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


  1. Jill,
    This section about counterfeit beliefs caught my attention. The question asked, "Why choose individual conferring over small group instruction?" comes from a concern over equitable instructional time for all. Thank you for the reminder of the many opportunities across our day to confer with students. Like you, I find conferring to be a powerful way to quickly shift students as instruction and conversations can be tailored to the reader/writer/mathematician/learner.

    I find it interesting that you picked up the "community" piece from Allen's chapter about his ashlars. I kept asking myself, "Am I understanding this correctly? I am reading a book about conferring (individual instruction), and keep hearing about community." The significance of the community in establishing an environment in which these conversations can occur, are valued, and help deepen the understanding of the community cannot be overlooked. I'm glad he took the time to show how he carefully sets up his environment with students so learning can occur. This was a great read BEFORE the school year begins. Lots to think about.

    Thanks for getting this conversation started.

  2. Hi, Jill!

    Too funny ~ I picked up on the same thing that Cathy did! I love the notion that if we are conferring with students in reading, math, and writing, it gives us opportunities to meet with many students throughout the day. I never thought about it that way, but I certainly will now!
    Thanks for sharing your thoughts!
    ~Laura :)

  3. Jill,
    I absolutely loved the fact you spoke to the idea of conferring across the day. I know the focus of Patrick's book is reading, but all day long I find the value of conferring with kids. In many cases the one on one discussions in science and math are even more valuable than the ones in reading. This is where we might catch a glimpse of a student who excels in a different arena. Then we can build on what we learned about her or him in our reading conferences.

  4. Jill,
    Was really struck by the fact that you are conferring in reading AND writing AND math. I've been a literacy coach for the last few years so I have not been teaching math. Would love to hear more about what your math conferences sound like. I agree with you about community being an ashlar-- if a strong community is not in place those rich conversations just won't happen. I also absolutely agree with you that every kid doesn't need the same number or type of conferences. Look forward to hearing more from you next week!

  5. Jill,
    It's so nice when a mentor of ours gives us the freedom to do what is best. When I start to think about conferring and seeing everyone I try to remember, fair is not always equal and equal is not a mirrored same. We know 4 + 3 = 2 + 5.

  6. Thanks for the comments, everyone. I so appreciate hearing your views on these ideas. I love to be able to have this kind of conversation - I learn so much that way. I am looking forward to learning more as we go along.

  7. Jill~
    I have not started reading the book YET, (had to order it, just arrived TODAY!)
    Your comment about the necessity of community in order to build deeper understandings and conversations often gets ignored or forgotten. Taking the added time at the beginning of the year is so important in establishing a community of learners. We need to allow ourselves and our students to take this time. Thanks for the reminder!

    P.S. I am pretty VoiceThread would be a great tool for helping kids see the strengths of one another...

  8. I enjoyed reading your post, Jill.

    And, Mandy, I like your comment "...fair is not always equal and equal is not a mirrored same. We know 4 + 3 = 2 + 5." The mathematical equation is a good one to remember to share with fellow teachers who may not be on the same page.