What are some other tips for teachers conferring? What questions do you have about conferring? Let me know in the comments below. We can learn so much from each other!
All things literacy!
What are some other tips for teachers conferring? What questions do you have about conferring? Let me know in the comments below. We can learn so much from each other!
There are many practices from long ago that we need to rethink as teachers. This series looks to bring up those practices and offer alternate ideas that are more relevant in today’s classroom. Today we’re discussing teachers using economy of language in the classroom.
That seems like a very silly heading… why do teachers talk? Well, we talk because we need to say things to students. What sorts of things are teachers saying to students? The role of a teacher used to be primarily talking… talking as teaching. Teachers were viewed as the people who had the knowledge and students were viewed as the people who needed the knowledge. Classrooms were filled with teacher talk. In my head, I was just picturing a one-room schoolhouse with a teacher lecturing and having students repeat after her but even when I was in elementary school my teachers talked more than the students.
My teachers talked and I listened, followed directions, took notes, completed assignments and talked at specific times. My talking wasn’t considered a priority in the classroom. Students talking was often considered a distraction or a waste of time.
The person doing the talking is the person doing the learning. We are social beings and meaning is constructed through talk. Picture a young child around 3-4 all that child does is talk! Kids talk talk talk and as they talk they are making sense of the world around them. They’re figuring things out. People build meaning through talk.
Balanced literacy builds upon the child’s known and a child’s oral language is their known. When teachers are the only ones doing the talking or are the ones doing the majority of the talking children aren’t being given their own time to make meaning of what is happening in the classroom, of what they’re learning.
Whoever is doing the talking is the one doing the learning.
Build in talk time. I build in time for conversations in every single period of every single day. Here is how I build it into my day.
Classroom Conversation- Each morning we have a conversation. We practice talking without raising hands. Together we set guidelines and we learn how to enter a conversation, how to encourage someone else to share in a conversation and how to end a conversation. These conversations are student-led and I do not speak during them.
Turn and Talks- When teaching something new offer up time for the students to turn and talk with one another. Listen in as the students share ideas with one another. You’ll quickly be able to hear misconceptions, building upon ideas, and questions they might have. Allowing them to talk through things that are being taught allows them to build their understanding of what is being taught.
Read Aloud- Gosh! Let them talk during read aloud. Let them interrupt and ask their questions. Allow time for them to wonder. Ask questions to get them thinking and beginning to comprehend. Let them build meaning together.
Class Leaders- Give them a voice outside of learning time. In my classroom students frequently make announcements to one another. These announcements are as simple as, “someone didn’t push in their chair. We all need to push in our chairs so the classroom is safe.” or “I just found a marker without a cap. We need to find it and then we need to make sure our caps are clicked.” Teachers often make these sort of announcements but why not allow your kids to make them. They should feel empowered and want to take ownership of their classroom.
Whispering In- During conversations, book clubs or even guided reading groups I often whisper to a student to share a question or idea instead of sharing in myself. This seems weird but it works. At first, when I was crawling around the edge of our conversation circle I felt so stupid. As I whispered in, “say why do you think Edward felt that way” during conversations and listening to kids parrot it out did not convince me I was doing what was best. BUT after a while, after coaching in with my quieter students and having them share what I was thinking they started sharing their own thoughts. As a conversation is going on I am listening in and I am also whispering a conversation with a student who might not chime in unless prompted. I am checking in on their learning and pushing them to share an idea. Any idea. When they are sharing an idea that isn’t their own they feel safer. If someone disagrees it is still ok. Whispering in has empowered my students who might just sit out to lean in.
Limiting my teacher voice in the classroom didn’t happen overnight. Let me tell you that there are still days where I do the majority of talking in my classroom. Nobody is perfect but on those days I am more conscious of what I am doing. I am reminding myself that I need to hear my students’ voices more than my own. I am checking in on student voices that I don’t always hear and together we are building community and growing in knowledge through conversation.
How do you promote oral language and communication in your classroom? How do you ensure that students are talking and that you are listening? What questions do you have about limiting your teacher voice? Let me know in the comments below.
Honestly, I didn’t even realize that teachers were still using DOL. I don’t mean that to sound snarky. I mean that as the honest to god truth. DOL otherwise known as Daily Oral Language is a practice from the past that needs to be retired. Research has indicated this practice is ineffective for years. Let’s learn a bit more.
