Reading and Writing Conferences: A Blended Approach

By Angela Bunyi on January 27, 2010


I have been utilizing the reading and writing workshop method for almost a decade now. As a former literacy coach and a current teacher of the gifted and high achieving, I most often have other teachers ask me for help or suggestions with regard to reading and writing conferences. The questions I am asked most often are: How do you manage meeting with your students? How do you organize conferences and/or do you have any forms or notebooks that you use? What do you talk about during a conference? How do you share this information with parents or use it for assessment?

These are all great questions, and I think the easiest way to answer them is to take you directly into my classroom with a video virtual post. Get ready for a step by step look at a typical reading and writing conference in our room.  




Virtual Post

I have provided two versions of my post this week. Below is the virtual video post that takes you into my classroom as I talk about our reading and writing conferences. In addition to this, I have included a transcript of what I talk about in my virtual post.


Scheduling Conferences

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So, before we begin, it is important to explain that I do not have separate reading and writing conferences with each student. After taking a blended approach a few years ago, I realized how relevant it was to blend the two areas of reading and writing; they are so dependent on each other anyway. I can really help make the connection between reading and writing using this blended approach, and I think it has made a significant impact in our room.

Conferences last anywhere from five to ten minutes with each student. On average, I meet with two students during the reading workshop block and two to three students during our writing workshop block. I just move from table to table, and you may find me holding a conference on the floor, on the couch, at a student's desk, or just about anywhere around the room.

Picture 3

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Organizing Conferences: Forms, Notebooks, and Tools

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Previously, I have used and endorsed Fountas and Pinnell's Reader's Notebooks. I still think they are fabulous and highly recommend them, but this year I opted for a simple, cheap alternative that requires no fuss or setup time. Each section of this book can be duplicated rather easily, and Beth has already done this with the use of her Reader's Notebook (and has this ready for uploading). I did this by doing the following:

1. For the section that has the reading log, I simply placed a reading log in a plastic folder and used transparency sheets to allow other forms and activities to be utilized and stored here. Post-it notes, in particular, can be collected on a paper and placed in a transparency neatly. Students bring this folder to every conference.

2. I ask my students to reflect on what they are reading once a week. This is NOT a book report at all. Students begin the year with thinking stems that help guide the way they write to me about reading. It is written in a friendly letter format and students use phrases like: "I am noticing . . . " "I am wondering . . . " "I used to think, but now I am thinking . . . " These thinking stems are modeled during our reading lessons and a copy is also placed in their reading folder for weekly use.

Reading Log

3. I formerly used the back of the Fountas and Pinnell notebook for guided reading notes (there is a tab), but I have opted for a section in the reading folder this year instead. It is a simple alternative. I sometimes just use anchor charts made by the students as well. You can find photo examples below.

4. Regarding where to house your conference notes: I have tried every method known to man and have come to the conclusion that a simple
composition book or three ring binder works just fine for me. A colleague of mine has an awesome form that she uses and places in a three ring notebook, but I have been doing this long enough that I don't need a form to know what to look for anymore. I honestly think you just have to use what feels right for you.

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Photo: An example of one of the resources provided in our Reader's Notebook.

Picture 6
Moth
Photos: Guided reading notes, via our Reader's Notebook or an anchor chart.

What Do You Talk About?

Picture 4 As I said, typical conferences last anywhere between five to ten minutes. I spend the first minute responding to my student's reading letter while my student corrects a current piece of writing. For hesitant editors, I often hand over a pen so I can visually see the corrections made. The student is then given the option to have a reading or writing conference first. Let's say a student asks for a reading conference first. I then ask them to tell me a little about what they are reading and thinking, and I often flip through their reading log as they speak to make sure everything is up to date. If it isn't, I jot this down in my conference notebook. I then ask the student what page they are on and make a connection to the previous conference to give them an idea of their progress. It's easy to know who is reading at home, and who is not. If I notice that they're not, I address it at this time. 

Reading Conferences

Next, I remind the student of our conference suggestion from the previous meeting. Let's say, for example, we discussed using context clues or the replace the word method when encountering unknown words. I remind them to pay attention to this while reading out loud. I record the page number in my conference book and take an informal running record for a minute or so. At this time I offer my feedback, whether it has to do with pace, fluency, vocabulary, or trying new genres. I may even ask what they think they'll read next. It really feels like a conversation more than anything else. From here, it's on to a writing conference.

Writing Conferences

I usually begin by asking, "How's it going?" and use many of the suggestions provided by author Carl Anderson in the book by the same title. It's a great resource if you are wanting to know more, and I highly recommend it.

Students are usually quick to point out their strengths and weaknesses, and I have noticed that if I use certain language with my students, they begin to use it as well. For example, a student may inform me that they are creating a double-focus poem, a suggestion by author Ralph Fletcher. Others will be happy to point out elements such as sentence fragments. On purpose. Like Jerry Spinelli. It's really a great feeling to see the depth that is possible. So, with all this said, don't be afraid to let your students do most of the talking or even to have awkward moments of silence. 

