Reading Conference Tips
Care to write an in depth post on how you run your reading conferences?-PPT
Well usually I flail around mindlessly wondering “Wait- why is this student sitting here? What am I supposed to be teaching them? I suddenly forget how to teach.” Even though I am competent and knowledgeable about my content area and the pedagogy of workshop, and even though I consider one of my strengths to be working one one one with my students, the moment I sit down for a “formal” conference I get spazzy. 99% of the time this comes from me not having a clear idea of what I want to TEACH in that conference. The other 1% is just me being spazzy.
However, when I am confident and have thought ahead and planned properly, a conference can be very useful to a student and myself. Below, I have outlined a few key tips for reading conferences. I find the simpler I keep things, the fewer things I try to juggle, the more successful I am. Keeping in mind that conferences are an area that I am always working to improve, take my tips with a grain of salt, as I am still a learner, myself:
1) Predictable Problems is a term my dept. head uses and I happen to like. If you can predict problems that are likely to occur for you and students, you can use it to your advantage, particularly in conferences. In Reading there are several problems that consistently reappear: choosing a “just right” book, using fix-up strategies, what to put on post-it notes, etc…Therefore, I am currently in the process of planning for these common, predictable problems. Which leads me to…
2)Make a lesson plan. Yes, I actually make a lesson plan for these types of conferences. Often, I have taught these lessons as a mini-lesson but if a student is still struggling then they obviously need to be taught in a different way. My conference lesson follows the same format as my mini-lesson:Warm up, teach/model, try, clarify, independent practice, share/wrap-up.However, it is much shorter than even my mini-lesson because well…I have 25 students per class with about 45 minutes of conference time and I ideally will get to every student once in two weeks (note: THIS NEVER HAPPENS! I AM ALWAYS STRUGGLING TO MAKE CONFERENCE TIME)
3)Text Options. This sounds simple but it is my #1 problem. You need to have many pieces of short texts/passages for you to model with and for students to practice with. Sometimes I use picture books I have used as read-alouds bc students are familiar with them and can be quickly used as a model. However, they need something different to practice on. Considering the crutch of the workshop model is that students practice in “just right” texts (and let’s not talk about Common Core right now. That’s a whole different conversation) it is vital to know your students’ reading levels and have those options available. I struggle with this because honestly, who has the time? I always say “I’ll search for texts tonight, tomorrow, next week,” but something else takes precedent. So, that is what I’m doing now, actually. Finding comprehension pieces (fiction and non-fic) and short stories of all different levels. Just collect them and file them in a way that makes sense to me: sometimes with a certain lesson and/or by level, topic, etc…
4)Search and Destroy. There are lots of types of conferences and they are all valuable but if you find yourself crunched for time like I am, stick with the Search and Destroy method. Use conference time to do only one thing: Find a problem or Fix a problem. Sometimes I find one and then I foolishly try to fix it right away. This results in a shoddy lesson that often leaves my student worse off than when she first met with me. If you are checking in with a student and realize they are not using specific text evidence to support their thinking say “Okay,” and maybe give a small assignment “During today’s reading, as you take notes, try to include specific evidence from the text. Have three examples to show me for our next conference.” This gives the student time to create sample work while you prepare for the next conference/lesson where you can be ready to target that problem area. Slow down, be patient in your teaching. This is a big lesson I have learned.
I hope this didn’t fall into the TL;DR category, but I understand if it did. I want to make a second post with a sample conference but I haven’t gotten around to that yet.