Conferring with Readers 101: Strategies to Refresh your Conferring Work By Courtney Kinney

As the school year progresses and you get to know your readers better each week, have you reached the point when you sit down with a reader you’ve read with many times before and you ask yourself, “What am I going to teach this reader that I haven’t already discussed with them?” “What does this reader need for me to teach them to push their thinking?” “What am I going to say to this reader that they will take away with them and apply?”   Well, if you’re asking yourself these questions, you’re not alone!   It is with these questions in mind that we suggest some strategies to refresh your conferring work with you readers.

Note-Taking is Key

Portable and Meaningful.  Consider the way in which you record your daily conversations with your readers.  Do you have a note-taking system that works for you?  Do you have a place that you record the ideas that you’ve discussed during your daily conferring?  Is the system you have working for you or just adding an additional thing to your to-do list?  Consider using a three-ring notebook to store all your conferring notes for quick organization, but taking out a sheet with your entire class listed and attaching it to a clipboard for your daily conferring.  One sheet of paper on a clipboard is light, manageable, and easily taken on the go around your room during conferring.  Think about an easy way for you to record the information you discuss during conferring that is manageable and easily portable. Leaving tracks of your conferring sessions with your readers is key.

Artifacts.  Also consider traveling around the room with a stack of post-it stickies and a pen.  When you’ve discussed a new strategy with you reader, you may choose to write a quick reminder of the strategy on the post-it and leave this artifact behind for the reader to have.  They may choose to place it in their reading notebook for future reference.  Just as leaving tracks of your conferring sessions in your notes helps you refer back to past conversations, leaving an artifact with your reader enables them to refer back to their previous learning.

Compliments Will Get You Everywhere!

Naming It.  If you name it, so it shall be.  Acclaimed writer Katherine Bomer suggests naming things for writers that they are doing well enables them to find the hidden gems in their writing.  So it is with readers: naming the things they are doing well and complimenting them on them enables our readers to identify their strengths as readers and to continue doing them.  So powerful it is to exclaim, “Can I give you a compliment? I think it was fantastic the way you went back to that tricky word and tried looking in the picture for a clue! Whenever you get stuck on a tricky word, try out that strategy again; it seems to be working for you really well!”  If you name out explicitly and specifically what they are doing well as readers, they are more apt to continue doing it.  And, your readers will be more open to trying out the strategy you teach them next during conferring after you’ve pointed out something they are doing well.

Idea Generator.  When you find yourself asking the question, “What do I teach this reader?” it’s time to look back at the compliments you’ve given other readers!  Once you’ve researched your reader, complimented them on something you think they are doing well, it’s time to teach them a strategy they can apply anytime they are reading.  If you’re out of ideas as to what to teach about what thoughtful readers do, look back at your conferring notes with other readers and scan the compliments you gave them.  Are any of these reading strategies or reading behaviors things you’d like to see this reader do?  If so, suggest this strategy to them: “Today I’d like to teach you…”  Continue teaching strategies on the line of growth with this reader based on compliments you’ve given other readers.

Videotaping for Reflection

Digital Reflection.  Consider videotaping a conferring session with one of your readers and reflecting upon it.  Have you ever wondered what you look like teaching? Have you ever had the opportunity to videotape your teaching and see yourself in action? If not, or if it’s been a while, consider videotaping yourself conferring with a reader.  You’ll see why this can be a powerful tool in self-reflection and pushing your thinking even further.  Yes, you’ll have moments while watching it where you’ll think, “Is that truly how I sound?” and you’ll definitely say, “Gosh, I say the word ____ so many times, do I really say that word that much?”  Beyond those initial critiques that we all have, watch yourself for the moves you make during your conferring.  How much time do you spend with each reader? Do you begin with some research? Do you name your compliment specifically? Are you explicit in the strategy you teach your reader? Much valuable learning can be accomplished by simply reflecting upon our practice.  If you’re brave, consider watching it with a colleague and getting their feedback.

Conferring and Reflection in Action.  With this videotaping in mind, here we present our Co-Founder and Director Jessica Martin doing just that: conducting a one-on-one conferring with a reader and then reflecting upon the moves she made and reasons behind those decisions.  We hope you gain much valuable insight from these two videos and consider trying it out yourself this year.

