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.
I’m finding myself in a conundrum as I plan my Mini-Lessons for the upcoming year and try to incorporate some of the new CC requirements regarding complex texts.
The way it has been described to me, is that in the workshop model we will use complex texts to model strategies but students will still work in “just-right” texts for independent reading/practice. A few things with this:
1) In the past we (my grade-level department) have been told to use picture books as read-alouds because they are short and get to the point. We have also been told it is “okay” to use chapter books as models/read-alouds. My dept. ran with this leniency because we truly feel that students gain a lot from following a novel all the way through. Our department head still hasn’t said we can’t do that but she has said that she would much rather see us using shorter texts and not reading full novels.
Well, in trying to do that, and still align to the common core, I am facing difficult. There are still a few picture books that, while simple in language, have some deeper meaning to get at (Riding the Tiger by Eve Bunting comes to mind) but I find most that I have in my arsenal lacking at being “complex”. All of the examples that have been shown to us are really geared more toward high school. I’m thinking maybe some short stories and myths/fairy tales might fill this void, I just also need to align them to the units/standards so it will take some time.
2) I have expressed concern to my department head that while I think complex text is important ( I really do, I think our students have been babied as far as their reading accomplishments) how useful is a model of complex text when it is so far beyond my students’ capabilities? ELL students? Students at a 3rd grade reading level in the 7th grade? 7th grade texts are beyond comprehension. However, I can’t hold back my on-level or above students either. If the text is too difficult, the “lower” (for lack of a better word) students will not learn anything from the lesson. If it is too easy, the “higher” students will understand but will of course remain bored an unchallenged. I suppose the solution lies in conferences but I am one person with 100 students and do not get to all my students nearly as often as is expected/I would like.
3) In the same vein as above, how is the modeling of complex text really going to help students when they are not working in more complex texts? Exposure is important, sure, but my district has long ignored pushing students out of their comfort zone by letting them settle into their just right books without pushing them to challenge and improve. This is going to be a goal of mine in my teaching this year.
I hope this post didn’t sound to whiny. I’m just trying to work through some of my dilemmas I’m facing as I incorporate complex texts into a model so long focused on working on the students’ level. Actually, as you can probably tell, I made some progress as I typed this up.