Any educator will tell you that individual reading and writing conferences are necessary in the classroom. In fact, I’ve yet to be in an interview that hasn’t asked a question about reading and writing conferences and/or teaching small groups. Not only do individual conferences allow you to become more familiar with the student’s goals, but it also allows you to form more of a relationship with the student. Great educators know that individual conferencing is essential to knowing your students.
However, educators form a sort of “pedagogical paralysis” during the school year that seems to stall the practice of individual conferencing. I first learned about pedagogical paralysis when I read, “Harnessing the Dynamics of PublicEducation: Preparing for a Return toGreatness”, by Jones, Barrett, and Vornberg. Basically, this idea states that when educators become overloaded, overwhelmed, or tired they will revert back to a familiar way of teaching, and not always the best practices or innovative strategies. Now, am I saying that every educator suffers from this in late November? Absolutely not! I would say that I’ve seen this often over the years. I’d love to know your strategy if you’ve never felt it yourself!
So how can we press on and be the very best educator every day when we know there will be phone calls, emails, meetings, and paperwork? I may not have that specific answer, but I’m going to give you a few ideas that I use and might just work for you.
First, I am diligent about listening to my students read independently. In the past, I read in small groups with my students. This year, as a new goal, I am doing individual reading conferences instead of small groups. This has allowed me to really dive deep and discuss practices I notice my students doing during reading. We discuss ongoing issues, continued successes, and best practices for each student. I keep my notes on a sheet when I confer with my students. It helps me remember what I noticed last time we met, and refer back to that during our next conference. Click here to see the sheet. Here are some conference questions to use, too.
Next, I set goals with my students after running records or DRA assessments. Doing a running record each month on my students allows for me to have data to discuss with fellow RtI educators and parents during conferences. After these assessments, the students and I reflect on the information and reading. We create reading goals right then and there. The students help to create these, which I believe is vital to the process. After school, I type the goal up and print it on a form I use consistently. The form is a downloaded format for business cards. Once printed, I cut it out and place it in a plastic badge. This badge stays with the students (and can be worn or attached to the student’s book) during reading as a reminder of what they are working on while reading. See below for a picture of what I mean.
Last, I find it beneficial to conference with fellow educators on what is working in their classes. “What are the new steps you are taking to enhance the learning in your class?” It doesn’t have to be formal, but a quick peek in the class and a question, “What are you doing well in your reading block?”. It’s simple and effective. You can always learn something new. In fact, this year I’ve taken on the goal of meeting with my students 1-1 during reading instead of meeting in small groups. This was an idea thrown my way by one of my team members at the beginning of the school year, and I loved it! I’m also reading more about “Notice and Note” as a reading practice. My daughter is in a 4th grade class that uses these strategies, and she is a huge fan! The fact is, we can always learn from others if we stop, look, and listen. Find your inspiration and don’t let pedagogical paralysis take hold of you this December! Make every moment count…the kids, families, and your coworkers deserve it!