In this final reflection post about Conferring: The Keystone of Reader's Workshop by Patrick Allen, I thought it would be a great opportunity to talk about some of my "walk-aways", to coin a term used by Patrick. He defines walk-away as "a tool or strategy used or discovered as students negotiate text and develop the capacity for independence."
After spending time with Patrick and his thinking these past few weeks, I've developed some walk-aways of my own; some tools that will allow me to negotiate my conferring with students and help me develop capacity for fine-tuning these skills to meet my needs and the needs of my students.
So, with no further ado, here are my final walk-aways:
- I want to be more brave about conferring this year. As I read about Patrick recording hours and hours of conferences and then having a colleague come in and videotape him as well, it reinforced for me the importance of opening myself up in ways that allow for analyzing words and strategies used with students. This is the very essence of a reflective teacher; someone constantly doing action research to discover best practices.
- To tag onto this first point, I plan on recording (video and audio) my conferences with students this year, spending time analyzing what happened in the conferences, and refining my conferring skills and ability to help students grow with the evidence I gather.
- Patrick approaches each conference as a case study of the student - what the student says, what he says, teaching implications, his thinking. Gathering specific data like this allows us to understand our students' needs in much deeper ways than a number from a standardized or state test (I know, I know - I'm preaching to the choir here!).
- As I reflect back on recent years, I know my data collection hasn't been as thorough as Patrick's, but has been incredibly in-depth for the first 2 months of school. At our first conferences, parents are amazed at what I know about their child as readers/writers and how well it is documented. It's what happens next that I need to fine-tune. In addition, to taking better conference notes, I plan on not slacking after my initial burst of knowing students. This year, I will look at learning about my students not as a short race, but as a year-long marathon. That puts an entirely different context on how I plan to confer.
- This last point ties in to a great quote Patrick includes from David Elkind: "Education is not a race. Learning and education are lifelong processes that come to an end only when we do." So truly, it shouldn't be a "race to the top", but rather learning forever.
- Patrick shares an analogy of learning to building with tinker toys (page 156). He says, "We should observe children tinkering with words, sentences, and whole text." And if we observe carefully enough, we can help build something wonderful -- "independent and engaged readers who walk away from conferences with strategies and tools to help them become confident, effective, and deeper readers."
- Finally, Patrick ends his book with the subtitle, "Conferring Ain't Easy", followed by multiple premises he has discovered in his study of conferring. Pages 176 - 180 are full of the nitty-gritty of possible roadblocks to strong conferring and what we, as teachers, can do about that. A must read section!! My favorite two are "What Was the Question?" and "You Need a Mint."
Thanks so much to Cathy Mere, Jill Fisch, and Laura Komos for organizing this #cyberPD on twitter for Conferring. It has drastically changed my thinking, and when I read what the other participants share each week, it furthers my thinking even more. What a wonderful opportunity this has been to engage in professional development that has personal meaning for me!! It's interesting to note that all three of these ladies are primary teachers. It proves what I've thought all along - best practice happens in similar ways at all grade levels.
This week, the rest of the conversations can be found at Camp Read-a-Lot. Thanks to Laura for hosting!!