Wednesday, July 6, 2011


I'm participating in a little "cyber PD." For the next four weeks, anyone who wants to is going to be reading and discussing Patrick Allen's CONFERRING: THE KEYSTONE OF READER'S WORKSHOP. Each week, a different person will "host" the discussion. Today's discussion of the first section of the book is hosted by Cathy Mere at Reflect and Refine. Hop over there and see what other people are saying.

“The purpose readers set for themselves affects comprehension …

Tovani, as quoted in Allen, p. 69

I am going to have my own classroom for the first time in many years. And I have to confess, I’m really excited, but I am also absolutely terrified. Do I still know how to teach? Can I still manage the nine zillion details that go with a classroom? I’m spending the summer rereading professional books- books that I have read as a literacy coach or administrator, but that I am now reading through an entirely different lens. One of the first books I picked up was Patrick Allen’s latest book, CONFERRING: THE KEYSTONE OF READER’S WORKSHOP. I loved this book when I read it earlier this spring, but now, reading it as a classroom teacher, I’m viewing it through a somewhat different framework

First, I’m struck by Patrick’s theoretical grounding, what he calls his “ashlars.” Patrick has spent years learning at the feet of masters, brilliant thinkers like Don Graves, Shelley Harwayne, Debbie Miller, Laura Benson, and Randi Allison, and his practice is solidly grounded in theory. He translates this theory into tools that he uses in his own classroom, e.g. his template for planning a strategy study, on page 79 (a tool which I am so going to steal and use in my own classroom this year). It’s even more interesting to me that Patrick is able to translate that really complex theory, e.g Gallagher and Pearson’s Gradual Release of Responsibility, into language and concepts that kids can understand and apply to their own reading and writing. I have used gradual release for years and years, I’ve talked it about it lots with teachers and graduate students, but I am not sure I have ever explicitly named it for kids, and I want to try it.

Secondly, I’m struck by the elegance and precision of Patrick’s language. I’m fairly sure that Patrick and I use similar structures in our reading and writing workshops- we both start with a mini-lesson, followed by an independent work period, then a final wrap up. Patrick, however, labels these three components of his workshop much more elegantly than I do, and the precision of his language really communicates the significance of each period of time. Patrick calls his first block (which I typically call a mini-lesson), crafting- it’s a time when he makes the craft of reading explicit for kids. The independent work period is called Composing- it’s when kids actually put the craft lesson to work in their own reading. It seems likethat language would really drive home the idea of readers being active constructors of meaning, as opposed to passive “couch potatoes.” Patrick calls his final block reflecting and describes it as a time for readers to share, "Here's what I learned about myself, and this is what I plan to do with that learning." Wow, wow, wow! And I am so going to be borrowing/stealing his early workshop discussions (pp. 82-89).

Finally, I loved Patrick’s discussion of stamina/endurance. I’ve worked on those concepts with kids, but I have always worked on them in the context of fluency, talking with kids about entering more deeply into their “reading zone” and staying in that zone for increasing periods of time. I love how Patrick uses picture books like WALK ON, and SKYBOYS and WILMA UNLIMITED to help kids get a picture of what stamina/endurance look like in a variety of settings.

Readers adjust their purpose depending on who they are reading for. Right now, I'm reading CONFERRING for myself, a brand new fourth grade teacher. And I'm loving every minute of it! Thanks so much, Patrick!

If you are interested in jumping into the discussion, here is the schedule for the next few weeks:
July 13th: Part II: What Are the Essential Components of Conferring?
Hosted by Jill Fisch at Primary Passion
July 20th: Part III. What Emerges from Our Reading Conferences?
Hosted by Laura K at Camp Read-A-Lot
July 21st: Join us for the final conversation on Twitter using the hashtag #cyberPD.


Laura Komos said...

Thanks for sharing your thoughts! It sounds like you already have some experience and roots for reader's workshop that will help when you go back into the classroom!

Jill Fisch said...


First of all, congratulations on being a "brand new fourth grade teacher". I am sure that all of your experience will serve you well and you will have a great year.

Secondly, I also noticed the elegance and precision of Patrick's language. He always choose just the right word to explain his thinking. I do have to admit that I had to look up a couple of the words (like perspicuity) but I wanted to so that I could have a deeper understanding of what he was talking about. I was learning from this book on so many levels.

Thanks for sharing.

Cathy said...

I am so glad you are able to participate in this book chat about "Conferring". Like you, I enjoyed the suggested book titles for teaching students about stamina and endurance.

Congratulations on your move back into the classroom. I moved back into the classroom a little over five years ago after working as a literacy coach, and I've never looked back. There's something about being a part of a learning community that is rewarding. There's something about being able to read about ways to improve learning for children and walking right into your classroom to give it a try. There's something about finding a new book and taking it to school to share it with the perfect audience. Wishing you all the best in your new journey.

Looking forward to your continued reflections.


ecks said...

G'day Carol,
It is a pleasure to read your post as it is so full of heart and enthusiasm.

It seems we are drawn to the same things in Patrick's book - his graceful language and his description of using childrens' lit to explicitly teach about stamina and endurance.

I do hope you enjoy returning to the classroom, it is certainly an exciting time for you too!

Kyle said...

Today is the last day of the Denver Writing Project Summer Institute, so I have been very busy. I will join you all next week.

Tony Keefer said...

Congrats on joining the world of 4th graders. I have been hanging out in 4th grade for about 12 years and hopefully I will keep getting held back for another 10.

Many of the ideas you shared were very similar to what I was thinking when I read Patrick's book. His writing is ridiculously strong. He makes it look way too easy. Maybe he has a great editor?

We should do some cross continent sharing between our 4th graders this year. What do you think?


Carol said...

I'm really excited to go back to fourth grade. I have been a literacy coach/curriculum specialist for about ten years, and before that I was a primary grade teacher, so this is definitely a new deal for me, but I think it's going to be a blast. I'd love to do some cross continent sharing! I will send my email address on Twitter so we can talk more about it!

Deb Frazier said...

Congratulations! The classroom is an amazing place, glad you have the opportunity to return!
I love the language of the workshop. I agree this will help set purpose for the work we do within the workshop. I may be adopting this new language…