Let us know how your conferring is going this year and any tips you have for making it a manageable and valuable part of your reading workshop.

Written by Growing Educators Staff Developer Courtney Kinney

Top Three Tips For Supporting All Students During Reading and Writing Workshop

As teachers, we are detailed oriented individuals. We truly do “have eyes on the back of our heads,” constantly keeping tabs on our students’ academic and social progress. We scan our rooms looking for places to add student work, display books for our students to read, and if you are like me, you often have thought of new furniture arrangements to squeeze out an extra few inches for your ever-growing students. We, as teachers, are always evolving and looking for the next best environmental accommodations, visual supports, and how to fine tune instructional methods for our students. In our quest for improvement, it is important that we find a “balance,” especially for our students with disabilities. Our students with disabilities should be provided with a predictable routine, environment and instructional supports that they can count on. And, believe me, it is a lot simpler than it sounds. Below are my top three tips for supporting all students, especially those with disabilities.

1.     Simple, Visual Supports

  • Students benefit from a visual schedule that clearly explains what they need to do not only during the day, but during Reading and Writing Workshop.

o   Consider creating small icons next to your schedule on the board. Icons can be hand drawn (i.e. a student writing), or an actual picture of a student writing, for Writing Workshop.

o   Many students benefit from a visual schedule/checklist that explains every aspect of the schedule. The pie chart below provides students with an overview of what to expect in workshop. Although, for many students with disabilities, they do not know what it means to be “in meeting area with teacher” or “working together as a group.” We can provide pictures of what those look like and place them on the chart.

o   Each phrase could also be broken down further in a step-by- step fashion on separate sheets of paper, placed in a binder for students to reference at their desk or tables. For example, “in meeting area with teacher” might have the following steps: listen for the signal to move to the meeting area, bring writer’s notebook and writing tool, sit in my assigned spot, sit cross-legged with my materials in my lap, and listen to the mini-lesson.

o   Alternatively, students could also be provided with a short video of what the teacher expects the room to “look like” and “sound like” during workshop.

Kate 1Kate 2

  • Interactive charts that provide students with a map of where to sit in the meeting area create independence.

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  • Charts that support instructional content ideally have examples and pictures. Charts should also reinforce independence, providing students with strategies to help them throughout each aspect of the writing process.

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2.   Environmental Accommodations

  • Many students with disabilities do not do well within the constraints of a meeting area on a carpet. Feel free to have students stay at their desks, while you present the mini-lesson from the front of the room. This can minimize transition difficulties.
  • Students can benefit from visual timers between each component of workshop, i.e. transitioning from the meeting area to independent writing. It is also helpful for students to know the amount of time expected for independent writing. Many visual timers can often be placed on the board.

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  • If students do gather in a meeting area, students should be able to exit easily if needed. Also, a pacing line (colored tape on the floor) can be used for students who have difficulty focusing during the mini-lesson. The management of the pacing line needs to be clear for all students, i.e. students cannot freely choose to use the pacing line during a lesson.
  • Beanbags, bumpy seats and cushion supports have often been helpful for some students who need assistance focusing during a lesson and independent work time.
  • As much as possible, the environmental arrangement of the classroom should stay as consistent as possible. Students with disabilities benefit from a structured environment that stays the same all year. While minimal changes, such as a rotation of student work on bulletin boards is helpful, rearranging desks, tables and the location of the classroom library can bring unnecessary anxiety and frustration for some students.
  • The classroom library should stay consistent for the entire year. Often, we reveal one aspect of the library at a time, relishing in the element of “surprise.” Students with disabilities often appreciate when everything is laid out to them at once. If you have extra levels of books that cannot be stored in your library, try to store them in a closet that is clearly labeled.
  • It is beneficial if students do not have anything on top of their desks or tables, or even in their desks if at all possible to minimize distraction, and create a clutter free environment. The writing center should store all necessary supplies in clearly labeled bins.
  • For primary teachers who use centers, it is beneficial if every center is color-coded. When called from the meeting area, students can line up on the appropriate line of colored tape on the floor next to the center, and then sit down at the center when directed by the teacher. Then students move from center to center transitioning using the colored taped lines.
  • Cardboard from furniture stores can be cut and placed in between desks. For example, a piece of large piece of cardboard can go between six desks (three on each side), and students can use that to place post-its on, so they have more space for their ideas. It can also serve as a divider to help students focus, and is an alternative to separate dividers around each student, which can be cumbersome.

