Conferring with Readers

I worked with a group of teachers today around reading conferences.  We talked about the wide variety of conferences that happen in our classrooms.  We all have the classic Research-Decide-Teach conference structure in our repertoire, but the reality of classroom life is that not every conference follows that format.  We decided to make a list of the types of conferences we actually conduct with our students.

  1. Classic Research-Decide-Teach conference
  2. Compliment Conference: in this conference we do the research portion of the classic conference.  We explore what they’re doing as readers.  Then we identify one thing to compliment.  We look for one strategy or skill that we want the child to continue to use and we highlight it and compliment the child.  Then we walk away, leaving the child on a high note.  This conference practically guarantees that the child will continue to do that particular strategy and will solidify it into their repertoire.
  3. Assessment Conference: here we spend our time gathering information on the child.  We’re not researching in the same way as the classic research.  We might be taking a running record on a child.  We might be talking through a reading inventory or a survey.  We might be running through a quick check on sight words or phonics skills with younger readers.  We assess, record data, and thank the child.
  4. Tip Conference: this conference may include the research component,  but then offers the child a quick tip that they can implement immediately. It is not as specific or weighty as a teaching point.  But it is actionable and immediate for the child.
  5. Coaching Conference:  This is an opportunity to coach a student through the execution of a process that we’ve already taught them.  We work on transfer and independence by building success.
  6. Pre-researched Teach Conference: this is probably my oldest standby.  I would take data from assessments such as the F&P, and I have pre-determined what I need to teach this child.  I don’t invest my conference time in research, I use the information from the assessments.  I spend the time in the conference on teaching and coaching the student on the skill that I’ve selected.

Digital Tools: Camera

I promised you the other super easy, super effective tools that Kristen Ziemke shared.  So, next up:  the camera on the ipad or laptop.

  1.  Take a selfie with your favorite book (and for bonus points, post it to Padlet!).  This creates a status of the class for the teacher, but it also creates a menu for the students of what they might read next.
  2. Video reflections:  Students make a quick video of their thinking or reflecting on what they’ve done for reading/writing work.  Essentially the video serves as an exit slip.
  3. Record partnership conversations.  You know how we send students off to work in partnerships and we wish that we could listen in?  Well, having students record their partnership work allows us to do just that.  And it lifts the level of the partnership work just by the presence of the recording device.


I spent last Thursday with Kristin Ziemke, learning about ways to incorporate technology in meaningful and effective ways.  One of the things that she said that stuck with me was “we need effective pedagogy before we grab onto technology”.  Well, she spent the rest of the day giving us both effective pedagogy and effective technology.

One tool that she shared (I promise I’ll share the others too) was Padlet.  Now, I was not new to Padlet.  I’d used it in staff development sessions before.  But I had never realized the pedagogical potential of it.  So here’s how I’m planning on making use of Padlet with both teachers and kids.


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  1.  Creating a curated set of resources:  Padlet will allow you to collect a set of resources that you have pre-approved for student use.  This prevents the problem of students wandering aimlessly through the internet in search of resources for a project or report.
  2. Status of the class: Kristin had the kids take selfies with their current independent reading book and post to padlet.  It gives the teacher an instant status of the class snapshot.  I started to imagine ways you could do the same thing with projects in Science or Social Studies as well.  This might mean the end of late night, last minute projects.
  3. Exit slips: I’m always looking for a way for kids to quickly show teachers that they’ve grasped a lesson.  A quick snapshot of work posted to padlet gives the teacher a whole class view of how everyone is doing.  Imagine a padlet of snapshots of math problems, Words Their Way sorts, sorts of fiction and nonfiction titles, sorting living and non-living things — the possibilities are endless!
  4. Book reviews: students take a selfie with the book that they’re reviewing and post a few lines about the book.  Instant book recommendation board for the rest of the class to use when they can’t decide what to read next.


I am obsessed with TED talks these days.  This one talks about choices and why we should NOT be giving our students unlimited choices.


After we watched this TED talk,  a few of us got to talking about personalized learning and student choice.   We realized that with the advent of the 1:1 initiative, we were in serious danger of giving our students TOO MANY choices.  The internet and the digital environment provide limitless options – but that doesn’t mean that our young learners should be encountering that vast expanse of uncharted territory.

Our children easily become overwhelmed by choices.  Our instructional decision-making about digital learning is no different than our instructional decision-making about other things.  We provide scaffolded choices.  “You can do A or B.”  With older students we might even offer A, B, C, or D.  But we don’t offer the whole wide world.


Coaching Workshop

My colleagues and I had the pleasure of working with Peter DeWitt the past few days during a coaching workshop.  I loved one particular statement that Peter made (which is not to say that there was not one metric ton of great stuff — I promise, I’ll share my notes later).

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DataWise: MOOC

You really want to head over here and register for Harvard’s DataWise MOOC.  For those of you who have not experienced a MOOC before, this is free online coursework that is the same as what you would get if you went to Harvard for the week.


