Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Conferring - Walk-aways (Part 3)

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."
I will miss hearing Patrick's voice as I read - as I said in my last post, he writes in such a charming way, I'm sure he is talking personally to me. But even though my book is falling apart with so much use, I will be coming back time and again for "refresher courses" when I feel like my conferring needs a fine-tuning. Patrick's voice will never really leave my head, and all the smart things he has so diligently discovered through analyzing his own conferring will continue to guide my best practice while conferring myself.

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!!


  1. From outside looking in your posts really helped me with an understanding of the book. I love the quote "We should observe children tinkering with words, sentences, and whole text." The analogy of tinkering makes me start thinking about how I can use this is the classroom this fall. Possibly playing with Legos and "build" our writing with them as a visual.

  2. I love how you mentioned bravery in your post! I know this is going to be a year filled with brave moments for me, too.

    Information gained from my conferences will most definitely give me more data than any test can! I'll join your choir on that one!! :)

    Like you, my Conferring book has taken a beating over the past 3 weeks. I had to bust out the packing tape to put it back together again!

    Thanks for your thoughts, Karen!
    ~Laura :)

  3. Doesn't it feel good to write out and share your thinking and walk-aways? You shared some great thoughts. I love your honesty: I want to be more brave about conferring this year. I'm with you! Not sure if I'm brave enough to record every conference! Maybe next year! I also love your idea of the "year long marathon." Kids are growing and learning at different paces and rhythms -- we need the year to learn all the ins and outs.

    Thank you for sharing!

  4. Karen,
    I think that you will most likely be fiercely brave this year. I find it hard to believe that you will be the cowardly lion of conferring. I have really enjoyed reading your posts about Patrick's book. Your thoughts have given me more to think about. I mentioned in my post for today the idea of needed a visual reminder to be organic. Just in cas you need a visual reminder to be brave, my I suggest this picture:


  5. Karen,

    I so agree that we all need to be brave about recording our conferring or inviting others in to watch us. I think the first step might be just to record them only for ourselves a few times before we ask for feedback from others. We can take "baby steps" to get there - that way we won't get scared and avoid getting feedback at all. We can all support each other in this during the year.

  6. Karen,
    What a delightful read. I'm enjoying reading everyone's walk-aways and thoughts on conferring.

    Like you, I really want to look closely at my conferring in reader's workshop this year. Who is doing most of the talking? What are the walk-aways students have at the end of conference? What shifts are being made? Are conferences staying focused and helping students to move forward? What am I learning about students as readers?

    Thank you for joining us and helping to make the conversation amazing. I've learned much from Patrick's book, but being able to read the reflections of others has helped to solidify my thinking and helped me to consider changes to make conferring more effective.

    I'm looking forward to sitting down beside readers in the fall and will hear all of you as I pull up my new stool from IKEA to confer.


  7. I think you will do just fine this year as your embrace conferring with a new lense. We will both be tinkering and isn't that being two spectrums of a building. I think conferring side by side will help our relationships evolve over time and not just the first six weeks.

  8. Karen,

    What a great idea to record your reading conferences. I thought about doing this too this year. I've also thought about having other teachers come in and observe.
    Good luck!


  9. Karen -
    I think you are very brave to record yourself during a reading conference with students. It shows how reflective you are, and how you really want to make conferring a priority.

    Thanks for sharing your thinking!
    This group has been a great forum for conversation about conferring!