PART I: Coaching Growing Readers and Writers with Formative Feedback
Conferring well with students requires that I have a vision of what I hope for them as writers. Just as listening up close has everything to do with how to confer, stepping back to see the big picture is equally important.
Joanne Hindley, In the Company of Children
Each person’s life is lived as a series of conversations.
Writing is problem solving.
Shelley Harwayne, Lifetime Guarantees & Writing Through Childhood
What is a conference? What does conferring mean?
A conversation between two (or more) souls devoted to deepening thinking and their relationships with one another.
An opportunity to coach and nurture another reader’s process of understanding/writer’s process of being understood.
An essential form of feedback all readers and writers need and long for.
Rituals and Routines to Focus and
Energize Our Conferring
Once you have established a basic pattern for conferring, then you can develop variations on a conference style. But only when you know and trust each other. And trusting yourself is absolutely essential! *From Donald Murray, 1989, and Patrick Allen, 2009
Rituals and routines structure and guide my conferring. They give my individual instruction predictability and focus. My conferences are not haphazard or random because I know what each student and I need to gain from our one-on-one collaborations. My decisions about why and how to engage in a conference with a student are shaped by...
...my relationship with the child and
...my instructional intentions or purpose for the conference.
*In new relationships, building trust with the reader/writer is paramount. Over time, I can nudge students in conferences to take more risks because they know that my suggestions are coming from unconditional caring and sincere inquiry. Maintaining connected and strong relationships with students is always at the heart of effective teaching and, thus, absolutely paramount in developing edifying conferences.
Types of Conferences
*There are an infinite number of possibilities, reasons, and purposes for engaging in conferences with our students. To profile a few here, I engage in the following conferences over the course of a school year to nurture students’ reading, writing, learning, and confidence.
- Building Up Confidence Conference
- Book Choice/Matching Conference
- Focus Lesson Follow Up Conference
- Individual Student Goal Follow Up Conference
- Strategy Conference
- Intervention/Extra Support Conference
- Word Work Conference
- Stamina Building Conference
- Goal Setting Conference
- Getting Started Conference (priming writing)
- Revision Conference
- Editing Conference
- Publishing Conference
- Differentiating Response/Tasks Conference
Conference Rituals to Know and Support Students’ Thinking and Understanding
© Benson, 1990; 2005
Listen for evidence of the reader’s/writer’s use of focus lesson(s), strengths, and/or needs.
I might begin with an invitation such as:
· Tell me about your thinking/reading/writing.
· How can I be of help to you today?
· We’ve been studying why and how to make connections in our reading/writing. How can I be of help to you today in making connections as you read/write?
As students get to know me, I often do not have to say anything because they know I am most interested in listening to them first. So, as I sit next to a student, he/she just begins to tell me about their literacy work.
As the student shares his/her reading/writing, I listen for and look for direct connections to our current learning focus and record the student’s strengths and/or needs in implementing this focus effectively. If I am not sure about the reader’s/writer’s use of the focus lesson or if the child is very quiet, I might need to nudge my evidence gathering by saying something like:
· We’ve been studying how questions focus a writer’s work. Tell me about how you are using questions to guide your writing.
· We’ve been studying how questions guide and energize a reader’s thinking. Show me where/tell me how questioning is helping you understand what you read/this text.
Name how the reader/writer is using the focus strategy(ies) effectively. The naming may need to come from us first but students should be encouraged to name their strengths/effective practices as soon as possible and as often as possible. Encouraging metacognition is key. In this part of my conference, I might say something like one of the following to the student:
· Your “I bet…” inferring really seems to be helping you understand the character’s feelings. I might add, What are you noticing about your inferential thinking?
· Your thinking is much deeper because you are focusing on identifying the most important ideas as you read these nonfiction texts. I might add, What helps you know what is important in nonfiction text/this text?
· I noticed that you problem solved this part/this word so that you really understand section. I might add, How did you know to do this?
· Name something you are doing well here in your writing.
· What are you doing to help yourself think/understand as you read?/What is helping you understand what you are reading?
Leave the reader/writer with an assignment with a supportive NUDGE.
I might say something as simple and straightforward as:
· Before I came to confer with you, you were working really hard. I know that you will continue to work hard in your writing/reading as I leave. Good job, Bud!
· You seem to really be in the habit of inferring in this book. Remember to stop and infer as you get the other texts in your book box (collection of diverse genres developed for students’ independent reading). Sound good?
Or, I might provide more instructional support by saying something like:
· We talked about how to figure out a new word (as you write) by using your visual memory – by having a go at it on this piece of scratch paper so that you can see if it looks right. You are already in the habit of using your phonics to figure out new words. Hooray! So, when you want to use a new word in your writing, stay courageous and know that you now have a few ways of problem solving or cross checking a new word – using your phonics to sound it out and writing it out to see if it looks right to you. Keep using those two strategies as you continue to write today and when you are writing at home tonight, too. And let’s check back in with each other tomorrow to see how this is working for you, okay?
Or, I might offer the reader/writer some intriguing challenge or rigor by saying something like:
· From what you shared about why and how you are summarizing as you read, you understand so much about this way of thinking. Would you be our focus lesson/mini lesson teacher tomorrow and teach the rest of our class about how they can summarize?
· You have grown so much - I see that you are monitoring your understanding by stopping and talking to yourself. I wonder if you might stop a bit more often to understand more of the author’s ideas here. I think you might be stopping to self-talk after many pages and that might be making it hard for you to remember all the great things that are happening and being said here. I think stopping after every paragraph or even after a few sentences might help you understand more deeply. What do you think?...Let’s tip in some sticky flags in your book to figure out a good stop and think pacing for your reading…Later today/tomorrow, let me know how this feels and if it is helping you understand more and enjoy your reading more – always cool, right?