“There is something lasting about sitting down next to a child and having a conversation as fellow readers.” Patrick Allen p. xv
The Importance of Conferring
It has been several years since I changed the structure of my Reader’s Workshop and moved away from a workboard (students at centers while I worked with groups) to using a structure similar to Writer’s Workshop. It just seemed to make sense that if I wanted my students to be readers they needed more time to read. Reader’s Workshop allows more time for children to read independently, to enjoy books with friends, to talk together about books, to develop the strategies we are learning, and to grow their reading lives.
The Structure of Reader’s Workshop:
- Focus Lesson: Each workshop begins with a focus lesson.
- Independent Reading: Then students read (Allen calls it composing time) while I confer with readers and work with small groups. During this time you will find students reading alone, with a partner, discussing books, thinking, learning, writing, etc..
- Share: Our workshop always ends with time to share and reflect.
Reader’s Workshop not only gives me time to work alongside readers in a variety of contexts, but it gives me the opportunity to get to know them as readers. There is no doubt that conferring is an important part of my Reader’s Workshop. Reading Allen’s book has given me time to reflect on how significant this time really is for young readers, for learning, and for teaching. Last week Mandy Robek shared all she has missed when she was not conferring
, and I’m going to post this in my classroom as a reminder of the significant work occurring in these small moments.
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..."
Allen shares his reasons for conferring (p. 34). Reading his book has given me an opportunity to really think about the importance of conferring. Time to confer provides opportunities to:
- Establish a trusting relationship with the student
- Get to know each reader
- Reinforce and/or extend focus lesson conversations (differentiate)
- Learn what the reader is “thinking”, wondering, “discovering” p. 99
- Record progress over time
- Address specific needs that are more targeted to the reader
- Teach at the edge of student learning
- Empower the reader with new skills, strategies, and understandings
- Shape the life of a reader
- Smile, laugh, cry, wonder, discover, and learn from authors, characters, story events, and books together --- reader-to-reader
The Challenges of Conferring
Though I find conferring in Reader’s Workshop to be worthwhile, I do not find it to be easy. For some reason, conferring in Reader’s Workshop is more challenging for me than conferring in Writer’s Workshop:
- It is harder to stay consistent with time spent conferring in Reader’s Workshop
- Reading work (more in the head) is not as concrete as writing work (more on paper)
- In writing conferences I seem to be more comfortable letting students take the lead
- It is easier for me to choose teaching points in Writer’s Workshop (perhaps because I keep more to the focus lesson conversations)
- It is easier to name concepts, strategies, etc. in writing than in reading (again because work is concretely in front of us)
- Writing conversations seem to be more forward thinking with goal setting, clear expectations
- I seem to use reading conference more to find out about student thinking, but writing conference more to move writer forward
The reason I wanted to participate in this professional opportunity to discuss conferring is I wanted the time to look – really look – at conferring in Reader’s Workshop. What do I need to change to make it more effective? How do I help readers move forward in these small snippets of time? How do I help young readers to develop ownership of their reading and learning? What can I learn from others to make conferring in Reader’s Workshop more effective? What can I learn from writing conferences that would improve reading conferences?
When I worked as a literacy coach conferring with readers in classrooms was hard. It was easy to make conferences about “the reading” and not about “the reader” because I lacked the knowledge of history. I didn’t know the conversations shared, literature read, strategies taught, or learning discussed. To me, conferring as a classroom teacher has the potential to be much more powerful for learners because I have the knowledge of history. I know the conversations the community has had about reading. I know the books we’ve read together. I have seen the progress of the reader sitting beside me. I know the strengths of the reader. I know where the reader needs support. As a classroom teacher, it is much easier to have a conference that is about “the reader” and not the reading. Still there are changes I need to make to make improve conferring in Reader’s Workshop.
- Change my conferring structure from listen, reflect, teach to listen, reflect, teach, PLAN.
- Learn to let readers lead reading conferences (listen more).
- Never, never, never compromise conferring time.
- Be more explicit in plan, purpose, goal setting part of reading conference. This is the time Allen calls (the P in RIP) plan, progress, purpose. (pp. 102-104)
- End the conference with an intentional plan. p. 102
- Teaching doesn’t always come from telling it often comes as we name what readers are doing.
- “When a student leaves a conference, I want her to have something in mind that may help her remember, understand, extend meaning, or make her reading experience memorable.” p. 104
- “Keep the conference and teaching short enough to accomplish something important, meaningful, and applicable.” p. 129
- “We want to think carefully about the language we use with readers from the moment we sit down beside them. And we also have to remember that often that language comes from the student.” p. 137
- “The reader is better served if his voice, his thinking, fills the airspace during a conference.” P. 148
- While I have found a recording system that works well for me, I’m wondering about adding a student-recording component. Katie DiCesare’s post, School Shopping: Blank Books, has given me more to think about here.
- Like many in this #cyberPD group, I am wondering about switching from my notebook to recording conferences using an application that would allow me to take pictures, use audio to record student conversations, and continue to record observations.
- This year I plan to record more conferences to look closely at who is doing most of the talking, the true structure of the conference, the power of the teaching points, the types of conversations I’m having, patterns, trends, etc..
- I also want to compare the conversations I have with different types of readers. I want to be sure that my readers needing the most support are having high level conversations about books, reading, and thinking.