. But I think I have been focusing on the wrong thing - keeping these records as helped me see my true weakness - the actual conference!

Here's what I think are my main problems;

Time management.  I often spend way too much time with one student. If I want to meet with students on a regular basis I need to be more efficient with my time. But this often leads to my second problem! As soon as I sit next to a student I start thinking, "Oh, I can't waste time, so lets get going!"  And this nagging rush, rush, rush feeling is always lurking and sometimes prevents me from really connecting with my young readers.

Figuring out what to teach. I'm often not sure what to teach, so I talk too much or I teach too much. I sometimes walk away from the conference not knowing what I actually taught and realize the student probably felt the same!

I know I am really great at modeling or explaining how to use reading strategies or skills in my whole group lessons. I have been thinking about how I can transfer this quality to my conferences. When I look back at conferences that I felt good about I realized it was because I immediately knew what the student was doing well and what I could teach them. I didn't get to to the stressed out stage of worrying about time or what to teach.

I am currently reading Conferring With Readers by Jennifer Serravallo (@JSerravallo) and Gravity Goldberg (@drgravityg). One thing that I have been thinking about and doing more of when I confer is the "research" phase of my conference. I am trying to observe my reader for a few moments and really think about what I see them doing. Are they staying focused, using their finger, using post its? I am also trying to make sure I open up our conference with a question that will allow me to continue my research. Here's some questions I have used recently that have helped me in my research phase. Would you like to share your post it notes? How are post it notes helping you understand your non-fiction? What are you thinking?  The last one often flusters many students and they immediately begin retelling the story.  So, sometimes I add, "what do you think of that?" referring to their retelling. It's just over the last couple of weeks that I have been paying close attention to the questions I ask - which has helped me reflect on my conferring technique.  I really think I might keep a list of opening questions or comments to help me out. Once I get the conversation going I usually can see what strategies they are trying pretty quick.

The other idea that Jennifer and Gravity suggest is creating a list of goals or strategies and skills you want students to learn during a unit of study. While I do this in my head I really think this could help me to focus more during my conferences when it's time to identify a skill to teach. After spring break I plan on doing this for the remainder of our non-fiction unit.

I am only on Chapter 7, but I'm finding it so helpful as I work to improve my conferring. The authors do a great job of identifying the parts of a conference and even the different types of conferences. As I read it I realize I am doing many of these things, but I think naming them is so important if I want to keep doing them!

What challenges and successes have you had with your reading conferences?
Do you have a system for recording and keeping track of your conferences?


  1. Debra, I really enjoyed this post. Conferencing is one of my biggest challenges in both reading & writing workshops. My record-keeping system isn't perfect, but it's better than nothing: Like you, I keep a 1-inch binder with a section for each student. I put a piece of notebook paper which has been folded in half vertically (to create 2 columns) in each student's section. The first column is the student's goal (what the S says he/she is working on) and my compliment. The 2nd column is my teaching point. In the front of the notebook I keep a class list, and tally every time I conference with a student so I can see at a glance who I need to get to. Because I'm in such a rush to get as many conferences done as I can, I keep large sticky notes on the front of the notebook to jot down quick notes. After school I go back and enter the notes into the notebook. Maybe some of this would work for you.
    Conferring with Readers is in my summer TBR pile.
    Look forward to hearing more from you about conferencing. Keep up the good work. You're doing better than you think!

  2. Thanks for your comments and suggestions Allison. It's so nice hearing that others struggle with the same thing! Dividing the conference into different parts will hopefully help me confer better and improve my note-talking as well. All these ideas can transfer to writing workshop as well. I have promised myself to do follow-up posts too.

  3. Debra~
    You certainly not alone! I have been conferring for a few years now and I still find myself struggling to find the right feel. Like you I have used various systems and wondered how I can make my conference more like the focus lesson. I am currently using Evernote and I am LOVING it!

    I think you may find this link helpful~

    thanks for sharing, I have added a book to my TBR pile!

  4. Thanks so much for reminding me about that post and last summer's cyberPd! Totally forgot about it. (Cathy's posts are always so reflective and honest. I love reading her blog. She is the first person I followed on twitter! lol)I had marked several of the posts to read, as I did not participate or read the book yet. And then of course school starts and I get caught up in that. Now I have added a book to my TBR list too.

    I used Evernote for about a month before I started using the Confer App. I liked it a lot, it's definitely more visually attractive and fun to use. I still may go back to it. I would be curious to know how you set it up and use it?

    And thanks for posting a comment - your thoughts are very helpful.