D.O.L. stands for Daily Oral Language it is also sometimes referred to as D.L.R. or daily language review. The point of DOL is for students to practice writing conventions, grammar, and spelling skills. It does so in a “fix it” format. Students are shown several incorrect sentences or examples and have to find the mistakes and fix them. I completed many DOL pages as a child. Now they’re even digital but they aren’t beneficial.
There are a lot of reasons why DOL doesn’t work. Research shows that even though it might look like DOL works to improve grammar and language conventions it isn’t.
Presenting Incorrect Information
We cannot present incorrect choices more than we present correct choices. Imagine a struggling student in your class. If this student constantly sees the incorrect spelling of words, grammatical mistakes, or punctuation errors they start to internalize these mistakes as correct. This not only confuses your diamonds in the rough but also your English as an additional language learner. These students don’t have much exposure to the language and every exposure they have to English they are absorbing everything they possibly can about the language. If they are constantly shown these mistakes they will begin to internalize them as correct. We don’t want to provide more non-examples than examples. It just doesn’t make sense.
It doesn’t transfer.
Your average students may be able to do the task but the next problem with DOL is that it doesn’t transfer into student writing. Students who constantly fix where periods go in these jumbled, fix-it sentences are rarely able to apply this knowledge to their own writing. Isn’t the point of teaching spelling, grammar and writing conventions to help students improve their own writing? If it doesn’t even do that, respectfully, what is the point?
This leaves you with your advanced learners. These kids don’t need this practice. They already are able to do these skills so this additional practice doesn’t help them learn in any way.
Repetition does not mean learning
Completing a task over and over does not ensure that knowledge is attained. If students solve three daily oral language problems a day, how does this help them improve as a writer? Imagine a classroom that has three math problems to solve each day and expects students to suddenly know how to multiply and divide or, better yet, multiply and divide fractions. Repetition can be good for learning but not in DOL.
It teaches them by showing what they don’t know
Think about the math classroom mentioned above. Can you imagine sitting down each day trying to solve three multiplication and division problems of fractions with no other context or any other knowledge? Students would be frustrated. They would want the lesson to teach them how to do it. They would want the inquiry to try to solve this with more assistance. The same thing is true for grammar.
We can’t just place sentences in front of children with an “of course it should start with a capital letter and have end punctuation” sort of attitude. Such an attitude doesn’t even make sense as an educator. Of course, students need relevant instruction that is tied to what they are doing as a reader and a writer.
Grammar… ick. Most teachers are aware that grammar instruction needs to happen in the classroom but they don’t enjoy teaching it and don’t have strategies to teach it. Grammar and writing conventions need to be taught in the context of writing and reading instruction. Gone are the days when it is ok to teach these skills in isolation outside of the context of reading and writing. The skills taught need to be transferrable.
Teach grammar during reading. Notice grammar during guided reading or shared reading. Point out authors decisions and uses of the English language in a strong context. Teach grammar during writing. Help young authors learn that proper nouns need capital letters and sentences should end in punctuation. Teach them in the context of their own writing. Model this during shared writing. Show them over and over. Provide many correct examples and coach them in the use of grammar in their own writing.
Change can be difficult. Eliminating a practice from long ago that is no longer beneficial can be difficult but it needs to be done. Here are a few more articles if you still aren’t convinced.
Let me know in the comments below how your journey to move away from DOL is going!
Welcome back to our balanced literacy series! Today the focus is on conferring. All the kids are independently reading and now it is your turn to teach! Let’s dive into how this works!
You might want to read Planning for Teaching During Independent Work Time before reading this post. It breaks down how to decide which teaching move to use during workshop. Conferring is just one option.
Don’t forget to stop by every Tuesday to gain a better insight into using a balanced literacy framework within your classroom!
Conferring is one-on-one with just a student and a teacher. The teacher typically follows the research, decide, compliment, teach method. First, the teacher will observe and research the skills the reader has and does not have yet. The teacher will decide what teaching is best for this student next. Then the teacher will compliment the reader to reinforce a skill they have. Next, the teacher will teach a new skill and practice it a few times with the reader before the reader is left on their own. This lasts about 5-7 minutes.
Grab a small post it and make a t-chart. On one side write notice and on the other side write teach. Now, choose a student to confer with. Sometimes I observe a bit before I walk over to the student. Do they have a book out, do they have a pencil, what are they doing with most of their time? I jot down any sort of observable behavior I see.
