Thursday, May 8, 2014

Thoughts about Conferring...

One of our Friday PLCs with Michelle was spent really diving into a study around feedback. When I think feedback-conferring automatically pops into my mind, and conferring is one of my strengths-at least I've always thought. I was reassured when I read Debbie Miller's short and sweet article, The Difference Between Conferring and "Touching Base". She reiterates that fact that any time a teacher simply stops and talks with a child it isn't necessarily a conference. Debbie states, "Touching base is all about responding at the surface level to student behaviors", and that it is important. But true learning occurs during a conference. That's our time to "do good" for that individual child. "We reach, touch and teach by being present, putting ourselves in the moment and focusing our full attention on the one sitting by our side," is how Debbie describes conferring.

In my classroom, I confer everyday in both reading and writing. In skills it can look different, but what I'm doing is more than just touching base. Even though I consider myself to be more experienced with conferring I struggle with two things.
     1.) How to confer with everyone to provide feedback and help them grow before I'm evaluating or
          assessing them
     2.) How to use informal anecdotal notes/data from thinking routines, group work, book clubs, etc. to
          serve as a starting point for a conference

In regards to my first struggle, it's actually deeper than conferring. It also relates to providing enough time for students to be taught and coached before being asked to show evidence of learning. Maybe I'm the only one, but sometimes, especially in writing, I feel like we don't practice enough. We have one piece we're crafting through the entire lesson, but then I run into a roadblock when kids don't want to revise their work based on our conferences because in their minds they've worked really hard and are done. Therefore, I need to be a little more creative in crafting the third portion of the backwards design - planning experiences and instruction. I want to confer with every child during their experimentation  and learning before it's a done deal. We don't have to practice show don't tell in a story I guess. Perhaps they practice given a certain scenario. I'm thinking if everyone was writing about the same thing-it'd be easier and faster to confer with kids. I already have the background knowledge. I don't know...  I think this is a battle many teachers battle, but if anyone has any advice-it's greatly appreciated!

Next year I want to get better at using my informal data from class experiments, etc. to help guide my conferences. Currently I feel like my informal data and conference goals aren't related, and it makes no sense. If I see a student struggling to come up with questions during a See, Think, Wonder than perhaps I need to see if their able to form questions when reading their independent text. I'm well aware that this sounds like common sense, but I haven't been making these connections. I've been going into each conference gathering information and then pinpointing a teaching point, etc. This is especially important because of all of the group work and collaboration we do in class. Of course during these times I'm conferring with groups and coaching them further, but this same data could be used in more than one way. It goes back to being data rich and knowing how to use it effectively.

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