Conferring with Students: Love it. Hate it. Or Just Don’t Know

“There are creative manners, there are creative actions, and creative words; manners, actions, words, that is, indicative of no custom or authority, but springing spontaneous from the mind’s own sense of good and fair.”  ~Ralph Waldo Emerson, “The American Scholar”

I’m thinking about the #NCTE15 proposal that I’ll submit this week with my TTT writer-friends, and I know my topic must be about conferences with students.

I used to be more cold than hot when it came to meeting with students regularly. I’m happy to say that I’ve learned how to manage my time and my focus. I’m getting closer to really really warm.

I know it’s the consistent one-on-one and sometimes small group chats that yield the most growth in my readers and writers. This might also be the hardest thing for me to do consistently. Good intentions and all that.

I love Emerson’s language and this idea of creative manners, actions, and words when considered through the lens of conferring with students. Sitting together writer to writer and/or reader to reader, I hear my students connect the dots. I see them reach inside for ways to improve. The more we meet together, the more I know these learning moments happen spontaneously. Students understand that they do not need me to help them think. They grow in confidence and competence. Their manners, actions, and words change as they believe in their abilities.

I want them to believe that they can grow as readers and writers.

Recently, I’ve been reading Reading Projects Reimagined by Dan Feigelson, and I know I can do more as I talk with my learners. Feigelson offers me advice when he outlines the steps for a successful reading conference that would lead to a student-selected project. I think it works for most of the reading conferences I conduct with my students, project or not, and it’s made me more intentional in having my students look for patterns in the literature they read. This will help with analysis, a skill most of my students struggle with — a lot.

These are Feigelson’s steps (a bit abbreviated) from p.30 of his book:

1. What are you thinking about this text?

2. Listen for the most interesting thing the reader says or does.

3. Ask the reader to say more about that thing. [Jot down words or phrases.]

4. Name what the reader is doing in a way that is about more than the current book…strategy for future reading. Teach him to go further…how it will help in future reading.

5. Come up with a project that allows the reader to follow his or her line of thinking by collecting evidence in the text.

6. Agree on a specific task.

7. Articulate the teaching point again.

“See? It doesn’t have to be complicated,” she reminds herself.

Yesterday, I read the transcript of a Choice Literacy podcast conducted by Franki Sibberson with Cris Tovani called Readers Workshop with High School Students. It’s worth the time to listen or read it. This is my favorite part:

Franki: You might have answered this one but what are the challenges of running a good reading workshop at the secondary level?

Cris: I think the challenges of running a good reading workshop at the secondary level is recognizing that you’ve got such a wide range of abilities as well as interest in that classroom and I think keeping in mind that every student deserves at least a year’s worth of growth whether it’s a struggling reader, on grade level reader or somebody who is an advanced reader. Each one of those kids we have to morally help them get smarter by at least a year. 

And so I think it’s key to figuring out who your learners are, what they like, what their interests are, what their strengths and what their weaknesses are and then allowing for some differentiations. 

Really, it all comes down to knowing our students and knowing their needs, and every student deserves an on-going conversation with a caring teacher. Every student deserves at least a year’s worth of growth as a reader  — and a writer.

My spring semester starts in a week, and I know that I can improve my conferences. I’ve set some Screen Shot 2015-01-11 at 11.43.01 PM
conferring goals for myself with the hope of doing a bit of research and improving student outcomes. I know that when I make goals public, I am more apt to meet them, so here goes:

Now, it would help me out if I knew you struggled, too. Not really, but I would like to know where you are at with student conferences. Please take this simple poll and let me know. You’ll help me with my research. Thanks!

©Amy Rasmussen, 2011 – 2015



2 thoughts on “Conferring with Students: Love it. Hate it. Or Just Don’t Know

  1. Dave Arbogast January 12, 2015 at 8:58 am Reply

    I’m not currently teaching; I’m an English curriculum specialist. But I’m working with a cohort of teachers to plan for implementing a readin-writing workhop across 9th grade in one of our district’s high schools. I appreciate the reference to Feigleson’s podcast, and I will definitely check it out.


    • Amy January 12, 2015 at 11:20 am Reply

      Dave, thank you for your comment here. I hope you find the information helpful as you support your teachers in their move to readers and writers workshop. My colleagues who write with me here, and I are all workshop teachers. You’ll find other helpful info in various posts on this blog. If you have specific questions, let me know. I am sure one of us will be able to help. Best wishes!


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