Again this week, I'm hugely struck by Patrick's theoretical grounding. Over the course of these two chapters, he quotes Donald Murray, Laura Benson, Don Graves, Deborah Meier, Ellin Keene and Susan Zimmerman, Daniel Pennac, Gordon Wells, Peter Johnston, Bronson Alcott and Arthur Costa. He also draws in the work of several colleagues from his teaching career. I wonder, like I did last week, about how clear I am at articulating my beliefs for others. I think about all the young teachers I have worked with. Have I done a good job sharing my theoretical grounding with them? Do people around me really know why I do what I do? How can I communicate my beliefs and theory more clearly?
In this section of the book, Patrick identifies his essentials. He has a really clear and specific format for his conferences. I think I have a similar format- I sit down next to a child, and usually start with an opening question, e.g. How's it going? I usually ask kids to begin the conference by telling me the title of their book, and also giving me one or two sentences to tell me what is going on. For me, the middle section of the conference totally depends on the child. I usually teach something related to comprehension or surface structure, but it varies from child to child, and from week to week. I always end up setting some kind of goal with the reader.
I was also struck by Patrick's ability to listen and trust his readers. He goes into each conference with the belief that the child has knows and has important things to say about him/herself as a reader. Patrick is open to the child's leading. Even though I would like to believe those same things are true about me, I'm not sure they really are. I don't think I'm a "question bombardier," but I think I usually do have an agenda, and I don't think I'm always great at listening to kids. That's something I really want to work on this year. (As I write this, I'm struck by how much teaching models life-- I don't think I'm always great at listening to my boys either. I always wish my boys would talk more to me, but maybe they would talk more if I was a better listener, and less slow to push my agenda off on them).
Finally, Patrick had me thinking about data collection, which is always a huge struggle for me. I had to laugh when he talked about the sticky computer labels. I've done that computer label thing too. Unlike Patrick, however, I didn't do four labels per conference. Instead, I tried to squeeze everything onto one label. I started with labels that were about 1 inch by 4 inches, and wrote really, really small. Even though I was much younger, the labels were still really, really hard to read. I think I gradually worked my way up to labels that were about 4 inches by 4 inches. Those were definitely more readable, but like Patrick, those quiet times of sticking labels into kids' individual assessment pages and reflecting on what the data actually meant were few and far between.
As I think about what I want record keeping to look like this year, I know a couple of things. First, I want it to be really, really simple. I'm thinking I will get one of those fat spiral notebooks, the kind with the durable plastic cover, and tab a section, four or five pages for each kid. I will probably use a format similar to the one Patrick's RIP format. I envision myself having some kind of a class list/calendar clipped to the front of the notebook, where I will keep track of how often I have conferred with kids (I am not even going to tell any of the stories of my early years of conferring, when I would get to report card time, and realized I had notes from eleven conferences with some kids, and only notes from two different sessions with other kids).
I have one hangup with the notebook system, however. Like Patrick, I really want kids to walk away from their conferences with some kind of a goal. I want them to review those goals every day, however, not just on the days when they meet with me. I'm thinking, then, that the kids have to somehow also keep track of their own reading goals they. I'm not sure whether I want them to write those goals down in a special section of their readers' notebook (I am still debating what I want the reading and writing notebooks to look like) or whether I want each child to have an individual goal notebook or ring of index cards where they write the goal, as I write it in my notebook. I really don't want things to be any more complicated or unwieldy then they have to be…
Lots and lots and lots to think about. Lots to go back and reread. Is anyone else's book falling apart from overuse? I think I have to go to my local print shop and get a spiral binding tomorrow…