Thursday, August 15, 2013

Conferring Toolkits

As I was thinking about the beginning of the school year and some of the most powerful teaching and practices, my mind continually went to conferring with students.  How exciting that we have the opportunity to teach our students one-on-one! Whether in Reading Workshop or Writing Workshop, student conferences are when our most intense teaching should take place.  We are able to meet students where they are in their reading or in the writing process, coach into their zone of proximal development, and really lift the level of their reading or writing.  As Calkins states, "Conferring is not the icing on the cake, but the cake itself."  Truly, within our workshops, strong conferring is essential.

There can be a lot of anxieties when it comes to having powerful conferences with our readers or  writers...
  • What if I don't know the book?
  • What if I can't figure out through my research what to teach the student?
  • What questions do I ask to research?
  • What if there are a million things I could teach... how do I just stick to one?
  • How do I have an effective conference within the 5-8 minute range?
  • How is it possible to have strong conferences with each student in my class each week?
  • What about the student who needs me all the time?
  • What about my strugglers?!
  • Grammar?!?
  • When I decide what to teach, how do I teach it?
And the list goes on...

Each of these questions/topics could be their own blog entry.  So, today, I choose to reflect on the final question: When I decide what to teach, how do I teach it?

When considering how to teach in a conference, I think it is important that you come to the conferences prepared.  You can have a conferring toolkit to carry with  you from conference to conference with tools:

  • Anecdotal notes from last conference
    • Reflect on last teaching point
    • Maybe follow up on work from last time
    • Where there any goals or next steps you considered?
    • Discuss with the student goals they have set that you noted?
  • Your writing notebook with sample writing
    • Use your sample writing as a mentor text for your teaching point
    • Refer back to back to your own writing
    • Show students that you encounter the same types of problems... set up your notebook with parts that "show predictable problems" your students may encounter within the unit...
      • Then model how you might problem solve, revise, or edit...
        • Refer to anchor charts on the wall or a mentor text...
  • Your reading notebook
    • To model how to elaborate on ideas... log reading thoughts...
    • Show ways you have organized your reading thoughts
  • Mentor texts used in class
    • Place sticky notes in parts you anticipate student conferences
    • Mark places referred to during mini lessons
    • Refer to these places and read closely
      • Connect this work to the book they are reading
    • Keep in mind: You are teaching the reader, not the book!
  • Post-it notes
    • To help your student with their jotting
    • Eliminate the time for the student to search for their own
    • For you to leave the student goal/job as a visual reminder for them
  • Highlighters/markers/pencils/pens
    • So students don't have to spend time looking
    • For you to use to model
  • Text level/band ring (picture below)
    • Giving you ideas as to what to teach
    • Using as a mini anchor chart to leave with student
  • Notecard Rings (premade or blank)
    • Premade: mini anchor charts from your Unit of Study mini lessons
    • Blank: create a mini anchor chart with the student
      • Skills/Strategies that will help boost their reading or writing... what you want them to try  

As seen in the first picture, I use a travel cosmetic case that folds up and has compartments.  The second picture, shows an example of a text band ring I created for the KLM band.

I have found that when I feel prepared, I feel more confident going into the conference.  In my toolkit, I have materials, so I am not running around finding the mentor text or something to write with or on (when this happens, often you lose the attention of the student and you are wasting precious time).   We should frequently be bringing in mentor texts and anchor charts into our conferences... Teach students that the work we do in our Mini Lessons are truly to help us during our reading and writing lives.  Teach students to use tools to help them strengthen their reading and writing.  Model this.

What tools do you (or would you) have in your toolkit?  Please share!

:) Sarah


  1. I have the reading levels and behaviors laminated on a ring to easily take from conference to conference :)

    1. Awesome! I would love to see yours. What else could we use in the primary grades for conferring kits?

  2. Awesome! Shanna would be so proud of your cosmetic case!!! I use a tie-up jewelry case, but I have been thinking how great it would be to have one of those half aprons with lots of pockets--you know, like the kind waitstaff wear? I often forget to grab my bag or I leave it at one table when I move to the next and I feel like that apron would have to stay with me if it was tied on. :)

    In primary, one thing I love to use is highlighter tape. I will often highlight a recurring word that a student gets stuck on to help them remember what it is when it comes up in the book again--or a word ending that stumps easily like "-age" I also carry "super power fingers" (finger puppets) for kids who skip words to encourage following the words with their finger as well as other tools I wrote about in this post.

    The other really important thing I learned about conferring, from Shanna, that I was reminded of when you posted that anxiety above:
    What about the student who needs me all the time?, is that sometimes we won't be able to help in a conference and that's okay--we just need to move on and come back to that kid on another day. I am so guilty of staying with a student for 10 minutes just because I feel like I have to teach him something that he understands or I'm failing him. But it's true that the one student I'm staying with likely won't "get it" this round anyway and then I'm sacrificing the rest of the class's needs to boot.

    Love your blog!