Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Conferring reflection - Part 2

Ok, so my title is deceiving; it would indicate I actually posted a part 1 which I didn't. :) However, in the spirit of my new #cyberPD PLN on twitter, I thought I would get on the same page as everyone else, which brings me back to "part 2."

I have so enjoyed reading Patrick Allen's Conferring: The Keystone of Reader's Workshop. As many people posted last week, he writes in such a personal way; I feel like I'm sitting at the kitchen table or in the family room with Patrick as he talks. I imagine we have coffee (ok, Patrick does; I probably have a Pepsi) and some wonderful treats we enjoy as we converse. The book has a very welcoming tone.

This week's focus was the 2nd section of Conferring which deals with the essential components of conferring. In chapter 4, Patrick describes the R.I.P. model of conferring. I loved this section. For those of you who haven't read this book, R.I.P. is an acronym for the structure of conferences:
  • R = review, read aloud, record
  • I = instruction, insights, intrigue
  • P = plan, progress, purpose
I don't want to oversimplify what Patrick is saying, but as someone who sometimes flounders when conferring with students, this acronym is such a clear, organized system for thinking about conferences as 3 separate, but overlapping components. Not everything listed above happens in every conference, but the concept of touching base first, pushing the student's thinking next, and finally clarifying the "what's next" step at the end is brilliant! So intuitive, but I love that Patrick has thoughtfully named what he does.

**Taking a slight detour here: In this same chapter, he shares much about his friend and colleague, Troy. The two of them are often found in each others' room after school. Patrick says, "It is good to have a person with whom you can share your frustrations and successes, risk free and without judgement." As I read this section, I couldn't help but reflect back on my first years (back in the mid-80s) in my current school district. I had the same relationship with another newcomer to the school district, none other than the incredibly bright Mary Lee from A Year of Reading. From day one, we talked almost every day after school about what went well, and what really bombed. We talked about workshop, good mini lessons, conferring, small groups. As I read this section, I realized how important the Troys and Mary Lees of this world are to us -- we need them to support us and help us grow and hopefully, we do the same for them. **

As I read the assigned section for this week, the word "thoughtful" came to my mind frequently. This is a true professional at work here. Patrick has recorded hours of his conferences with students, and has honestly critiqued what he's heard. He has meticulously recorded and documented what has happened in conferences with his students; the forms he shares are incredibly helpful for a visual learner like myself. He is such an inspiration, and I find that I want to push my thinking while conferring with children. More importantly, I want to hone my conferring skills. I want to make it an "art" form, in much the same way Patrick has.

The conversations Troy and Patrick have on an ongoing basis reminds me of another point. In one of their conversations, they were discussing the difference between a photograph of a child versus a video. Troy says the following:

"I look at a picture and immediately make a judgement... I make a decision based on that one single moment. It's different when I watch a whole video. I get to experience more, think about more..."

Later, Patrick says that this is what happens when we confer. How true -- we get to know our students over a period of time, not necessarily looking at a video, but most definitely looking at multiple moments in the student's reading life. This is a point that will keep me motivated to confer on a regular basis. I'm going to want the "video" of each student to help better inform my instruction and their learning.

So much more to share, but since this post is getting long, I'd like to wrap things up with Patrick's idea of developing an intimacy and scholarly relationship with the readers in his room. To do that he has 3 important questions he asks:
  1. Who does the talking?
  2. Who owns the text?
  3. Where do I sit?
Before I even read the sections in the book devoted to each question, I knew I had some work to do. I need to do a better job of letting the students guide our conversations. Those assessments that guide my instruction are important, but I also need to listen to what my students have to say. I also need to do a better job of moving to each student for a conference, not having them be the ones to always move. This wasn't a problem before, but in the last year, I've become more stationary, partly due to some knee issues. This coming year, with my brand new left knee, I plan on finding a small stool, and carrying it around the room with me as I confer. I've always worked hard at building relationships with each student, but I will have a different, more focused lens for this work in the coming year.

Thanks so much to Jill Fisch for hosting the conversation about Part 2 today at My Primary Passion!!! I look forward to reading what my #cyberPD group had to say this week.


  1. My book is already dog-eared with notes and thoughts in the margins...such a great teaching tool. I also love the RIP acronym and will be thinking about it often this upcoming year. I love how you stop to talk about the special relationships tethers can have together. It's a true blessing to work with someone who helps you stretch and grow. Enjoy the rest of the book. I look forward to hearing your thoughts on the lessons ahead.