Research is the first phase of conferring. Here the teacher sees the student working independently. The teacher can see what skills, strategies, and behaviors the student knows, almost knows and, doesn’t know yet. At times this last part will be the most obvious. Sometimes we research and just see lots and lots the student doesn’t know. The mini-lessons we’ve taught that they aren’t using or the previous conferring that isn’t being used. When this happens, look closer. You can’t build off of the unknown, only the known. Read more about the Zone of Proximal Development here.
I like to observe a bit before I walk over and sit down next to the student. I also teach my readers and writers to keep working when I sit down next to them. Sometimes I dig in and read previous pages in their story or look at their reading log or post-its. After I’ve gotten a feel for what they’re doing it is time for me to talk to them. Usually, silent observation only takes about a minute. I like to ask what they’re working on as a reader or writer. I’ve found that opening line to bring forth the best conversations. Different teachers use different things. Try out a few lines to find your conferring style and see what works best for you.
Sometimes I ask guiding questions related to our mini-lesson. At times I’ll ask what they’ve tried that didn’t work out recently or what they’ve tried out that was a big success. It all depends on the reader. The questions you want to ask will tell you what the reader can do and what they need help with. That is what you want to determine.
During the research phase (and every phase) jot down some notes. Record keeping is so important in balanced literacy… and all of teaching. I like to keep open notes. This means that I will always share my jots with the students. It can stress students out if they know you’re writing about them and you don’t show them what you’re writing. Imagine if your principal observed you and jotted down lots of things and then never shared them. It would frustrate me so I make sure not to do the same to my students. After sharing notes a few times students don’t continue to ask.
This phase is sort of incorporated into research but it is significant enough to have its own section. Once you know what you can compliment and teach the research phase is over… and so is the decide phase! A lot of times this phase happens quickly at the end of research. You’ll see something the reader/writer is doing to reinforce and you’ll see something you want to teach them.
The teaching point is something that the student is almost doing. They’re right on the edge but they just need some tips to finally do it. This teaching point is something you want the students to be able to complete independently forever and ever (with a bit of reinforcement) for the rest of their reading and writing lives. Keep that in mind as you choose the teaching point. It shouldn’t be something that they don’t know and aren’t even close to doing. That is much too big for conferring. Think what is one step this reader/writer can take toward this large goal today. One step they can take on today by themselves.
Sometimes you can’t decide on a teaching point. Sometimes you sit and observe a reader and jot down a lot but nothing comes to mind. If this happens, compliment and then walk away. Plan later for that reader/writer and then confer with them another day. Don’t waste their time. It happens to all of us.
The compliment serves several purposes during conferring. It helps build a positive relationship between you and your reader/writer. We all like to hear positive things about what we’re doing. It helps readers and writers recognize the good work they’re doing and encourages them to continue that good work. It also butters them up to hear something that they need to work on. Let’s be real, we all like to hear something good before we hear something that we need to work on. Sometimes my compliment will lead to my teach especially if I want to build off of the good things that are happening.
Every teacher has a different way to document their compliments. I usually put a star by it on my conferring sheet. Sometimes I’ll circle it. Some teachers jot it under the teach and just know the first bullet is always the compliment. Everyone does it differently. Find what works for you. Below I jotted down the language I might use. Remember, this language might not feel natural to you- try out a bunch of stuff to figure out what works for you. You want to come off genuinely during the entire conference so using someone else’s words might not work out. You’ll get it with more and more practice.
Now the reader has heard a compliment and they are ready to hear something to work on. Our readers and writers will get the hang of the pattern of a conference so after the compliment they know they’ll get a tip to make them an even better reader or writer. I always use language to explain that all readers and writers are good but we can become even better. Also… a bit of a tangent here but I share my reading and writing life with my class so they can see my strengths and struggles too. Ok back to the teach.
Your teaching point should follow the same sort of format as a mini-lesson teach. It should be quick, focused and explicit.
Teacher: “I want to teach you one thing today that is going to help you as a reader. Readers pay attention to many details while they read a book. One thing they keep track of is the characters in a book. They get to know them just like they are old friends and can predict what they’re going to do before they do anything. To keep track of characters at the beginning of a book or series. You may want to make a post-it for each character, just in the beginning, to help you keep track. Let’s do that here. Who are the main characters?”
Student: “Jack and Annie” *inspired by Magic Tree House*
Teacher: “Ok, let’s list Jack here and Annie here. Let’s list down some things we know about Jack here. What do you know about Jack?”
