To be honest, I never created an official Conferring Toolkit when I was a classroom teacher. I didn’t know there was such a thing (but sure wish I had known)! What I did have was a clipboard which I faithfully carried around the room as I conferred. The clipboard held my conferring notes and other record-keeping items. However, the real reason the clipboard never left my hands was because it also held my cheat sheets. Yep, that’s right, I had cheat sheets, and I highly recommend that you add some to your own Conferring Toolkits, too.
I had two types of cheat sheets. The first type was a sheet to remind me how to conduct a conference. I used this sheet often when I was just learning how to confer. This sheet was a simple graphic to remind me to research, decide, teach, and link. Unfortunately, I misplaced my original long ago, but I recreated it here as an example:
Please note that my original was not this clean. It had my handwritten notes all over it with prompts and reminders in case I felt stuck. For instance, near the “Teach” box, I had probably written prompts for myself such as:
- Many writers find…
- One strategy I use when I want to…
- Here’s one tip that I think will help you…
Currently, I am in a coaching cycle with a first grade teacher who is refining her conferring skills. Our cheat sheet for how to conduct a conference comes from the work of Carl Anderson and can be seen here.
The second type of cheat sheet helped me find the teaching point in a conference. This sheet varied with each writing unit. For example, I might add the final checklist or rubric from a writing unit to to my Conferring Toolkit. This will help remind me where we are going when I sit down next to a writer. It will give me a list of things to be on the lookout for in his or her writing.
I would also include a copy of the my grade level’s Common Core State Standards for writing, especially standards #1-3. A quick glance at the standards might remind me of an important teaching point.
I have some tried and true cheat sheets which belong in any writing unit. For example, here is a copy of page 28 from Carl Anderson’s book, How’s It Going? (2000).
I love this page because it addresses many of the common teaching points I often use in a conference, and it offers a strategy I could teach the writer. I recently saw Carl Anderson speak at a conference, and he shared some questions he asks himself when he sits down next to writers:
- Is the writer attempting to communicate something meaningful?
- Is the writer attempting to structure their piece in a logical way?
- Is the writer using details?
- Can I hear the writer’s voice?
- Did the writer use appropriate conventions?
I can imagine using Canva or Vanillapen to create a cheat sheet of these questions as well.
Once you’ve added a few cheat sheets to your own Conferring Toolkit, you will feel more confident and better prepared as you sit down to confer with young writers.
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