I attended the DataWise Institute at Harvard a few summers ago.  It was a phenomenal experience.  The presenters were dynamic and engaging.  We heard from top of the line experts in education.  We had opportunities to engage with one another around specific data in our building.  It changed so many things, big and small, about the way that we operate in our school.

Now, Harvard and DataWise have launched this as a MOOC. This means that you and your team can attend this same amazing institute without traveling to Boston, without applying to Harvard, without any of the hassle.  You can do this in your jammies with a glass of wine.

This would make a great group goal for a grade level or a team within a school.  Attend the MOOC and transform your practice.

Its that time of year!!

The beginning of the year — a clean, fresh slate, a chance to do it over again and get it better this time.  Notice, we’re never going to get it “right” — but we can always get it better.  We are the only profession in the world that gets TWO chances at New Year’s Resolutions.


I’m talking with many teachers about setting expectations and establishing routines for monitoring student behavior and learning.

Here are some posts I’ve collected that are some of the strategies I’m reminding my teacher to use:

Google Forms for Reading Logs

Work Mats for Support Student Choice

A Sample Launch Unit

Using the Teaching Board to Sharpen Minilessons

Using a Teaching Folder to Organize Your Work

Staying Organized

Read Alouds To Start the Year

Starting the 1:1 Environment

For the last couple of years, I’ve supported a school that was piloting the 1:1 digital initiative for our district.  This year, that initiative is rolling out to all of our elementary schools.  I’m supporting three other schools who are NEW to the initiative.  At our staff training session today, there were a lot of “what if” concerns about the logistics of moving forward with the ipads in the classrooms.

“What if the students forget to charge their ipads?”

“What if someone comes into our classroom and takes an ipad?”

“What if the students forget their ipads altogether?”

“What if we run out of chargers?”

“What if a child logs into someone else’s Drive account or other account?”

What if, what if, what if…. This is a group of high energy, deeply committed professionals who wanted to make sure that they were being thoughtful and planning for a successful implementation.  They were trying to anticipate as many of the “speed bumps” as possible.  And they were trying to plan for solutions and preventative measures.  But it soon became almost overwhelming — there were so many “what ifs”.

What I realized as I worked with this group is that the SAMR model is important for us as teachers to keep in mind.

graphic created by Kathy Schrock:

graphic created by Kathy Schrock:

We are at the SUBSTITUTION level of the model.  We are taking these digital devices and apps and substituting them into our classrooms for things that we already do.  This is important work for us to do.  We cannot hope to move beyond the substitution level if we don’t move THROUGH it.  We are not yet at augmentation or modification.  And we cannot begin to plan appropriate augmentative or modified solutions.  We need substitution level solutions.

So, what if a child forgets his ipad?  Well, what do we do when the parallel problem happens in our classrooms now?  What do we do when that child forgets his math book or his writer’s notebook?  The same solution should apply.  It is substitution.  We are at the substitution level.  And we need to own that and embrace it.

Self-Monitoring Illustrations

One of my groups of second graders were publishing a personal narrative recently.  The biggest struggle in the final part of the process seemed to be illustrating the work.  Their teacher had done quite a bit of work with them around what makes a good illustration, but for a few of our friends, keeping a critical eye on their own work was a challenge.

So, for those children, Gianna and I tried out a quick self-monitoring checklist:

The students used the quick little checklist to become more independent and monitor their own illustrating work.  The improvement in illustrations after the checklist was remarkable — and the level of independence was impressive.

Partner Sentences in Second Grade

Usually, partner sentences is a strategy that I teach in kindergarten or early first grade to get our students to produce more volume in their writing.  But today, Jen and I used it with her second graders in their biography unit.

The students has done quite extensive research on a person of interest.  They had read multiple biographies both online via PebbleGo and from our Media Center.  Along the way, they had done some rudimentary note-taking using a graphic organizer that Jen had provided for them.  Then the students had completed a poster for display in the classroom Biography Museum.  As a final culminating project, the students were preparing for a multi-media presentation using their choice of Educreations or Touchcast.  They needed to write a brief script for themselves for that presentation.  Again, Jen provided them with a bare-bones graphic organizer for how that script might be structured using the structure for information writing that they’ve been using this year.

As students began working, it became clear that they had internalized a great deal of information about the person they had studied.  And so, I urged the small group working with me to consider a partner sentence strategy — one from my head, and one from my notes.  The children started by writing one sentence “from their heads”, in other words, one fact that they could easily remember.  Then, they scoured their notes for a related fact that contained a specific detail that wouldn’t be easily recalled.  That statement with the specific detail became the partner sentence “from the notes”.  With this quick strategy, the children got an opportunity to practice organizing facts into related categories and to expand on their writing by adding a more specific detail.  And, they had an opportunity to experience the process of checking back into their notes for information.