Back to School Week: Conferring

We received a couple of questions about conferring last week.  They were:

Michele wrote:

I would like for you to share ideas about conferring. I love my conversations about books with my 4th and 5th grade students. They are rich and meaningful. I am longing for the same feeling from my writing conferences. How do I keep them from becoming editing sessions?

Ro wrote:

Hi!
You two are such a great resource to me. I really hope that you keep sharing all of your great ideas. One of the areas that I struggle with is keeping organized conferring notes. Last year I used a binder with multiple pages for students. This year, I’m thinking of using a notebook. What has worked for you both? How do your organize/set up this tool?

In an effort to tackle both of these questions together, this might be a little lengthy.  Hopefully it’ll be useful.  (NOTE: There are a LOT of hyperlinks in this post, which will take you to other pages on our blog where we’ve written about conferring in the past.)

IN RESPONSE TO MICHELE’S QUESTION:

I spent a week taking a class on revision and conferring with Carl Anderson at the TCRWP’s Writing Institute last summer.  I also heard Carl speak about conferring during a keynote address he delivered to everyone.  Click here to read the notes I synthesized on how to keep conferences meaningful and short.  I think the most important thing to keep in mind, when conferring with young writers is to teach the writer, not the writing.  (I believe Don Murray said this.)  When you help them as a writer, you avoid having the conference become one that focuses on editing.  When you help the child as a writer, you’re giving them a strategy they can apply to all of their work, not just the work they’re doing that day, but the work you expect them to do daily as a writer.

To that end, Ruth once wrote:

Basically, we learn what they are doing and help them do it better. However, too often we find what they are not doing and then try to get them to do those eighty-seven things we think they should be doing.

In short, a Research-Decide-Teach Conference, which was the type of conferring I studied heavily when I was in the Literacy Specialist Program at Teachers College, is a great way to keep your conferences focused on the writer, not the writing.  To learn more about how to conduct a Research-Decide-Teach Conference click here.

IN RESPONSE TO RO’S QUESTION:

As far as keeping track of who I meet with, I used a very basic system in a notebook, which has its pluses and minuses.  Here’s a look at a page of my conferring notes (from one of my students’ first three months of school last year) from the start of the last school year.  If you click on the image below, you’ll go onto Flickr.  I’ve added several notes to this image, which give more detail about this system.  Be sure to scroll over the “boxes” you see on the image, once you’re on Flickr, to read more about this type of tracking system.

One Student's Conferring Notes from First Three Months of 2008

When using a notebook, it’s important to leave about four pages, back-and-front, per child in your class.  I use stick-on tabs to separate each child’s section from the next.  Also, I alphabetized the tabs, so it was easy to locate the student’s section easily.   I didn’t always use a notebook.  I used to use a three-ring binder, which you can learn more about by clicking here.

For other conferring templates click here or feel free to download this one, which I uploaded to Scribd.

If you’re looking for full-class systems to keep track of the kids you meet with day-by-day, then consider one of these:

  • Clothespins: I created this system two years ago, but it seemed repetitive since I was pretty good with my notebook.  That being said, if you’re a visual person, it might work for you.
  • Grid System: A simple grid system can be used.  Here is one that might work for you:

FINALLY:

For more on conferring, click here to read some of our old posts.