So, when a student shares a selected piece with me, after they have checked for grammatical elements, what do I do? I actually use a pencil (or pen with permission) to go through one page in detail. I correct every error on the page, including misspelled words, which may go on their personalized spelling list for study buddies, depending on the importance of the word. 

This is the first time that I have tried this, but I believe it has made a powerful impact for two reasons:

1. Each week, one page of writing is being edited fully, showing weekly progress as we go through the year.

2. It helps guide me towards a grammatical point of interest if something doesn't "stick out," although I try to balance my focus on content, conventions, and form. I usually end the conference by recording and informing students of two areas of strength and one area to work on for next time. 

Here is the wording I often use: "Can I show you something writers do?" Or in the case of a student's attempt at using paragraphs, "Let's open up your chapter book and see if Paulsen can shed some light on how to paragraph a little better." All of this is jotted down and followed up with in the next conference. In total, a conference can last up to ten minutes, and that student earns a ticket to share during our reading and writing share time.

Assessment/Parent Communication

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The final note of interest may be in informing parents of progress or problem areas. I use a rubric form from Revisiting the Reading Workshop that allows me a space to jot down my conference notes. This goes home twice a month, and I keep it general. Some examples: "discussed vocabulary strategies . . . " "nice job on sentence variety . . . " "let's work on writing length or quality . . . "

I avoid the educational jargon that we are accustomed to, and have come to the conclusion that conferences are more for me than for parents. It helps guide my instruction and lead to more personalized lessons because I am seeing and working with the students closely every day. With hundreds of one-on-one hours spent with students on their reading, writing, and math, I wouldn't have it any other way.


Supportive Downloads

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Download the thinking stem sheet referred to above.

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Download the thinking stem posters that can be turned into a bulletin board (with supportive tangible items).

Here is a PDF version of the above file. 

Read an archived post on this subject.


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Comments

Good question Felicia...I will let the tech. department know (this happens sometimes). I will have them correct the video link shortly. :)

Best,

Angela

What happened to the video?!?!? I was so impressed when I saw it in February that I saved the page to show it to some colleagues. Now the video is gone. Bring it back!!!

Sally,

No I don't know other intervention teachers that have used this sort of approach. Why? It seems like these programs are often so rigid and mandated, usually sucking out any authentic reading or book discussion for the kids that need it the most. So, in a way, I guess I would say consider yourself blessed. You seem to have some flexibility on the way you are working with your students. 50 minutes is just not enough, but it sounds like you are doing what you can. :)

Best,

Angela

Angela- I just stumbled upon your blog and am thrilled! I have a question for you. I am beginning a Reader's Workshop modeled after Daily Five and Cafe. However, I am not a classroom teacher. I have a small group of 9 at-risk second graders. They are reading "just-right" books, some guided reading texts, some trade books. Then they respond in writing through graphic organizers. Then, they read some more, write some more, etc. I go around and have conferences while they are reading and writing. Do you know of other intervention teachers that use this sort of approach? I also pull them for specific guided reading needs but I only have 50 minutes with them, so time is tight.

For future reference...this is one of the few sites that doesn't require downloading something on your computer to convert Word to a PDF document:

http://convert.neevia.com/

And I miss my Mac already...just praying that my grades will be recovered (otherwise, I am in BIG trouble).

Smiles,

Angela

Angela,

Thank you so much! This is a great resource, and I am happy to be able to access it. It reminds me of Comprehension Connections.

I used to know a pdf conversion website, but I have forgotten it now that I am spoiled with my Mac. Thanks for taking the time to help me out!

I am so sorry to hear about your computer's meltdown. I hope you are able to recover all of your vital files. :) Best wishes!

Amanda

Hello Amanda,

I've had the closest thing to the end of the world in teaching terms...my teacher laptop's hard drive crashed. Grades gone (but will be recovered). Webpage will be gone once I add anything to it...everything gone.

BUT...I just found an option that you will like. I found a site that converts word documents to PDF, so I am uploading that in a few moments. :)

Best,

Angela

Angela,

I still can't open the thinking stem posters. Would you mind converting them to pdf? I'm sorry! I know you're incredibly busy! Thanks in advance!

Amanda

Hello Dawn!

The virtual post is handled through Scholastic. I send it via an uploading site where they convert it to a universal player. From the code they send, it looks like they use Macromedia's Brightcove player.

And, in case you are wondering what program I used to make the video itself- I just used the standard iMovie program on my Mac (comes on Macs). This program also allows you to drag and drop videos on our class website.

If you are interested in some paid for programs, please let me know. I have several that work well (anything with a chroma key option is high on my approval list).

Best, Angela

Angela:

Great information. My question, however, is regarding the program you used to create your virtual post. Can you tell me where to get it?

Dawn

Hello Amanda,

Yes I can do that for you. Luckily it opens on my Mac, and you know how easy it is to convert it to PDF.

