Conferring Advice: Listen. Then listen some more.

At CCIRA, in addition to seeing Katie Wood Ray, I also attended Patrick Allen’s workshop on conferring.

I have known Patrick for a long time, and his book Conferring: the Keystone of Reader’s Workshop stands alongside Carl Anderson’s How’s It Going? in helping me become better teacher while I confer. One of the best things about sessions with Patrick is that you learn a lot and you also laugh a lot. My favorite combination: learning while laughing!

What really stood out for me during Patrick’s presentation is the importance of listening. He told a story about a student who felt so valued because Patrick spends so much time listening. Listening is essential because our real purpose in a conference is to learn first about our students, and then to teach. When Patrick mentioned that he confers with every reader in his classroom every day, teachers were surprised, but when I looked over my notes and I kept seeing the words “listen” and “uncover” and “discover” and “explore,” I am not surprised at all that Patrick has this kind of time. He knows his students well, so it is easier for him to provide advice and to nudge learning forward.

During writing conferences, I often combine listening with observing. I want to see what writers can do independently, especially at the primary grades, and the only way to do this is to listen, watch, and learn. I look for students who actually try to write the words they are saying, rather than just choosing a word they know how to spell. I look for students who re-read their work, and revise or edit as needed. And sometimes, because I have learned to listen and observe, I just let the writing process continue – I don’t interrupt my students if things are going well. My agenda should be their agenda: I shouldn’t interrupt their writing to provide a teaching point just so that I can check a name off my list. Only when I know my students can I decide when and what to teach during a conference.

Patrick: thanks for being such a strong model of the importance of knowing our students through listening!


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