A conferring toolkit is an organizational system that helps a teacher keep their writing workshop materials together so they have everything they need to confer with students in one place. Some teachers use a zippered three-ring portfolio, like conferring records, checklists, mini-charts, mentor texts, and supplies, to house their toolkit. Other teachers use a tote or a rolling bag for their supplies. Regardless of the vessel, having a well-stocked toolkit allows teachers to confer with ease so they aren’t running across the classroom looking for sticky notes or a mentor text in the middle of a writing conference.
Now that many educators are teaching remotely – or are trying to keep a greater physical distance from students — I want to show you how you can digitize a conferring toolkit.
I created a digital conferring toolkit with Padlet, which is a free online tool. The notes in Padlet can contain links, videos, images, and document files. You can use other digital options (e.g., Evernote, Google Drive, Lino) if you are unfamiliar with Padlet.
I created a Padlet for the fourth-grade personal essay unit from Jump Into Writing, which is a new writing curriculum from Zaner-Bloser that I co-authored with Lynne R. Dorfman. First, I set up the columns in my Padlet. Some of the items, like the checklists and mentor/demonstration texts, were taken directly from the Z-B Portal, which teachers can access once they’ve purchased the curriculum. I went into the portal and downloaded the relevant materials. One could do the same thing for the anchor charts, but because I like handwritten charts, I rewrote all of the anchor charts in my handwriting since I prefer to use handwritten charts with students. Then, I uploaded the handwritten version of the anchor charts to this Padlet. For the column on grammar, usage, mechanics, and spelling, I found resources from Grammar Girl, Grammarly, and Nearpod that corresponded to the conventions skills (i.e., modal verbs, run-on sentences, using colons) that were addressed in this unit’s lessons. For conferring notes, you’ll see that the Padlet links to Google Drive so each child’s conferring record can be accessed just by clicking on their document in Google Docs. Finally, the office tools link to some things that you might have students print out, like spider legs, which are strips of paper used for revision. Other things in that column include Jamboard, which is an interactive whiteboard you can use with students, and the Post-It Note App, which allows you to create sticky notes, for things like tangible artifacts, for students.
In these days of little-to-no-notice school closures, it’s easy to get stuck at home without everything you need to confer with your students. Having a digital conferring toolkit means you will have access to all of your materials from any device that connects to the internet. While it is time-consuming to create a conferring toolkit, having a digital conferring toolkit ultimately becomes a huge timesaver since everything can be housed in one place. Also, once you create a toolkit, it can be reused each school year, with just some minor tweaks, whenever you teach that unit of study again.
Back in 2015, the TWT co-author team produced a week-long blog series about Conferring Toolkits. The series included posts about the following aspects of conferring toolkits: class stories, interactive writing, shared writing; creating visuals for teaching tools; supplies and how to use them; cheat sheets; record keeping; mentor texts. If you’ve never created a conferring toolkit before, then you’ll want to read through the posts in that series to help you get started.