Student: “I don’t know.” Here a student might say something. If you already know this is going to be the response skip the question.”
Teacher: “Let’s read a bit to help us figure out what we know about Jack. We can pay attention to what the characters say and how they act. That will teach us a bit about who they are.”
This goes on until we have a few things for Jack. Then the teacher could prompt the student to try Annie on their own.
The teacher will want to circle back to this student at the end of the book but before the student reads the next book in the series. Students should know that Jack likes to follow the rules and complete the mission according to the rules every time. Annie is more impulsive. She likes to explore and is more adventurous than Jack. Annie always puts them into some sort of danger at the last moment and Jack is so worried. They always escape just in time. Knowing these things about Jack and Annie will help the reader of any Magic Tree House book.
Knowing how to get to know book characters by paying attention to their actions and their words is a skill that a reader could use in every story they encounter.
Teacher: “I want to teach you one thing that will help you become a better writer. Writers use paragraphs when they write to organize information for their reader. Let’s take a look in this story to see how writers use paragraphs.” Here I would pull out a class read aloud or a familiar story to show paragraphs.
Teacher: “You can see that each paragraph is about one topic. It helps to organize information so that the reader can read it easier. Can you imagine if this whole page was just words without breaks? It would be sort of hard to read. Do you see that each paragraph starts on its own line and the first word is pushed in a little bit, that’s called indented. Now, we won’t rewrite your whole story but let’s figure out where we could make a paragraph.” The teacher and student could reread the story so far and add a mark where each paragraph should begin. Perhaps this student is one sentence into what should be a new paragraph, then you might consider having the writer erase and start a new paragraph. Don’t make them erase lots and lots though, that’s discouraging.
Circle back to this writer before the end of workshop to check in and see if they have paragraphs. You might even want to sit with them and watch them write until it is time for a new paragraph. It all depends on how much support the writer needs taking on this new knowledge. Make sure to compliment them when they do!
Using paragraphs can be a hard thing to master. If we push students into paragraphs before they’re ready they use them infrequently and often incorrectly. Using paragraphs is a huge transferable skill. Often we teach students a number of sentences in a paragraph but writers don’t count sentences. Do you think J.K. Rowling went back through her paragraphs to make sure they were 3-5 sentences in length and somethings seven? No! That isn’t what writers do. Teaching paragraphs through writing conferences when a student is ready will ensure greater success and less formulaic understanding. We want writers to understand what they do and why so they can transfer that knowledge into new contexts.
Now you’ve complimented, taught and you’re ready to leave your reader/writer behind. You might want to leave behind a reminder of the conference. Sometimes I re-create a piece of our anchor chart to leave behind on a post-it. Other times I leave a small note of encouragement. I make sure the reader/writer can continue their work as I leave them with high levels of success.
Now… I used educlips clipart here but I don’t just draw like this on the go. These would most likely (100%) be stick people. Don’t feel like your artifact has to look this beautiful!
The lines here would probably be scribbles. I might want to label the new line and indent if I think the writer might need them. I also refer the writer to a page to check if they aren’t sure. This helps to create independence in the new skill.
This week choose just one or two students in your class to confer with. Grab a post-it, make a t-chart and start. Your conferences won’t always go perfectly- I’ve been conferring for over 8 years and mine still don’t always go according to plan. Just try it and then keep going. I highly recommend starting out with compliment only conferences. These might be the least intimidating. All you have to do is find one thing to reinforce with the student through conferring.
Leave your questions and comments below! I can’t wait to hear how conferring is working out for you!
There are many practices from long ago that we need to rethink as teachers. This series looks to bring up those practices and offer alternate ideas that are more relevant in today’s classroom. Today we’re discussing the importance of not making assumptions about students and using assessment to guide our instruction.
Kevin is good at math. DaQuain is good at science. Kara is good at reading. Amaria is good at writing. Teachers used to define students by what they were good at and what they aren’t good at. Recently I heard a colleague say, “And she is really good in math… you know, even though she is a girl.” This came out not even moments after I was praised for including STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, Math) in my class this year. “It is so good for the boys. They really need that time. The girls like it too…” There is a real danger in categorizing kids and then holding kids to the label that has been applied. This becomes sort of a self-fulfilling prophecy. Teachers end up pushing kids harder in the subjects they are good at and creating excuses for them in the areas they aren’t so good at. I’m sure that as a child I was labeled good at reading and not good at math. I knew it. Teachers had lower expectations of me in math and I had lower expectations of myself.
