Conferring: On the Lookout for Gifts

“I think parents should read this book — these kinds of books, too,” Monica said as we chatted about the book she just finished, Impulse by Ellen Hopkins. “They need to know what we go through and how we think about things. It would help so much.”

I listened as she shared her feelings. She needed me to hear her disappointment at the ending. The characters mattered to her, so I knew they needed to matter to me.

The relationship between student and teacher changed in that moment. We gave each other a gift in that brief conversation about a book.

When we consider our conferring moments with students, do we give enough gifts? Do we allow our students to?

Think about the origin of confer:  Latin conferre to bring together, from com- + ferre to carry.

At the end of that three-minute conference with Monica, I carried a bit of the burden she had on her heart, and she carried the knowledge that one more adult cares about what she thinks. A conversation about a book brought us together.

I love that.

At NCTE I asked a room of teachers what part of their workshop classroom they struggle with the most. They all said student conferences.

Finding the time, being consistent, knowing how to prod students into thinking, allowing students to do most of the talking —  these concerns all emerged as trouble spots that we’d like to overcome.

In a perfect classroom with perfect students it would be easy. What’s the big deal? Just talk to your students. Yeah, right.

I asked one colleague how she conducts her reading conferences. She replied quickly, “Oh, I don’t do those. I cannot talk to one kid without the other 35 talking.”

Yes, that can be a problem.

I don’t think we stop trying though.

One-on-one conversations with students create the heart of my workshop classroom. Our relationships grow and change as we gift one another with ideas and information. We learn and change together as individuals who are trying to make sense of our world. Regular conversations make this happen.

I’m reminded of a line I boxed in bold when reading Choice Words by Peter Johnston: “Talk is the central tool of their trade.” Their meaning teachers who create environments wherein through language they help students “make sense of learning, literacy, life, and themselves” (4).

Talk is central

That’s what I want as I create opportunities to confer with the students in my classroom. I want to help my students make sense of all it:  what happens in the classroom, what they read in books, what they’ll face in the future, and what they see in themselves. That’s a tall order, and the only way I know how to do it is to talk to more of my kids more often.

My burning question now circles on student conferences. How can I improve the precious moments of time I have with each of my students?

I am paying a lot more attention to the gifts we give as we converse with one another.

What about you? What are your ideas, concerns, questions about student conferences?

©Amy Rasmussen, 2011 – 2015


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One thought on “Conferring: On the Lookout for Gifts

  1. […] powerful rewards as we meet with our students in regular reading conferences. (I wrote about one here.) Every year, after students get to know me a bit, they tell me things like: “We were scared […]


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