One of the best parts about my job as a coach is learning from amazing teachers. Each week, a teacher hosts a Learning Round which focuses on any subject or teaching practice of their choice. There are always great take-aways, so each week, I will share them here.
This week’s Learning Round was a wonderful reminder of the value of one-on-one time with our students. Nothing can compare to the time you spend conferring with a child. It is an opportunity to meet that student exactly where they are, complement them on what they are doing well (or, as Lucy Calkins says, “almost doing”), and then teach them something specific that they need most at that moment.
With so many distractions in our daily routines, it can be difficult to make time for this. One idea is to establish routines and structures that show students that this time is valued and should not be interrupted for any reason. This week, our Learning Round host demonstrated her routine: when the lights are turned on, it is conferring time, and students know not to disturb. I’ve also seen teachers wear a silly hat when it is conferring time. Students feel valued because they know you value the time you spend with them. And it teaches students to problem solve independently when you are working with someone else.
Conferring is where the magic happens. As you sit side-by-side, discussing reading and writing with a child, you are also building a relationship. It’s a time to learn about their likes and dislikes, their struggles and accomplishments. But, when you meet with so many students, it can be easy to get overwhelmed. That’s why a system for taking notes is essential. The Learning Round host demonstrated a simple, but effective, system for taking anecdotal notes. Each student has an index card, and all are kept neatly organized in a file folder. After each conference, you can quickly jot down the teaching point for the student and any concerns or thoughts you want to remember for the next conference.
Conferring, especially in reading, is unpredictable, and can be scary for teachers. You are discussing a text that you may be unfamiliar with, and you don’t have a prepared lesson plan to go from. It is individualized teaching, on the spot. You should always start by asking: “What are you working on today?” Then, every conference should follow this format: RESEARCH, COMPLEMENT, DECIDE, TEACH. Spend as much time as you need in the RESEARCH stage – asking the student to read aloud and asking them comprehension questions about their reading. Based on what you learn, give the student a sincere, specific COMPLEMENT. Then, DECIDE on one thing that this child needs most at this time. It might be related to the Teaching Point of the day, but not necessarily. It could be related to fluency, expression, predicting, inferring, summarizing, the list goes on. This cheat sheet can help give ideas for identifying and teaching common reading skills. Then, TEACH this skill by modeling first, and then supporting the student in trying it out with you first, and then independently.
Conferring is a way to raise a student’s reading level, and also raise their confidence! It will help you build meaningful connections with students, and it will support their journey toward becoming an independent, lifelong reader!