Teaching Resources website as well as the Corkboard Connections blog. I'm a former upper elementary teacher who loved teaching reading with the reading workshop approach! I'm thrilled to join the summer book study on The Daily Five and The CAFE Book, and I'm especially excited to be able to reflect on today's chapter on conferring with children. I'm also happy to share two freebies with you that you may find useful as you implement these strategies.
As I began this chapter, my first thought was, "Where was this book when I was learning to implement reading workshop in my classroom?" Conferring with children was the most difficult piece to implement because it's so individualized. When I was starting out, I had many questions about what to do. What exactly do we say when we meet with each student? How do we plan for our conferences? What do we record for future reference? How often do we meet with them? Thankfully, all of these questions are addressed in Chapter 4! It's a long chapter, packed with great strategies, so let's jump right in! I'll share my reflections on each part of this chapter, and then I'll pose a few discussion questions. I hope you'll share your thoughts with us at the end of this blog post.
Rethinking Conference Protocols
The first paragraph in this section really spells out the essential elements of the whole chapter:
"The reason we confer with students is to help them work toward individual goals. The goals come from the assessments at the start of the year or previous conferences, and they become the focus of each conference with children."
In this section, the sisters outlined the structure of each reading conference and provided icons to help us remember what to record on our conference forms. The CD that comes with the book includes a blank copy of the conference form that you can print out and use in your classroom. The icons are a wonderful addition to the form, but I knew that I would need a written reference at first. So I created this CAFE Conference Quick Reference Guide to help me remember what to record next to each icon. You can download it for free from my Reading Workshop page on Teaching Resources. I would suggest keeping it at the front of your Pensieve, otherwise known as your conference notebook.
Another aspect of this section that I liked was the information about how to help kids develop goals based on the CAFE menu: Comprehension, Accuracy, Fluency, and Expanded Vocabulary. These four areas are critical to reading development, and it makes sense to introduce these terms to students and use them as the focus of reading conferences. These terms become part of the shared literacy vocabulary in the classroom.
Discussion Questions: What kinds of information have you been recording during reading conferences? How do you feel about the five areas suggested by the icons? Do you think that recording this much information would be too time-consuming or quite doable?
Moving from Conferring to Coaching: A Shift in Thinking
I loved the suggestion that we shift our thinking from "conferring" to "coaching." When we are working with individual students and helping them to meet their own goals, we are definitely moving into a coaching role. I found the step-by-step list on page 56, Coaching Toward a Target, to be very helpful in terms of providing guidelines for the amount of time to spend on each part of the conference. I also found the suggested wording to be very beneficial because sometimes it's hard to know what to say to move from one part of the conference to the next. However, I did feel that I would have difficulty adhering to those time limits and trying to accomplish this much in one short conference!
Discussion Question: What are your thoughts about the steps and time limits outlined in the "Coaching Toward a Target" overview page?
The Seven Elements of Successful Conferences
I was grateful for the elaboration provided in this section about what to do during each part of the conference. I'm going to list the seven elements below with a bit of reflection about each.
- Check the Calendar for Appointments - I loved the idea of having a monthly calendar page in the front of the conference notebook for recording appointments over time. When I saw the sample calendar page, I thought of the School Year Calendars pages that I create each year. You can download the entire set for free from TeachersPayTeachers. I think you'll find the pages to be just the right size for storing in your conference notebook.
- Prepare for the Conference - This step is critical for planning how we might best use our time to coach each child. Taking a moment to review our notes from previous conferences will help keep us focused when we meet with each student.
- Observe Child and Listen to Reading - Step 3 is where the actual conference begins. We tiptoe over to the student, observing how that student is functioning during independent reading time. Then we invite the child to read to us quietly, and we listen to see whether the strategies we have taught in previous conferences are being applied.
- Reinforce and Teach - In this step, we explain what we have noticed and try to move the student forward a bit with the strategy. (Note: Have you discovered the Ready Reference Charts in the back of the book and on the CD? These charts are AMAZING! Flip to page 154 to take a look. There are over 30 charts that explain in a step-by-step manner how to teach each strategy for mastering the CAFE menu items. This part of the book alone is worth gold! Use these charts to help you figure out how to teach the specific reading strategy needed during each conference.)
- Practice the Strategy - We listen as the child practices the strategy, and we coach as needed.
- Plan - We share our plan for how the student should practice the strategy before our next conference. During this time, we also let students know when we will meet together to see how they are progressing.
- Encourage - This is the most important step of all! We end the conference with encouraging words to show students that we notice the improvements they are making.
Discussion Questions: What do you think of these seven elements? Do you feel that they are "essential" as the title of this section suggests? Are you already doing these things? If not, which ones do you want to add to your repertoire of conference strategies?
Thanks for joining me to discuss and reflect on Chapter 4 in The CAFE Book, Conferring with Children. You are going to love Chapter 5, Eavesdropping on Some Conferences! In this chapter you'll see how the elements in Chapter 4 work together in conferences with real children. It's like being able to peek into the sisters' classrooms to see exactly how they teach comprehension, accuracy, fluency, and expanding vocabulary.