This year a major goal of mine has been to improve the quality of my conferring. I have been stuck in the pattern of bouncing from reader to reader helping them get through a specific book. I help them solve words or use pictures, and when I leave them they can usually make it through that book.
However, it is hit or miss at to whether the kids can ever apply the strategies we used in a new context. Some kids are good at that type of transfer. However, many – maybe most – do not see those connections. So, my goal is to teach more universal skills that can be applied to many texts. Rather than helping a child read the words, “My dad likes to eat chicken,” I might teach them how to look for and notice chunks at the beginning of words. Then, hopefully when they come across the word “chocolate,” or “cheese,” they can apply the chunking skill. Their learning is not limited to “chicken.”
First, I am using a new structure for conferring.
1. Check in a see what the child is working on. This is also my time to “research” what they are doing, and decide what I would like to teach them.
2. Tell the child that I am going to teach them a skill that will help them in this, and many, books. Name the skill. Example: “I am going to teach you how to look at the first letter in a word, along with the picture, to help you figure out the word.”
3. Have them watch me get out a different book. I will then find a page where I can teach this skill. I will model this whole process, thinking aloud as I go. It is important to use a different text, because it immediately shows kids that what you are teaching them applies to more than just the book in front of them.
4. I will then find another place in this book (not their original book) and have them practice the strategy or skill.
5. I will then have them turn back to their original text. I will suggest they use their new strategy, and I will watch to see if they are successful. (If they are, I will move on. If not, I will reteach steps 3-5).
6. Finally, I will tell them to remember that this strategy can help them whenever they come across that particular challenge in a book. I might even draw a quick picture on a sticky note that will remind them what we worked on. I can leave this note with them on an individual anchor chart that they can reference later.
In order to make this work, I have created a conferring bag. This was prompted by learning that conferring bags are widely used in Teachers College in New York. My bag has all the tools (hopefully!) that I will need for excellent conferences, all ready to go. Here is my bag:
Included I have:
- Various levels of guided reading texts that are pre-tabbed (I have looked for books that provide opportunities to teach strategies that I know come up regularly. I have marked these books with tabs and labeled the tabs. This way I can quickly grab something and know it will support my teaching point.)
This is a great book for teaching various ending chunks:
This text has lots of opportunities for making predictions, sometimes uses pictures, sometimes first letter, and sometime both:
- Various high quality picture and/or nonfiction books that are pre-tabbed (These should be books that I have already read to the class. Because the students are familiar with them, they can focus on a reading strategy, rather than exploring a new book. These types of books are great for comprehension work.)
I might use Koala Lou to demonstrate how pictures can help us to infer how characters are feeling.
I might use Skeleton Hiccups to show that sometimes words show up in unexpected places and shapes in text.
- A highlighting hammer (This helps me to showcase word parts for students.)
- Two mini white boards, one with lines, and one without (These are to be used with kids that really benefit from a reading/writing connection. If I am focusing on word solving, some kids do this best by writing the word first. So, I like to have the tools ready!)
- A pen, pencil, dry erase marker, and dry eraser.
There you have it! (And of course, it was a great excuse to buy a super cute bag, too…)
Then my little bag goes with me wherever I go! I can pull out great texts to support my teaching points without wasting time, and I can actually use more universal teaching points. How do you get the most about of your conferences with students? Do you have a “conferring bag?”