My classroom is not a quiet, orderly place.
Students are constantly moving, thinking, talking, reading and writing.
I do my best to help my students find success.

July 13, 2011

Nuturing and listening to our reading "apprentices"

Our #cyberpd book club continued to read Conferring: The Keystone of Reader's Workshop by Patrick Allen.  This week's focus was on Part 2:  What Are the Essential Components of Conferring?

Shut Up and Listen
The most essential component jumped off of page 127 for me, "Being a good listener means we do have to 'shut up and listen' or how else will we know what we need to teach!"
As my 13-year-old would say, "DUH!"  As teachers we have a habit of talking all the time.  As I read more about conferring, I've come to realize that this is a time for our students to show us what they are working on.  The more years I spend in the classroom (and as a parent), the more I realize that time spent one-on-one with a child makes such a positive impact on their learning and their self-esteem. 

Our job, as strong readers, is to be a nurturing reading mentor to our students.  Patrick wrote, "Nurturing inquiry comes by sharing our experiences as readers and helping children uncover their own growth and needs and insights." 

Patrick wrote about his father, a bricklayer, in the book's introduction. My family is full of tradesmen - bricklayers, electricians and builders. They all learned their trade from a master when they were apprentices. I have come to see my students as reading apprentices as well. No matter their learning style, we need to show them (modeling, think aloud) and guide them on their decisions about text.

The RIP Model

This was an easy model for my brain to follow.  The model that Patrick recommends we use to confer with students is the way most people approach a conversation with a friend. 
R review, read aloud, record:  start out with what you talked about in your last  conversation.  Ask the student to read aloud from a text.  Record your thoughts.
I instruction, insights, intrigue: not only are you looking for a strategy you can reinforce, you are also looking for the student's insights into the text, and their questions.  (I love the word intrigue!)
P plan, progress, purpose:  The final part of the conversation is to find out their plans as a reader, see what progress they've made on goals they set at the last conference, and set a purpose for future reading.

Conferring Versus Collecting
Oh, boy, did this section ring true with me (you did notice "chaos" in the title of this blog, right!?).  I have tried everything to keep track of anecdotal notes in my classroom.  Patrick lists many ways (binders, index cards) and I've tried them all.  I think that Patrick's conferring form, following the RIP model, will be a great vehicle to try again.  I think I'll make 1" binders for each grade level that I work with (K-5), then put tabs for each student in the binder.  I've tried to store all my student data in one binder, but that got too bulky.  I'm always up for a trip to my favorite office supply store!

"When I sit with my child's teacher..."
On pages 138-139, Patrick poses the question, "How might we make note of what we see and what we've learned?"  He then writes about how we have become data collectors in order to prove our work is helping students improve.  That's fine, but Patrick points out that as a parent, he would prefer to hear from a teacher how his child is connecting with books.  He writes, "I want her teacher to say to me, 'Recently I sat down beside Lauryn and discovered...'  That is the data I want."
As a parent, I can't agree more.  I understand that my child is a dot on a graph, but I really want to know how she is connecting her learning in school to her life experiences. 
When we confer with students, we are giving them a chance to show their learning, and we are giving ourselves a chance to know them as individuals.  Only then can we begin to teach them.


  1. Chris,
    What a great ending to your post,

    "When we confer with students, we are giving them a chance to show their learning, and we are giving ourselves a chance to know them as individuals. Only then can we begin to teach them."

    Well said!

  2. Chris,
    I, too, so connected with Allen's role as a parent and how that impacts us as teachers. It sounds like we've been on a similar journey when it comes to conferring with our students. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

  3. Chris~
    Teachers can make valuable impressions on kids when they get to know them as kids first. Patrick has done an excellent job in showing us why this is so important and how we can make this happen- Just Iisten! This quote by Donald Graves spoke to me-
    "Listening to children is more a deliberate act than a natural one."


  4. Chris,
    Being that I am not a parent, I appreciated hearing your "parent" voice in your post! It affirms my feeling that I need to share specifics with parents, not just numbers! Thank you for that! And I agree with Cathy; I love the last two sentences of your post!
    ~Laura :)

  5. Chris, You've walked away with a lot of positive thinking from this section and ideas to continually grow as an educator. I too enjoyed reading the section on what Patrick's wants from a teacher about his own daughter. I try to converse with parents in the same manner putting myself in their shoes. Thanks for sharing.

  6. Chris,
    Great ending to your post. I also thought a great deal about my role as a parent/teacher. Interestingly enough some of the most data-driven parent teacher conferences I have sat through over the years are with people I work with and like a great deal, but when they were talking about my children, it was just numbers. I have often wondered why this is. In this era of high accountability are all the roles (student, teacher, parents, administrators, etc) too concerned with numbers, so are we afraid to talk about people?
    Thanks again for writing a thoughtful post.

  7. Chris,

    I laughed when I read the part about how your 13 year old son would say, "Duh". You were so right that we as teachers are used to talking all the time. We really do need to remember to slow down and listen. I also loved the ending of your post. Thanks.


  8. Chris,
    I will be on the journey with you this year to organize what I know about my students in a way that allows me to see the "big video" of each one so I can better help each one as a learner.
    Would be fun to have a followup conversation as we try new conferring recording systems to see what is working well for folks.
    Love your final paragraph!

  9. Chris,

    You are so right: "When we confer with students, we are giving them a chance to show their learning, and we are giving ourselves a chance to know them as individuals. Only then can we begin to teach them."

    So thoughtful and well said. Why do we seem to skip this essential step?

    How are we also going to "shut up and listen"? Hehehe . . . a goal we both have this year!

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts and reminding us about the parent piece as well. I'm wondering how we can move from talking numbers to talking kids. Let the conversations begin.


  10. Hi Chris,
    Saturday night and I'm finally finishing up with reading everyone's posts from this week. Sorry to be so slow! Like everyone else, I loved your ending lines, "When we confer with students, we are giving them a chance to show their learning, and we are giving ourselves a chance to know them as individuals. Only then can we begin to teach them." I want to blow them up and put them on the front of my conferring notebook.

    My sons (who are 16 and 17) would say the same thing that your son said, "DUH?" (I'm not going to tell you how many times a day they something along those lines. I was struck, throughout these chapters, by Patrick's stance of really believing that kids have something to teach him, and wanting to learn from them. I don't think that I always believe that. I don't think I always do that great a job listening to kids. That is my goal for this year.