I had the privilege of studying with Don Graves at the University of New Hampshire in the mid 1990's. Don was not easily impressed by fancy theory, big words, or glitzy packaging. He would listen closely (his abilities in this area could probably rival Patrick Allen's) and then simply ask, "What's it for?" That question, "What's it for?" has guided my practice for the last fifteen years.
In these chapters, Patrick quotes Don, asking that same question, "What's it for?" Patrick suggests, "Perhaps we could build something grand and long lasting-- independent and engaged readers who walk away from conferences with the strategies and tools to help them become confident, effective, and deep readers" (p. 156).
If you were to ask me about my one walk-away from this week (aside from 'you need a mint'), this would be definitely be it. If every child who walked out of my class could be an INDEPENDENT, ENGAGED reader, who had the strategies and tools to become CONFIDENT, EFFECTIVE, and DEEP readers, I would absolutely feel that I had done my job. I'm going to post this goal right next to Don's question, which has hung over my desk for many years.
Some other thoughts that really struck me:
- Conferences are an elegant example of how assessment can actually become one with instruction (Daniels and Bizar, 2005, p. 230, as quoted in Allen, p. 171). So often it feels like we assess and assess and assess, but don't use the data to really think about what kids need.
- We need to get back to the business of knowing children, of knowing readers. If we want children to remember, understand, extend meaning, and make their reading experiences memorable, they have to be in a classroom where there is time for that to happen (p. 181). Amen, amen, and amen!
- I confer with a "difficult" student the same way I do with any other student; perhaps a bit more patiently, but with hope nonetheless (p. 184). As the mom of two very different, but very "difficult" students, I can't even tell you how often I wish there was a little more "hope" involved in conversations about my sons.
- Why teach a strategy if you're not going to give students time to practice, learn and apply it in their own reading? (p. 188). Andrea Butler, who was one of the first literacy gurus I ever heard or read always said that American kids were the most taught and less practiced kids in the world. Kids don't get good at stuff if they don't have time to work with it. A line from a poem that has stuck with me for many years, "It takes a lot of slow to grow." And the more kids struggle, the more time and practice they need. Unfortunately, it's often those kids, who are so busy jumping from interventionist to interventionist to interventionist, that they have almost no time to practice.
And now, because I am at Kinko's, and because the meter is running, I will end.
Laura is hosting the cyber conversation at Camp Read A Lot. I look forward to reading what everyone else has to say.
I love one of the quotes you pulled out:
Conferences are an elegant example of how assessment can actually become one with instruction.
So true. I think that many times in a conference the assessment and the instruction are so blended that you really can't say which one you are doing at the moment. And that is nice...
I liked that your take away was "What's it for?" this is something I ask a lot of others but not always myself. I need to make sure that I have a reason and not the standard "that's just what we do." That answer makes me crazy. Thanks for reminding me this is something I need to think about more in my teaching.
Now that's dedication! Typing at Kinko's!? Actually, it might be fun to find out all the places we have written these posts. I wrote my first post at while visiting family in South Carolina --- yes, much better than Kinko's.
Wow, the privilege to work with Don Graves. I must admit I'm a bit envious. Though I have read Don Graves, I did not have the pleasure of working with him. Thankfully he shared his wisdom with us many ways.
I'm hoping these conversations that have intertwined across blogs will help us "build something grand and lasting."
Carol, I sat here drooling over reading you spent time with Donald Graves. What a blessed opportunity within our teaching profession. I think your ending reflections will guide you far this year with each conferring section.
To start with an iPad? Yay. Next, you and your new fourth graders are lucky to get to spend the year together.
When I confer with a reader I learn more about that reader than DIBELS or any other canned progress monitoring. We must have the courage to say to administrators this is REAL DATA.
I added one more goal to my "to do" list - let the kids practice the strategies we teach them.
I also love Donald Graves' "what's it for?" It's a great reminder to really think about what we're asking our students to do.
As always, such smart thinking from you. I love the idea of, "What's it for?" And on a side note, I love knowing that you spend time studying with Donald Graves. Now, in addition to Tony's picture of bravery for me, I think I'll be hanging those words in a place for myself.
I am impressed that you went to Kinkos to type! I wrote my final post while sitting in my beach condo but, ONLY after the sun went down!
I am so impressed that you had the opportunity to study with Donald Graves! I have to say this is most likely the first time I have heard him referred to as simply Donald~ so jealous!!
Your final piece...
"It takes a lot of slow to grow." And the more kids struggle, the more time and practice they need. Unfortunately, it's often those kids, who are so busy jumping from interventionist to interventionist to interventionist, that they have almost no time to practice.
Really caught my attention. These are the kids that need stability and time why are we pulling them in and out? As a former special education teacher I have witnessed first hand how difficult it is for the kids when their environment is constantly changed,even if it is in the name of intervention. We as educator need to work harder to find a way to meet with the kids in their space on their time if we really want to help them.
Thanks for your dedication! Sorry for the late comment, first day home for the beach!
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