Conferring: The Myth and the Reality

The room is quiet. The students are settled in their spots with their books. You sit down next to a child, clipboard in your hand, ready to confer. “How’s it going?” you ask. The child tells you all about their book and their  thinking, and suddenly, you panic. 

You realize that you do not know how to respond.

Teachers often ask us to work with them on conferring. We cherish the opportunity to focus on one student at a time, yet we are not sure what to do with that time. We know that students thrive with individual teaching. So what makes conferring so challenging?

Let’s start with the myth.

The myth is that in the moment, I can notice what the student is doing, reread my previous conferring notes and mentally review everything I know about the student, recall every strategy I know, and I can name the perfect strategy and have the perfect way to teach it. The student will then practice the strategy independently, with no further teaching. 

Now, let’s be real.

The reality is that I take time to prepare for each conference, just as I would a mini lesson or a small group. To prepare for conferring during Independent Reading, I reread my conferring notes and look at what I have already taught. I review the latest running record. I list a number of possible next steps. I might have a book ready to teach a new strategy. In the moment, I am listening to the student read and talk. Because I am prepared, I can be responsive. I know that I need to check back with a student 10 minutes after the conference and again the next day to assess whether they understand the strategy or whether they need more support.

Conferring is magic. The magic is in preparation and clarity.

How can your preparation make reading conferences magical for your students?

How can we help?

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