  2. Karen,
    I enjoyed reading your post. Like you, I found Patrick's RIP helpful. Love the way you synthesized thus model with "touching base, pushing student thinking, and clarifying what is next".

    I had to smile at the thought of you zipping around your room with a new knee. When you go stool shopping, can I join you? IKEA? I have always kneeled beside students as I confer. I like moving around my room. It helps me to touch base with many readers, and just seems to keep the room humming along. Last year was the first year - ok probably not the first year - that I found myself losing minutes getting up and down. A stool might just be the answer.

    Finally, I am not surprised Mary Lee was your Troy. We all need a Troy in our teaching lives. The great thing about blogs and Twitter is I feel like I have more Trays than ever. Perfect!


  3. Karen - We shared some of the same "aha" moments. I love how Patrick writes, and I'm glad he's made a model that simple to follow. We are so lucky to work with people with whom we can have in depth discussions about our work. I'm also grateful for this book club group!

    Thanks for sharing!

  4. Karen, We had the same reaction to Allen's writing. It does seem like he's sitting right there with you as you read. Love your insights and am looking forward to reading more about what your thinking.


  5. Karen~
    What a great post! You hit on so many valuable points, all worth hours of thought. I love that you mentioned the relationship of Patrick and Troy and You and MaryLee. I would not be here in this WONDERFUL cyber world without Cathy. Having someone to support and stretch us is important to our teaching. Participating in this cyber bookchat, starting my own blog and now following Twitter has challenged my thinking, my skills and improved my teaching! I can only hope to offer a fraction of the support and growth that Cathy has given to me.

  6. I would love to find a Mary Lee or a Troy, maybe that is my next goal in this career of ours. I appreciated your honest refleciton and talking about areas to improve. I've never had a conference table or kidney shaped table or teacher desk. I love going to them and with your new knee you will too. It's so much calmer and relaxing which I think will help you let them lead the conversation more. Remember those opening questions.

  7. Karen,
    Good insights as usual. I could hear your voice clearly throughout the post. I, too thought a great deal about the importance of having a great colleague at school to stretch your thinking like Patrick has with Troy. I think that what we are trying to do with this #cyberPD is build more relationships like this.

  8. Karen,
    I thoroughly enjoyed reading your post! You are very fortunate to have someone in your teaching life who challenges and stretches your thinking. That's what I'm finding here and on Twitter! I'm very thankful for that. I love your idea of a small stool, too! Maybe that would help me become a little more mobile during my conferring time.
    ~Laura :)

  9. Karen,
    So glad you decided to join us this week. It really has been fun to not just read the book, but also to read at all my new cyber-friends thinking. Like Cathy, I love your synthesis of RIP as "touching base, pushing student thinking, and clarifying what is next." And like you, I much prefer the video of kids as readers and writers, not just those single snapshots that so often comprise assessments of students. And like Patrick, I want to spend tons of time being thoughtful about what those results actually mean instructionally.
    P.S. I think you are one lucky duck to have had Mary Lee as a colleague.

  10. Those DRE years were great, weren't they?!?! They made us both better teachers!!

    btw--nice bloggy facelift! I obviously haven't clicked in to comment for awhile. When'd you have the makeover?

  11. I would like to personally thank all of you for stopping by to further our conversation about conferring. I wrote this on someone else's blog, but I do think the power of this book club is the power of thinking together. I love when others have the same thoughts as me, but I take so much away when someone thinks differently as well. Looking at the concept of conferring from these many lenses has been a very powerful activity for me. Thanks to all of you!!

  12. Karen,

    I must say that I have been thinking of going stool shopping, too. I have always kneeled beside my students when I confer but I am noticing a bit of knee pain now when I do that. Conferring stools could be a great sideline business for some enterprising teacher. :-)

  13. Karen,
    One of the biggest ah-ha or take away from Patrick in the part was in regards to the Troy/Mary Lee in our teaching lives. How smart are they! Their conversations are so natural, so free flowing, so thought provoking. I was in awe! It's also why I was wanting to join this #cyberPD -- because these great conversations are happening and pushing our thinking forward!

    Thank you for your thoughts,

  14. Karen,

    Like so many other's I loved the part where you spoke of Patrick's relationship with Troy and your relationship with Mary Lee. I have not found that yet in my career but my Twitter network sure has brought me a lot closer.

    Thank you for sharing!