Wednesday, July 20, 2011


This week we are talking about the third and final section of Conferring by Patrick Allen. Laura Komos is hosting the conversation this week on her blog, Our Camp Read-A-Lot. Be sure to stop by and check out the whole conversation or leave a comment with your ideas. If you are just joining us be sure to check out our earlier conversations about Part 1 and Part 2 of the book.

In this section, Patrick Allen talks about walk-aways or the things he wants his students to have as they walk away from a conference. So for this final post on Conferring, I think I will share my walk-aways from reading this book and participating in this blog book chat.

  • First and foremost, I need to decide what notes I want to take at each conference so that I can spend my time listening to a student during a conference rather than thinking about what notes I might take.
  • I am currently doing a modified type of guided reading group with my students. After a book introduction and/or a quick lesson I move around the table to read with each student. I have been making these quick reading times with the students have more of a conference feel than a guided reading feel and I want to continue and improve upon that. I am not sure which of Patrick's categories this fits under - Capital G Guided Reading or small g guided reading. It may be closer to small g guided reading. This will be in addition to my regular conferring during independent reading.
  • I have been experimenting with Evernote on the iPad and think that I might be able to use that for my notes. I will need some additional type of form to keep track of when and how often I confer with each student but that can be in Evernote, too.
  • I want to remember to leave my students with a walk-away of their own after each conference. The few times that a student and I have been very explicit about their new plan or goal, it has been very successful. First graders love to try new things and they are open to suggestions from me. I need to end each conference with a "P" - plan, progress or purpose. I need to make sure this is in my notes so I can follow up with the student later.
  • It is important to keep in mind that "laughter is a natural sign of inferring". (p. 167)
  • So many of the "Conferring Ain't Easy" premises struck me and are things that I need to keep at the front of my mind as I confer. These include: Conferring is Teaching, Not Fault Finding, Shut Up and Listen, Nudge Thinking Deeper, My Knees Are Killing Me and You Need a Mint. The first three are the ones that will help me change the substance of my conferences while the last two will help me make conferring more comfortable for everyone involved.
My first day of school with students is two weeks from today and I feel like I have a great plan in place to make some significant changes in my reading (and writing and math) conferences. Thanks, Patrick, for writing Conferring and giving us all so much to think about.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Components of Conferring
"Conferring" Blog Bookchat ~ Part 2

We are in the middle of our discussion of "Conferring" by Patrick Allen. Last week we discussed the learning environment necessary to be successful with conferring with students. It has been very interesting to read all of the various reflections and think about all of the different viewpoints. Thanks to all who have joined the discussion. This week we will talk about the various components of conferring. You can join in this conversation, too. Here's how:
  1. Leave a comment at the end of this post.
  2. Write a post about your reflections, and place your link in the comments below. I will then update this post to include a link your blog.
  3. Comment on Twitter using the hashtag #cyberPD.
  4. Visit other blog reflections and comment.
I was very anxious to read this section of the book because I wanted to really learn more about the ins and outs of conferring. While I did pick up some new ideas, I think the most important thing I gained was a sense that maybe I am better at conferring than I give myself credit for. I always feel like I should be doing more with each conference than I currently am. Reading this section made me really think about how beneficial it is for students to do less but to think about it more deeply.

Reading the conference scripts in this section made me reflect on exactly what my purpose is when conferring with a student. I have decided that the main purpose is to notice where the student is and help them grow a bit in their thinking. I often felt like since I couldn't meet with each student every day that I needed to make the most of this short time with them and pack as much as possible into the conference. I will be trying to slow myself down during my conferences in the future and focusing on one thing at a time.

The other topic that I was very anxious to learn about was note-taking and/or record keeping. I, too, have used many, many different types of record keeping but I noticed that I really didn't refer back to my notes. After reading the section Conferring Versus Collecting (pages 107 and 108), I realized that I need to stop taking notes just to have notes and that I need to think about exactly what information I would actually use if I recorded it. I haven't quite figured this out yet but I know that I will be thinking about it a lot as we get closer to those first few days of school.

One thing that I have noticed about my conferring in the past was that when I did get frustrated with my various note-taking systems and just gave up on them, my actual conferring was better. I wasn't distracting myself with thinking about what I was going to write down at the end of this conference. I think that if I create a plan or list of notes that I will actually use, it will also free me up to really listen to the student I am conferring with and not be collecting a series of notes that I won't use. So before my first conference this year I need to generate that list so my students will get my full attention.

One quote from this section that I just loved and I think pretty much says it all (for me) was by Bev Bos:
What your children take home in their hearts is far more important than what they take home in their hands. (p. 139)
Today's Discussion
The Schedule of our Discussion:

July 6th
Part 1: What Brings About a Good Conference, Anyway?
Hosted by Cathy Mere at Reflect and Refine: Building a Learning Community

July 13th
Part 2: What are the Essential Components of Conferring?
Hosted by me at My Primary Passion

July 20th
Part 3: What Emerges from Our Reading Conferences?
Hosted by Laura Komos at Camp Read-A-Lot

To Be Announced
Twitter Chat

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Blog Bookchat ~ Conferring Part 1

Today, our Blog Bookchat discussion is focused on Part 1 of Conferring by Patrick Allen. Part 1 consists of three chapters - the first is about "counterfeit beliefs" surrounding conferring, the second is about goals for conferring and the third is about building an environment that supports conferring. There is a lot to think about in these three chapters but two things really struck me as I was reading.

The first thing that struck me was that while I don't consciously have any of the "counterfeit beliefs" about conferring now, I have had issues with some of them in the past. The items from the list that caused me to rethink my conferring plans were:
If I don't meet with every student every day, I'm not doing a good job.

I need to confer with every student the same number of times for the same amount of time each week.
I feel like conferring or any type of one-on-one instructional interaction with students is among the best practices in education. I know that I can't meet with every student every day but I still want to (even in the face of increasing class size). So since I use conferring in reading, writing and math I try to confer with different students in each content area each day. I still don't meet with every student every day but at the end of the day I have conferred with a significant number of students. Those personal interactions are important to the students so while I don't worry about the number of minutes or number of times I meet with a student each day or week. I do need to make sure that I am at least checking in with each student frequently so that they feel like a valued member of our learning community.

The other part of this first section of the book that caused me to really stop and think was the chapter on building an environment for conferring. I think all of the ashlars (pillars of support) that Patrick Allen mentions in this chapter are very important. He asked us to consider what our own ashlars would be and I think that I would add asking students to learn about what others are passionate about or what strengths others have. I think knowing this really encourages deeper understanding of the idea that we are all different types of learners and readers. It also helps them be able to have conversations with each other about the kinds of reading that they are doing and why they are making the choices they are making. This could probably fit in with Patrick's first ashlar of having a sense of trust, respect and tone, but I also think it is important enough that it could be separated out.

I am really looking forward to reading Part 2 of the book about components of conferring. The content of my conferences is where I really need to do some thinking, refining and revising.

This week's Blog Bookchat is being hosted by Cathy Mere at Reflect and Refine: Building a Learning Community so you should head on over there to join the conversation.

The schedule for the rest of the Blog Bookchat is:

July 13th
Part 2: What are the Essential Components of Conferring?
Hosted by me at My Primary Passion

July 20th
Part 3: What Emerges from Our Reading Conferences?
Hosted by Laura Komos at Camp Read-A-Lot

July 21st
Twitter Chat
This will be a conversation on Twitter using the hashtag #cyberPD