At the moment, I am on a PC. I'll post the PDF version here by tomorrow (within the post), so come back shortly. :)

Thanks,

Angela

Angela,

Is there any way that you could convert the thinking stem files to pdf? My Mac isn't able to open it. Thanks!

Amanda

Kala,

I feel your pain. My former school was like this, and it made it made grading difficult at times. However, how many grades are you required to record each week? If it is 2, like many school districts, then using the workshop method is very much possible. In my school, for example, our principal suggested more traditional assessments for warm-up. Eg- A short passage with questions on sequencing. This doesn't take up much class time at all, and can be completed with ease.

Also, you may want to look into rubrics. I mentioned Revisiting the Reader's Workshop in my post. This allows you to take your observations and turn it into a percentage. The rubric, I believe, is made up of 55 possible points. Last year I shot for one traditional assessment and one alternative assessment (eg- rubric on their reading letter to me) each week.

And finally, I think we just need to take a stand as educators with this crazy pressure cooker on assessment in general. Some skills need time to develop, so I am careful about teaching something and turning around and assessing it two seconds later. That can be hard at times, but I believe the workshop approach is a fair way to assess students' growth as readers and writers.

Best,

Angela

I just love reading about these workshops and would love to implement them in my classroom! However, my school is extremely grades-driven, and all work needs to be quantified and put into grade books as a percentage. Do you have any suggestions on how to do that in reading or writing workshops?

Hey Brittany,

Thanks! I think the Daily 5 was great for my kids in a traditional setting, but with such strong reading backgrounds at my current school and the several extras placed in our schedule (multi-age enrichment clusters, Spanish lessons, etc.)we couldn't squish in anymore time than what we have now.

I would, however, be more than happy to answer any questions you have about implementing this in your classroom this year. I saw the Sisters in person and really enjoyed my time with them. :)

Angela

P.S. We are out of school tomorrow due to an ice/snow storm coming in. Yippee!

Thanks so much for the great information! I love all your posts and really enjoy learning about the way you do things in your classroom. I have just started doing Cafe & Daily 5 in my classroom and I'm enjoying getting to do conferences, but it's great to see how you do yours. I'm looking forward to using the downloads you have listed! The should be a great way to teach more skills! :-)

Hey Laura,

You are too cute. :) I don't always feel so awesome, but I always work hard and appreciate you motivating me to keep on keepin' on.

So here are your questions answered:

1. The thinking stems are adapted from Tanny McGregor's book on tangible comprehension strategies. It's worth purchasing. More than a few teachers have purchased this book in my school after I showed it to them.

2. Yes. This requires a schedule that goes over the min. 90 minutes literacy block, but we follow reader's and writer's workshop with the following schedule following after that: 5-10 minutes for spelling (see other post for a day-by-day schedule) 5-10 minutes for author's/writer's share time 20 minutes for literacy rotations

The literacy rotations include: ~Reading partners (read to a leveled guided reading book to a partner) ~Guided reading ~One skill based practice such as Scholastic's Reading Skills Kit (students check their own work) ~Computer reading sites (such as Into a Book) ~Free reading or writing...although this week I had students meet together to create anchor charts on their guided reading book read.

This seems to be a good balance of independent reading and collaborating/talking with others. We also have book club meetings that meet at lunch time. This is VERY popular and allows more time to talk about books each week.

I hope that helps...thank you for being a loyal reader and follower of the blog. I appreciate your kind words.

Angela

Hi Angela, I've been a huge fan of your blog since you started last year and I always find something to use with my class. In my room, you're referred to as "that awesome Tennessee teacher." :-)

Two questions... 1) Are the thinking stems something you came up with or from another source? 2) Do you have any part of reading time spent with students reading with another student or small group? My class is super social and love to read together. Part of me feels like reading and talking together can support comprehension, but I feel like too much can be distracting. How do you handle this?

Thanks so much! You rock!

Marlene,

I just added this component to the post. This includes the page that goes in their reader's notebook and the posters that can be turned into a comprehension bulletin board. If you add the following items to the board, it supports Tanny McGregor's work in Comprehension Connections:

lint roller (sythesizing) a purse (determing importance) inferring (a tiny trash can) Questioning (Trivial Pursuit cards) Visualizing (Conch shell)

Hope that helps!

Angela

Lindsey,

I just adore you SO much. What am I ever going to do without you next year? Really?

Thank you for sharing my post with others. It's a wonderful feeling knowing I can be of help to someone else. :)

Angela P.S. Doesn't Ryan look adorable in the video?

Angela, thanks for giving us an inside look into your reader's and writer's workshop. I would love to see the thinking stems the students use to write their reading responses. Would you be able to share them? Thanks again!

Hi, Mrs. Bunyi,

What a wonderful post! It's always amazing to see what you do in your classroom, and I am impressed at how you are able to provide such individualized instruction for each student. I'm forwarding this to a teacher-friend who has already taken some tips from you and hopes to implement them next year. Thank you so much for all you do!

Lindsey

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