A few days ago, I wrote about my favourite activities and strategies from the last school year, but I left one out: conferencing with my students. This strategy has totally changed my life as a teacher and I can confidently say it has improved the learning for my students. I wrote a post last year that details the reasons why you should conference, so I’m not going to rehash that today. Instead I’m going to share my plans to up my game, to make this strategy work even better.
1. MAKE A PLAN AND GET ORGANIZED
Confession time: organization does not come naturally to me. I really have to work at it. While I loved the conferences I did last year, I knew that I was a little haphazard in how I rolled them out. I started really well, but as often happens with me, I can get a little off track. To prevent that from happening this year, I created some conference guides that will keep both me and my students focused on the skills I want them to develop during reading workshop (ones for writing are on the way). Each one has focus questions that will remind me of the areas I want my students to focus on during the conference. We can move in other directions as we talk, of course, but I will have those questions as a reminder of the purpose of the conference. Each one will get filed in my conference binder as I systematically move through the topics that I want to cover during reading workshop.
2. TEACH STUDENTS HOW TO PREP FOR A CONFERENCE
If I want my conferences to go well, I need to take the time early in the semester to teach my students how to prepare for one. They will need to know the topic ahead of time so they can think about how it relates to the text they are reading, and prepare their notes for discussion with me. I will emphasize that it’s important that they have details and textual evidence to back up their answers and that they have it all organized and ready to go. This student organization is a key component to running conferences in your classroom: you have a limited amount of time with each student, so they need to come ready to be focused.
3. CREATE A SYSTEM FOR EASY ASSESSMENT
The purpose of these conferences is twofold: I am trying to assess the skills of the students and they are trying to learn how to improve their skills. Just as I needed a better plan for covering the skills I want students to attain, I needed a better system for assessment too. You can see on the page above that I have a quick and easy-to-use rubric for each conference. I also have forms for each student, with each skill recorded, so I can track their progress through our reading workshop. I plan to record it all in pencil, too, because I want to give students a chance to improve. If they don’t score well on recognizing the way authors develop theme, for example, they can try again with their next book. Once they’ve shown me that they have mastered the skill, they don’t need to do it again with future books that they read — I don’t want to penalize the voracious readers with more work.
4. ENSURE THAT STUDENTS USE MY FEEDBACK
If I want all of this to work, I need the kids to take responsibility. When they confer with me, they need to be recording my feedback. And I want them to actually write it down – I won’t be giving them back the scoring sheet I use. When they actually go through the process of recording the information, they have to take a much more active role in the process. Later, if they want to improve their evaluation, they will have to show me evidence that they used the feedback I gave them in previous conferences.
I’m happy with my plan and thrilled with my new guides. If you’d like to check them out, you can see them here. They’ve also been added to my Reader’s Workshop Bundle, so if you have that, they’re yours already – just go download again!