Entire conversation is here: Conferring the Keystone to Reader's Workshop
Part I: What Brings About a Good Conference Anyway?
Part II: What Are the Essential Components of Conferring?
Today we are discussing Part IIi: “What emerges from our reading conferences?”. Today's conversation is hosted by Laura Komos at Camp Read-A-Lot. You’ll want to stop by to join the conversation.
Conferring Ain't Easy, But It's Important
Yesterday one of the participants in #cyberPD had been talking with a friend about conferring, likely sharing her excitement. The friend replied, "Where's the research on conferring?" Questions like these make me shake my head, not because they're not important but, because they're often asked to avoid change. When I read the question I wished I was at school where I could get my hands on research, but in reality I know the difference conferring makes for my young learners. I also know that the success of conferring has a lot to do with factors beyond just placing myself in a chair beside one student.
Quick Shifts: In Support of Conferring
Yesterday I was reading the Mac page my computer opens to and realized a new operating system, OS X Lion, is coming out (yes, I live under a rock). Now as a learner I could read more online to figure this out. I could take a class to learn about the new operating system. I could sit with a small group and learn about the system. OR I could sign-up for a Mac one-on-one session. Yes, I will learn in all of these situations, but I will learn a lot quickly sitting one-on-one with a knowledgeable instructor.
- Online learning: I'm going to have to spend a great deal of time reading and searching to find articles, videos, and conversations that answer my questions. There will be a lot of information within these I do not need and may not understand. There will not be someone close by to answer questions.
- Large Class: Have you ever taken a technology class? If so, you know the challenges. There will be learners in the room wanting to know how to turn on their computer, learners wanting to know why they need to change, and learners who are trying to learn how to reprogram OS X.
- Small Group: I might be able to find a small group learning about OS X. Here I will likely be able to find some answers, especially if the leader is knowledgeable. However, the needs of each person in the group will have to be negotiated.
- One-to-One "Conference": Sitting down individually with an "expert" would allow me to have my questions answered. The "expert" would be looking at my computer, s/he would be able to consider the way I use the computer as s/he answers my questions, s/he would be able to show me the way the new operating system will most help me do the work I do. I could learn a lot quickly in this instructional context.
I'm not saying any one of these instructional contexts do not hold merit in a classroom. They each provide important avenues to learning and growing, however time vs. learning conferring has to be important. If we look at some of the times in life we have learned the most we will likely find it was sitting beside an "expert" in something we like to do. In Fires in the Mind, students tell us "some encouraging person guided them past that point [of frustration] by giving them an engaging task that lay just beyond - but not too far beyond - their skill level." (p. 44 eReader version)
"The people who sit next to you have a big part in how you get better at something." Janiy (student FIM, p.16)
The Whole Game and Conferring
Recently I read, Making Learning Whole by David N. Perkins. I found it interesting how much workshop models parallel playing "the whole game" as he calls it. In his book, Perkins tells us, "In a setting of learning, a whole game is generally some kind of inquiry or performance in a broad sense (p. 35)." He shares a few indicators of the whole game in a learning setting. The Whole Game: "Walk-Aways" Perkins states (Making Learning Whole pp. 35-36 eReader version):
- It's never just about content. Learners are trying to get better at something.
- It's never just about routine. It requires thinking with what you know and pushing further.
- It's never just problem solving. It involves problem finding.
- It's not just about right answers. It involves explanation and justification.
- It's not emotionally flat. It involves curiosity, discovery, creativity, camaraderie.
- It's not in a vacuum. It involves the methods, purposes, and forms of one or more disciplines or other areas, situated in a social context.
When I compare this list to Allen's "walk-aways" (Conferring pp. 158-162) it is easy to see the value of conferring. As I begin the new year with conferring on my mind, I will be recording conversations to see what the "walk-aways" are for my young readers. My hope is to improve the power of these conversations as the significance (and likely the research) isn't in the fact that I am sitting beside a student, but in the learning conversation we have together.