3.     Instructional Supports During Workshop

  • Students with disabilities benefit from small group instruction during writing and reading workshop. Small group instruction can take place during independent work time, where the teacher can provide additional modeling of the skill or strategy to help students with disabilities. This can be an effective alternative to partnership discussions, because a teacher can facilitate discussion among group members.
  • Graphic organizers are extremely beneficial during the writing process, and can also aid students in recording their thoughts about their reading.
  • Self-Regulated Strategy Development (SRSD), pioneered by Karen Harris and Steve Graham (Arizona State University) contains several graphic organizers that will aid students in the writing process. See –
  • Students with disabilities benefit from multi-media during the mini-lesson, especially with difficult concepts such as theme. For example, showing students a video on Michael Jordan’s career in basketball can be helpful in explaining determination and perseverance to a student.
  • Whenever possible, it is helpful to embed pictures within the sentence starters and graphic organizers. Boardmaker has excellent pictures that can be used for this purpose.
  • Sentence starters that are individualized can be particularly helpful, and also be a part of the graphic organizers. Below is an example of sentence starters used for the conclusion of a literary essay:

               I wish that ___________________.

              This book proves that ______________ and I know that people can learn from this because ___________________.

              My thinking changed because _____________________________.

  • When teaching spelling concepts, utilize student writing to make it as authentic as possible. It is helpful to score students spelling ability in terms of application. Below, I had a student “hunt” for her correct application of several spelling concepts within her writing.

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For additional resources see: I Hate to Write: Tips for Helping Students with Autism Spectrum and Related Disorders Increase Achievement, Meet Academic Standards, and Become Happy, Successful Writers by Cheryl Boucher and Kathy Oehler

Written by Kate Riedell, Growing Educators Staff Developer

Cultivating Independence During Workshop

Notebooks, journals, and book baggies counted and distributed. Check.

Writing pens (a variety of colors, of course) and stacks of post-its, ready for use. Check.

Meeting area and classroom library arranged just so. Check.

As many of us return to our classrooms fresh off a long and adventurous summer, our minds turn to planning and preparation.  Piles of post-its with long ‘To Do’ lists line our teacher’s desk, bags brimming with supplies litter our classroom floors, and books, books, and more books piled high on our student desks, ready to be leveled, ‘stickered’, and placed in our classroom libraries.  As you begin your journey of preparing for the new school year, how are you planning for your launch of an independent workshop?

We recently had an amazing opportunity to spend a day with educators from the Tustin Unified School District doing just that–preparing and planning for their strategic workshop launch.


GE Staff Developer Angela Bae working with Tustin teachers: Thinking about the Grammar Share during an independent writing workshop

Here are our top five tips for building independence with readers and writers during a strategic workshop launch:

  1. Routines and Habits: Consider building in routines, habits, and expectations for how workshop flows in your classroom early on.  As your readers and writers learn what’s expected of them, you will be able to maximize your workshop time.

    How Writer’s Can Prepare for Writing Workshop

    Woodcrest 3

    Woodcrest Elementary School: Routines for Set Up during Writing Workshop in Primary Classrooms

  2. Anchor Charts: Charts build independence for your students.  Your readers and writers will learn to refer to them for strategies and reminders.  Consider a spot in your room where you can hang these charts so readers and writers can easily access them.
    Andrews Chart

    Andrews Elementary teachers, in Whittier City School District, created a chart reflecting upon why they love charts!

    Carlos WWS Collecting Carthay

    3rd Grade Carthay Center Elementary Teacher Carlos Alvarez’s Chart for Building Independence in his Writers during the Collecting Stage of the Writing Process

    Ms. Moore's Process Board

    Woodcrest Elementary’s 2nd Grade Teacher Ms. Moore’s Writing Process Board for Building Independence during Writing Workshop

  3. Partnerships: Consider how you want your partnerships to function in workshop.  Preparing for the purpose and expectations for workshop partnerships and making those explicit to your readers and writers will help build independence.  You might choose to have partners assign themselves A and B (or yellow and orange) status as an efficient way to organize their turn and talk time.


