Ruth and I are putting the finishing touches on the Conferring Section of our book just as I’m starting to work on presentations for two separate school districts about conferring in the Writing Workshop. Hence, conferring has been on my mind a lot lately!
Record-keeping is always a hot topic when you talk about conferring since most teachers are perpetually looking for the perfect record keeping system. (I, personally, searched for three years until I came up with the perfect one for me.) The point of record-keeping helps us keep track of who we meet with so we can look for patterns and make future plans. Additionally, it helps to know what you complimented a child on in the past, so you don’t continue to compliment little Susie for the same thing week-after-week.
As Ruth and I were chatting about the importance of conferring records the other night, and how it’s hard to find a system that works for every individual, we got onto the subject of how record-keeping systems can be misused. Sometimes administrators require the use of one record-keeping system so they can go around, look inside of teachers’ conferring notebooks, and see what’s happening with kids. (After all, it’s easier to do this when everyone’s conferring notes look the same.) However, mandating one system isn’t good for teachers in that, I believe, it undermines the essence of Workshop (i.e., differentiated) teaching. When conferring notes are used by anyone other than a teacher, they become something that is kept for show. This is counter-productive since conferring notes should be something that moves instruction forward. They shouldn’t be pretty, nor should they look perfect. (Gosh knows, my conferring notes were often hastily written, in-between students, and were sometimes, I-kid-you-not, written in French!)
The Bottom Line: When you keep conference records for yourself rather than for someone else who mandates how you keep them and what they should say, you’ll notice that they become a useful tool to drive instruction in your classroom. Find a system that works for you, but don’t be afraid to tweak it. Finally, do examine your records frequently, to the point at which it becomes a habit, so your conferences truly become the heart of your Workshop.
Literacy Consultant. Author. Former 4th and 5th Grade Classroom Teacher.