Wednesday, July 13, 2011


We are in our second week of Cyber PD on Patrick Allen's CONFERRING: THE KEYSTONE OF READER'S WORKSHOP. For this week, we read Section Two, "What Are the Essential Components of Conferring?" Today's conversation is hosted by Jill Fisch at My Primary Passion. Stop by and see what everyone else has to say.

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…


Cathy said...

Oh, computer labels. So many stories. So little time. Like you, I was struck by Patrick's trust in his students. He knows his readers will have something to say when he sits down. I too am wondering about a system for first graders to record their goals and thinking. Do I want it to be part of their reader's notebook? Do I want it combine math, reading, and writing goals? I want something my first graders can manage, and I don't want it to bog down our learning. Decisions. Decisions.


Mandy said...

Patrick does provide us with lots to think about. I too was struck by listening outside the classroom and in general within my life. I have girls and they do need a lot of listening. LOL. I hope you enjoy your journey with students taking more of a lead in conferring, I think it has potential to open so many more doors for instruction, planning, and rigor.

Kyle said...


I too struggle like you and Patrick. Funny how we all think the same. Or maybe just scary.

Last year I would write their goals on a post it note and have them rewrite in their reader's notebook. We would revisit it during the next conference. Not 100% buy in yet. Hope to improve it this year.

Tony Keefer said...

My copy of Conferring is looking like the copy of Diary of a Wimpy kid that I had to weed out of my classroom library this year. So it was good to read that someone else is beating their book to a pulp. Since my book was a freebie from my school (gotta to love a principal who is sponsoring literacy book talks) I may just suck it up an order a e-book copy of Conferring. At least then there is no paper to destroy.
You made lots of great points along the way including the theory behind Patrick's practice. I may be too much of a "snob", but when Patrick keeps quoting books that already line my book shelf, it makes me like his thinking even more. If I ever get to see patrick in person again, I will have to thank him for inspiration then scold him for making me feel like such a slacker :)

Deb Frazier said...

You make me laugh with the lables! I have been there done that! The trust piece is huge and a bit of a relief! I have often come to a conference a little less prepared than I would like. Now, I am thinking, the kids will prepare me as long as I am listening delibertly.

Laura Komos said...

I share in your struggle with knowing whether or not I'm clear in sharing my beliefs with others. More often than not, I know what I believe and why but have a hard time articulating it to my colleagues. Reading this book and blog reflections solidifies my thinking. I'm hoping it will also help me become a better advocate for what I believe in.
~Laura :)

Jill Fisch said...


When I read your thoughts about how the listening in conferring is similar to the kind of listening we should do as parents, it reminded me of Choice Words by Peter Johnston. I reread that book all the time - sometimes as a teacher and sometimes as a parent. I want that kind of language to soak into my thinking and come out naturally when I speak. Now I need to remember to make sure that I listen fully and completely to my daughter (and my students) when she shares her thoughts with me.


Karen said...

Hi Carol,

sorry so late to comment, but I couldn't open the comments on the jog the web - not sure why.

Anyway, I too have used a spiral notebook the last 2 years and loved it. Really worked for me, and was more portable than a binder. That being said, I'd like to investigate ways in which I can also keep notes electronically. We'll see how that goes.

Like you and Tony, my Conferring book has literally pulled away from the spine. Pretty soon the pages won't even be in order. Makes for amusing reading.

Love what you said about grounding what I say and do in theoretical knowledge. I need to do a better job of that.

Love learning with you and everyone! Together we are stronger and smarter. :)

Michelle said...


Great insights! Interesting thoughts in the beginning of your post. I read and learn and share, but how clearly do I communicate my beliefs? A thought to ponder . . .

I'm also amazed at how well Patrick listens and allows the reader to "take the reins." This is one area I know that I need to improve upon. Love the connection you made to your boys. Maybe we just need to listen more, no matter the situation or circumstance. (Good luck with that!)

Thank you for also sharing your thoughts about the student's reader notebook and recording their goals. I'm searching for something simple, yet effective too.

Thank you for pushing my thinking forward! As you said, lots and lots and lots to think about!


Chris said...

Carol - It's so important to give our students a goal each time we confer with them. I'm thinking that my older students (3-5th) can keep track of their goals, but I'll need to help my younger readers.
So much to think about!
Thanks for sharing your ideas!