Supercharge Your Conferring: Focus on Goals, Strategies, and Feedback

Conferring allows teachers to tailor instruction to individual students by supporting their goals, seeing how they’ve grown, and figuring out what to work on next. As you return for the new school year, prioritizing purposeful and consistent conferring will bring power to the literacy classroom.

As students read and write independently, the teacher will have more time to confer with individuals and small groups. Many teachers find that explicitly teaching students about their roles and the teacher’s role helps the conferring process run smoothly and efficiently, allowing them to work with more students during the literacy period. These roles stay consistent across all types of conferences, even when teachers confer with partnerships or small groups. Students should self-reflect, show what they’ve learned, ask for support, and practice strategies. Teachers should assess strategies and offer new ones or additional support for those still being practiced, give feedback, and guide students.

Conferring is a time when strategies come to life and when teachers have an opportunity to offer feedback tailored to individual students. Education thought leader Grant Wiggins defines feedback as “useful information about the effects of an action in light of a goal.” These “actions” are the strategies students can learn to help them work toward their goals. Feedback can take many forms: Teachers might notice and name what students are already doing, redirect them to try something more goal-aligned, or prompt to coach students along in their practice. Feedback should be clear, descriptive, and immediate. 

As you get to know your students through conferring and other formative assessments and decide together on goals, you will start to feel as though you have a general plan for your conferring time. When you sit alongside each student, remember what his goal is and check in to decide what strategy and feedback to offer each day to support him. This allows you to be responsive to a student’s strengths and needs without being overwhelmed with every possible behavior and skill as a possibility. When you are freed up to make a teaching decision quickly during each conference, you can spend a majority of the conferring time practicing with the student. That’s when the true learning happens!

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Jennifer Serravallo, a literacy expert and New York Times bestselling author, presented at the 26th Annual Model Schools Conference in Orlando this year. Her upcoming books include Understanding Texts & Readers (September 2018) and A Teacher's Guide to Reading Conferences (early 2019). 

While MSC 2018 has come and gone, you can hear more from other thought leaders and speakers at our Leadership Academy 2018: Leading With Vision in Atlanta from Nov. 2–4, 2018.