The Book Fort
Instructional Ideas for Immediate Implementation
Welcome to The Book Fort! Vol. 1 Issue 4
Missed previous issues? Find them below:
Week Four: Conferring with Students
The next step is to take your instruction to another level, one that will transform your practice if you let it. This step is to confer with your students. This is not to be done haphazardly intermittently, but rather thoughtfully and regularly. For conferring to have measurable, lasting impact on your students and their achievement, you must plan and be consistent. The action research of Jennifer Serravallo and Gravity Goldberg supports this practice and my own experience with it has been positive.
That being said, along with many colleagues, I have often wrestled with the interruption of the productive silence that ensues when these dedicated periods of reading and writing occur in the classroom. In Conferring with Readers: Supporting Each Student's Growth & Independence (2007), the great Lucy Calkins points out in her foreword the importance of interrupting student silence (which can be so sacred!) for student conferences: "...we teachers may find in our own hearts and minds the courage to interrupt what is good to strive for what is great" (xvi).
The strategies that follow expound upon that interruption of the sacred silence for conferences with students.
Goldberg, Gravity, & Serravallo, Jennifer. Conferring with readers: supporting each students growth and independence. Portsmouth, NH, Heinemann, 2007.
Reading Strategy: Individual Conferences
Individual conferences with students about their self-selected independent reading books can transform your instruction, assessment, and relationships in positive ways. That being said, they are sometimes difficult to consistently maintain. There are many suggestions for how to effectively implement reading conferences, but the following are methods that I have either tried myself or seen effectively used by colleagues. Here are some tested tips for making individual conferences work for your readers:
1. Create a binder, folder, or notebook for each class just for documentation of the reading conferences. Inside, keep one page or section for each student. On this page, document the conferences you have with them and return to it each time, reviewing the previous conversations. This honors the student because it shows how dedicated you are, and it also keeps all this info straight for the teacher.
2. Instead of taking the silent time students are reading to read yourself or handle secretarial tasks like checking email, dedicate this time to conferring with readers regularly. Students will get used to this practice, as will you, if you do it consistently. This could be daily or weekly.
3. Designate a space in your room to complete the conferences so that it becomes part of your classroom rituals and routines. I have seen teachers use a small patio table with two chairs. I have personally used a comfy armchair that no longer matched my home decor after moving to a new house; the student sat in the chair and I sat at my desk. This made it more like a formal conference and students loved sitting in something other than a student desk.
4. Use the data collected to track student progress. Conferences are great even if you don't do anything specific with the data, but as Lucy Calkins said in the aforementioned foreword, why miss the opportunity to do something great with it? Use this data to track fluency and stamina progress by noting pages read and having students read aloud a paragraph to you from their text (note errors in reading the words for fluency). Use this data to suggest more complex texts for students when they complete a book. Use the time to ask specific, standards-aligned questions to formatively gauge understanding and proficiency.
For more info on resources for individual conferences, including handouts that are pre-made, visit my store on Teachers Pay Teachers.
Writing Strategy: Peer Conferences
While most teachers emerge from "teacher school" ready to engage students in group work, writing workshop, and discussions, sometimes reality gets in the way. These are all excellent ways to encourage less teacher-talk and ensure student-centered instruction, but they can surely fail without significant time upfront spent training students.
The focus this week is on conferring with students and this extends to writing as well; however, the conferring can just as easily be peer-to-peer and can be entirely student led. For writing, one of the most important things we can teach students is that it is a process not just a product. This will truly prepare them for college if that's where they are headed. Engaging in the writing process also teaches students that collaboration and constructive criticism are important to one's personal and professional growth, which is an important life skill, regardless of their future plans (or lack thereof).
So, here are some tips for employing peer conferences about writing:
1. Set clear expectations for what students should look for in each other's writing; think checklist, scoring guide, and models.
2. Model the process of effective peer writing feedback using a document camera or other educational technology, such as Google Docs.
3. Incorporate peer writing conferences in your regular writing routines to establish their importance; doing this once in a while is not going to cut it and can ultimately lead to frustration for teachers and students alike.
4. After peer writing conferences, encourage them to make revisions and editing marks in a different color ink (in print or online) so that they can be tracked.
For more resources on peer writing conferences, check out Pamela Flash's article (University of Minnesota).
Grammar Strategy: One "Rule" a Week
So, this week's grammar feature comes from East Jessamine High School's Hillary Howard, who teaches 11th grade students who will all take the ACT test this spring. She reviewed the results of an ACT pre-test and found that her students really struggled with punctuation in general. To address this, Ms. Howard has chosen one punctuation rule or concept to focus on each instructional week and uses fun, short exercises to engage students in the work until they can demonstrate mastery of the rule. A few suggestions from Ms. Howard:
1. Use Grammar Bytes to quickly review and interact with Ed Tech.
2. Create short quiz questions and use Kahoot as a formative assessment.
3. Adapt Triumph lessons to cover important concepts that show up on those tests.
Follow @hillarydhoward for updates on her brilliant ideas for engaging students!
Mrs. Rowe's Classroom
Hope Street Fellow Latonya Taylor-Rowe has always created community in her classroom, but for the past two years, she has transformed her classroom into a place that encourages inquiry and interaction. This is just one photo of her fabulous first grade space this year. Follow her @latonya_rowe on Twitter and check out her resources on Teachers Pay Teachers and her blog.
Mrs. Hellard's Classroom
This summer, Wonder Lead Ambassador Susan Hellard re-purposed wood to create a brand new learning space in her 5th grade classroom at Hearn Elementary. With the help of her parents, Mrs. Hellard built pub tables, bench seating, and stools, totally eliminating her student desks to open up the classroom space. The kids are loving it!
Ms. Carrico's Classroom
Teacher Leader Stephanie Carrico's classroom at Royal Spring Middle School is a place I'd want to be! With a combination of student desks, bar seating, tire seating, standing, and stability balls, everyone can find a place to comfortably learn.
Mrs. Rowe's Classroom
Mrs. Hellard's Classroom
Ms. Carrico's Classroom
What Kids are Reading
Bad Kitty by Nick Bruel
Elementary and lower middle school students who enjoy a good laugh will love the Bad Kitty series. Quick reads with engaging characters, Bad Kitty books will grab even the most reluctant readers.
Cinder by Marissa Meyer
Metaltown by Kristen Simmons
My former Jazzercise instructor has done it again with Metaltown, a Dystopian novel with strong characters that will inspire even the toughest students. Check this book out and all of her others here.