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Conferring With Students

For me, one of the best ways to stay tuned in to students is by circulating around the room and pausing to chat with them while they read, write, or work with a partner or group. These kinds of informal conferences are a great ways to start meeting with students for short bursts of time on a regular basis.
I recommend that you jot down key points of these conversations on sticky notes. I usually give the notes to students so they have a record of our brief meeting and can use it to refresh their memories.
I invite you to ask questions about conferring and share some of your conferring experiences—both positive and negative.
Laura Robb

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Tasha

I am a first year teacher in fifth grade, and one of my (many) problems is taking to long to conference with students. How can I narrow down my conferencing time so I can visit with each student in a reasonable amount of time?

Laura Robb

Dear Tasha,

Great questions. No more than 5 minutes for a conference. The way to do this is to prepare beforehand and focus on one specific area. For reading it could be one of these:

• showing you how to figure out a word using context clues
• talking about the protagonist and a key problem he or she has
• asking question before or during reading
• using a reading purpose to find important details
• showing you how he or she infers using a characters actions or words

For writing it could be:
• discussing a brainstormed list with the purpose of choosing ideas to write about
• Finding strong verbs--changing 3 to 4
• Making nouns more specific--3 to 4

After the conference, some students can complete the task independently, others with a peer partner. If students need more of you help, schedule one short conference a day.

Make sure that those not conferring are engaged in a worthwhile independent activity.

You might want to read Nancy Allisons book on Teaching Middle School Readers (Heinemann, 2009) which gets into conferring. Or you can read my chapter on conferring in the second edition of Teaching Reading in Middle School, available in June.

All best,

Laura Robb

Ms. Tan

Dear Laura,

I used to think conferring and formal note-taking was a waste of time, but now in this charter school where I work, I value those 'stickies' that I save for myself and for my students. It helps me keep track of who I'm seeing and how often, as well as gives me a good sense of common patterns of problems for my students, which I can then turn into strategy groups.

A great idea from Teacher's College for record-keeping is the use of stickers that are preprinted with the following information:
Name
Date
Book Title/Level - Type of Writing
Compliment
Something to Work On

Then the next time you come around to check on a student, you can see if they have been attending to that "Something to Work On." Thanks for starting this thread!

Laura Robb

Dear Kimberly,


Thanks for sharing this great strategy with teachers!


All best,


Laura Robb

Brenda

I learn so much about my 3rd & 4th graders' reading habits when conferencing! I use a conference record that lists date, book, notes, goal, vocab. & retelling. This is stapled into the back of their Language Arts notebooks for easy access. For retelling, I give a star, ok or check mark. Goal is something to work on. Vocab I list after listening to them read a page or so - and review past words that are listed. It is hard to keep it to 5 minutes but I find having a form to follow helps keep me on track. I have a clipboard I carry during conferences with my Status of the Class sheet (name of book and page every day). I highlight each child's block for that day that I conference with. Then I can see at a glance who I need to see. Of course some are once a week and some are daily, depending on need.

Laura Robb

Dear Brenda,


What a fabulous idea! Thanks for sharing. I love that you store the forms in the back of students LA notebooks. Your conference form headings are comprehensive and so helpful to teachers and to students. Having a Status of the Class for reading as well as writing makes so much sense. Thanks for sharing such a great management idea!


All best,
Laura Robb

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