    Building Independent Partnerships: Establish Seating Spaces and Yellow/Orange Status for Partnerships

  4. Mentor Texts and Materials.  Consider how your workshop texts and materials will be organized for independence.  Your readers and writers will learn where to access books and materials, including: post-its, pens, draft paper, publishing paper, and markers.

    TK Library 95th St School

    Lise Traphagen’s TK Classroom Library at 95th Street School in LAUSD

  5. Meeting Areas. Think about how your meeting area will flow and make sense for all your learners.  Consider accommodations you can make to meet the needs for all learning types in your room during workshop.

    Kate's Meeting Area Ideas

    GE Staff Developer Kate Riedell’s Recommendations for Sensory Supports in our Meeting Area to Meet the Needs of ALL Our Learners

Now, with just right books, journals and notebooks, writing pens, mentor texts, and meeting areas prepared and ready for building independence, enjoy your workshop launch this Fall!

Written by Growing Educators Staff Developer Courtney Kinney

Unlocking the Common Core: Insight from Educator Rob Ross

Rob Ross delivering the keynote address at our 2nd Annual Summer Conference on the Teaching of Reading and Balanced Literacy

Rob Ross delivering the keynote address at our 2nd Annual Summer Conference on the Teaching of Reading and Balanced Literacy

We were honored to have renowned educator, literacy expert, former Teachers College staff, director of curriculum and assistant principal of Westminster Charter School in Buffalo, New York, and friend Rob Ross with us this week at our 2nd Annual Summer Conference on the Teaching of Reading and Balanced Literacy.

His keynote speech focused on bringing victory to schools in preparing to implement the common core state standards this fall.  He emphasized it’s how teachers “position” themselves that’s really important when we think about the common core.

In his address, he suggested ten things all educators need in order to gain a victory in the common core era, using the analogy of a soccer game to illustrate his points:

10. Mentors: we all need amazing mentors around us

9. Practice: we need time to practice our craft of teaching

8. Tournaments (being a part of something): attending conferences and bringing back information to colleagues

7. Uniform: everything we need to teach (books, books, and more books! Also, workshop resources)

6. Coaching: it’s about teamwork and coaching each other

5. Work the field: how does reading come alive in your classroom and campus?

4. Referees and Rule Books: our guiding concepts and rules for how we act and what we expect. Community-building: the team is only as strong as the weakest link, so make sure everyone feels they are a part of the team

3. Hmm, left that number out!

2. Play defense: have colleagues support you

1. Goal Post (guarded): your class and students are part of the team. Every teacher on campus makes them who they are.

In a reflective closing, Rob urged us to ask ourselves, “How do I look at the common core with a lens of what’s good for kids?” Books are key he suggested. With “power and passion you will make this work” Rob said. Thank you for an inspiring week Rob!

To hear more from Rob Ross, follow him on Twitter: @RobRossNY

Written by Growing Educators Staff Developer Courtney Kinney

GE Winter Conference 2013: Expository Writing

During our Annual Winter Writing Conference, we focused our sessions on developing our informational writing strategies.  What a success this conference was in enabling teachers and school leaders to understand the importance of expository writing within balanced literacy and writing workshop.  Participants came away with tangible ideas to roll out and develop this writing genre within their classrooms and school sites.  We are so proud of the hard work from all of our participants, especially for taking three days out of their winter break to join us. Kudos!

Teachers journaling during the keynote address by Jessica Martin, Co-Founder of Growing Educators

Jessica discussing with her writing partners topics she can teach others in a procedural text at our writing conference

GE Staff Developer Jodi Manby coaching writers rehearsing their procedural text

GE winter conference on writing in content areas: Teaching note taking to learn and think about new ideas

We hope to see you join us at our next writing and reading conferences this summer.

For more information about these events, click here.

Written by Growing Educators Staff Developer Courtney Kinney