A Blended Approach to Reading and Writing Conferences
If I had to decide what moments I am most effective in the classroom, I'd have to say that it is when I am on the floor conferring with individual students about their reading and writing. This also happens to be the area of teaching that I have refined the most, always looking for new ways to make use of our conference time together. So much time has been dedicated to this, in fact, that I am declaring myself a reading/writing physician! This week I'd like to share with you how we now blend our reading and writing conferences to create a stronger impact.
A Blended Approach to Reading and Writing Conferences
In the past I would meet with individual students during reader's workshop for a reading conference and meet for a writing conference during writer's workshop. The truth was, it became overwhelming having 40+ conferences to manage a week (especially with 26 students last year).
This year, I made the decision to combine our reading and writing conferences. It was such a simple move, and I am really excited about the blended approach to conferring. I would like to share with you a typical reading/writing conference, as well as share my "physician" tricks of the trade.
First Minute: Who's Next?
After completing a reading or writing mini-lesson, I glance at our conference chart to see who I will be meeting with for the day. I quietly walk up to the student and ask them to meet me on the carpet. The student knows to bring all the items shown above. This includes: a reader's notebook, a copy of our CAFE board (doc), and a writer's notebook.
Pictured: Student pictures are laminated and attached with Velcro to a conference board. This makes changes to the conference schedule easier to remember and helps me keep track of who I need to meet with.
Second Minute: Some Time to Reflect and Edit
Each week I ask students to write a reading reflection in their reader's notebook the day before our conference (purchased here). Currently we are focusing on writing about our reading connections to deepen our our thinking when we write. When students write me a letter, I believe it is only fair to read it and write back a letter to each student. So, when students first sit down for a conference they immediately open their writer's notebook and begin to edit their soon to be conferenced piece. I usually hand a pen to the student for editing so I can visually see the corrections made in their piece. During this time, I read and respond to the letter written to me. On average, this takes one to two minutes and also gives me a quite second to browse through their school reading log (they only record finished novels).
To watch a clip on what is included our reader's notebook, click here. It comes from the first week of school.
Minutes Three to Six: Writing Conference Time
I usually begin a writing conference with, "How's writing going?" I then skim through the writer's notebook looking for dates, length of writing, and writing variety. Students are given the option to read or be read to. In most cases, we have time to look at one page in detail, so having the piece edited before our talk is very helpful to me.
As the piece is read I listen and look for standards that are being meet and standards that can be addressed. I do my best to share two things that the student is doing well as well as one thing to work on (2 stars, 1 wish). I often say, "Did you know you were doing this?" for the area of strength and, "Can I show you something good writers do?" for the area to work on.
I make sure to record this in my conference notebook so I can follow it up with our next meeting(s). Because the student spent time editing their piece before our conference, I can easily see what is not being noticed by the student. I select the most pressing strategy/skill missed at the time. It can sometimes be a challenge not to address more than this, but one skill/step a week creates successful progress throughout the year. Unsure of what to look for? Here is an example:
* correct use of possessive nouns
* use of active voice or descriptive language
wish- adding a comma before a quotation is used
(visit our page on how we use a Writing Target Board, including a printable sheet for conference standards)
Sample writer's notebook- This student self-selected his writer's notebook. It includes a magnetic shut on the front and a spot for his spelling dictionary. Great care has been given to this notebook, but his desk is another story!
Minutes Seven to Ten: Reading Conference Time
After completing a writing conference, it's on to reading. I didn't realize how closely the reading and writing connection was until I combined our conferences together. So often, the genre being read about matches the genre being written about. It brings to mind the saying, "What are you reading that is like what you are writing?" With the student pictured below, he spends most of his time writing informational, nonfiction pieces about animals. You can only guess that his reading selections are under the same genre. Part of my job this year will be to help him branch off this genre in reading and writing as well as strengthen the way he writes and selects books in this genre. It is important to note that reading habits are very clear when you use this approach. You don't need a reading log to do the math!
On most occasions, I start with a retell of what is being read. In my conference notebook I record the title, date, and level of perceived understanding. Whether I have read the book or not, when a student struggles to tell me the character's name or talks about the book with enthusiasm, I have become confident in assessing the level of understanding. A simple check plus or check minus in my notes often works for me.
Next, I ask the student to open their book to the page they are currently on. I record the page number in my conference book and ask the student to read a page out loud. It is during this time that I complete an informal running record. For those not familiar with running records, it is a method to record what you are orally hearing a child do while reading (self-correcting, replacing, repeating, etc.) I do this so I can help assess what the student is doing well and what the student needs to work on. A sample observation may include:
* the student is reading an appropriate level book (95% accuracy or higher), so they are reading fluently
* the student is self-correcting words while reading (supported by a running record)
wish- the student will use chunking (chunky monkey) to decode unknown words. This will be followed with using context clues if the word is still unknown.
(visit our page on how we use a C.A.F.E. board, including a printable sheet for conference standards)
Here I am completing a running record as the student reads to me.
I ask, "Does that make sense?" for this student who replaced a word while reading. We go back and use some decoding strategies to figure out what was said in the text.
Getting It All In!
Because we have less movement and time associated with starting and ending a conference, I have found it easier to meet with each student each week. On average, I am able to meet with two or three students during our first reading block and two or three students during our second block. And it is during the third reading/writing block that I make time to meet with students for a guided reading session. All this is completed with little to no stress now, and I encourage you to learn more about The Daily Five for management of time.
More Information on Becoming a Reading/Writing Physician
Pronunciation: \fə-'zi-shən\ 1. n. a person skilled in the art of reading and writing conferring; specifically: one educated, classroom experienced, and licensed listener that aides in creating life-long readers and writers through daily reading and writing time.
Pronunciation: \'fär-mə-sist\ 1. n. the art, practice, or profession of preparing, preserving, compounding, and dispensing prescribed reading and writing annodates, mainly pre-designed by others.
I like to think I am a Reading/Writing Physician, rather than the Reading/Writing Pharmacist passing out the prescription. I was fortunate to hear author Lester Laminack use this analogy once, and I think it is fitting. Each student is on a totally individualized plan of action in our room, and I am in control (and responsible) for the progress made this year. I take a little bit of my experience, my heart, and my knowledge to make these decisions. And of course, I rely on amazing educators like Katie Wood Ray, Lester Laminack (Scholastic resources from him), Ralph Fletcher, and my teaching peers.
If you would like to see a collection of professional books that have helped me become a Reading/Writing Physician, click here.
If you would like to learn more about our classroom click here.