We need to believe that all students can learn every subject. All students can do challenging things. All students can learn. Our learners might have different learning styles and they might become proficient at different times but all learners can learn.
Recently I completed an addition fact inventory of my students. We sat down one on one and I asked them different facts. What is one plus four? What is six plus zero? I took note of what they did. Could they answer the question? Could they answer the question within five seconds? This is part of our schools definition of fluent. Could they explain how they solved the fact? What strategy did they use? This information was so helpful to me as a teacher. My role in the assessment process was simply to document- yes they did, no they did not, what did they do. I was as objective as I could be. Later I was asked by a peer why I assessed everyone. Why didn’t I just assess the kids who were bad at math?
The assumption that some of my students are bad at math and some are not is inherently problematic BUT the fact that we would assess students only based on our assumptions is extremely problematic. Listen, there is a saying about assuming things. Do you know it? If you assume you make an ass out of you and me. Just look at the spelling… Ok, inappropriate jokes aside, assuming is so harmful to student learning.
While completing this fact inventory one of the students who might be considered the highest struggled the most. Had I assumed this student knew because he almost always has an answer first would have meant I missed gaping holes in his understanding of numeracy. One of my students who takes the longest to answer math problems and might be considered low actually had the best strategies for solving. This student consistently structured to five or ten and could always explain how they arrived at an answer.
In reading, the same applies. I have a student who is quite a high decoder but while reading has very limited comprehension. This child would be considered a good reader and might not be assessed because she can decode. When kids miss comprehension questions while doing B.A.S. I can’t say, “Oh they know. They just made a mistake.” If kids actually know, they’ll do it. Sure, everyone has off days but, is this mistake due to an off day or a lack of understanding somewhere. I always try act as though it is a lack of understanding. Giving the benefit of the doubt during assessments doesn’t help student learning.
The problem with making assumptions about our students is that we’ll usually get it wrong. When we make incorrect assumptions we are missing out on opportunities to teach.
The most important thing I know about assessing students is go in with an empty mind. Try to be as objective as possible. Notice what students can and cannot do. Act as though this student belongs to another teacher. What do you notice? What can this child do independently? What understandings does this child have? What partial understandings does this child have? Are there any misunderstandings? These are the questions that will assist us as teachers.
Don’t skip over kids because you’re sure they know. Assess all of your students. If you think they have an understanding and then see that they do have understanding- great! If you think they have an understanding but see that there are some misunderstandings- great! Now you can use this information to guide your instruction. Just the other day I noticed a student drawing tallies to solve a math problem but then counting by ones. This is information I can use to teach. I now know we need to work on structuring to fives. What do you know, this student doesn’t know how to count by fives past 20. Ok, now we’re talking. Now this is information that I can use. Imagine if I saw tallies and then just assumed this student knew how to use them.
Don’t Give Kids the Benefit of the Doubt
Just, please. Recently during reading assessments I had a student who retold every story backwards. The student always started with the ending and then retold back to the beginning. This is something I hadn’t noticed before. I immediately thought, he must know. Why is he doing this today? If had just made an assumption and given him the points on the assessment he didn’t earn I would have missed this opportunity. Later while speaking with him he said he likes to start with what he remembers first. We later read a story about how a caterpillar turns into a butterfly. Being able to retell a story in the order it happened is an important skill. We can work on this skill now. Giving him the benefit of the doubt would have meant a missed opportunity for learning.
Understand That a Single Assessment is a Snapshot
I know this is totally cliché. I know but I am still going to say it. One assessment is just a single picture of learning in one particular moment and setting. You need to take each assessment as fact but don’t forget to put it back into the larger context of learning.
Maybe today one of my students didn’t know four divided by two when I asked on the fact inventory but can always do it in class. I watch for the next few days and notice that this student consistently demonstrates proficiency. After observing I notice that the student does know how to divide by two. I can ask him the problem again and see or maybe I just decide he knows based on what I have observed and move on. Just make sure that this decision is based on something concrete and not an assumption. It is never bad to give additional practice just to check.
Assessing students can be a tricky thing. I know that it is best to try to remove all bias when assessing. Look into their misunderstandings and try to understand where they are coming from. It’s tricky but I know that with practice it gets easier.