Trust Conferring

As students are reading for longer stretches of time, and you have done more
assessments, you are probably preparing to start small group instruction. One of
the most common wonderings we hear is this:
“During Independent Reading, should I be doing small group work or conferring?
I value one on one conferring, but small group work seems more efficient.”

We get it. Here are some thoughts about the why you should continue to confer.

Focusing exclusively on small groups during Independent Reading sends an
unintended message.

If we are not sitting on the rug next to students as they read, we are
inadvertently sending a message that the work they are doing during
Independent Reading is not meaningful. This can lead to students being compliant
or becoming disengaged. Students do not magically know how to stay focused for
long periods of time; when we are physically present and actively teaching
students, they are more likely to make progress and find reading joyful.

Conferring gives us a window into students’ strengths.
You may be in the habit of using conferences to “check in.” Reflect on what
that means. It takes the same amount of time to just check in as it does to have a
strength-based conference. Ask a reader:

  • “How’s it going?”
  • “What is going well for you?”
  • “ Can you read to me or tell me about a favorite book or page?”

Follow up by naming a strength:

  • “Right now, you are the kind of reader who…”
  • “I noticed that when you read, you…”

Readers will smile, sit up a little taller, and read for longer when you tell
them what they are doing well. This is data that helps us imagine next steps
for them.

Conferring allows us to avoid making assumptions.

In a first grade classroom, the students were using reading mats to keep
track of which books they had read. A quick glance around the room showed that
all the students had stacked the books on the green side and were moving them
over to the red side. One reader, however, had spread out all of her books in front
of her. “I really like animals, so I picked all animal books.” she explained. “Now I
am putting the books together by what kind of animal the book is about.” This
child had made her own text set and had a purpose for spreading the books out.
She did not need the reading mat because she had a system that worked for her.
If we had not conferred with her, it would have been easy to assume that she
“wasn’t following directions.” Instead, we learned that she is intentional about
the order in which she reads her books.

Conferring gives us the opportunity to assess the impact of our teaching and be

Independent Reading is the chance for students to apply mini lessons, as
well as strategies from the Read Aloud and Shared Reading. This transfer does not
happen automatically. We need to coach the students as they try a newly taught
strategy to their own reading. We can pay attention to:

  • What patterns do we see across the class?
  • Which students would benefit from more support?
  • Which student could teach their partner how they used the strategy?

If we are not conferring, we do not know how much transfer is occurring.
And transfer is the goal.

Conferring includes conferring with partners.
In order to create productive reading partners, we need to explicitly teach
students how to work together. Sit down next to a partnership and watch what
are they doing. Tell them what they are doing well, and then model one way they
could make their partnership even stronger. For example, “I noticed that you took
turns reading the pages. Another thing that reading partners do is stop and talk
about every page.” For upper grades, model how partners can develop their ideas
together when they are reading the same book.

To be clear: small group instruction is a powerful method of instruction. (Stay
tuned for an upcoming blog post!) You may never find the perfect balance of conferring and group work. What you can do is be intentional when you confer so
that the feedback you give students is relevant and actionable. Trust conferring to
support all students during Independent Reading.

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