The Small Group and Conferring Institute at Teachers College is four days long and so here is the breakdown:
Day 1: Writing & Conferring
Day 2: Writing & Small Groups
Day 3: Reading & Conferring
Day 4: Reading & Small Groups
DAY 1: WRITING & CONFERRING
I could have spent the whole institute on Day 4: Reading & Small Groups, but I’m reminded that conferring is at the heart of workshop. It gets to so many core beliefs about why we do workshop. There are two that come to mind. The first is how conferring supports relationships and building a community of learners. In our building we say, “It’s all about relationships.” I love that! Through conferring we can uncover a student’s intentions as a writer, which not only allows us to know a student better, but leads to the second core belief: Choice.
When we work with students, letting them lead the conference, making decisions about what do work on next as a writer, we get buy-in, engagement, and motivation. Cha-ching! Actually, I lied, there’s a third, accountability. I can see & support the skill or strategy the student is working on right there, on the spot. Talk about immediate feedback!
A huge take-away for me across both of these days is that we need to be incredibly intentional about the work we give students, so that it is replicable, that they can do it on their own, again and again. Getting students to independence is our end-game. That’s why it’s so important we give them meaningful and authentic work and strategies to get there. We have to have our own reading and writing lives so we know how to break down a skill or strategy into steps. in order to be able to guide students through this work. As a scaffold for us we have resources like Jennifer Serravallo’s books The Writing Strategies Book and The Reading Strategies Book. It's a process of incorporating these instructional practices into our repertoire of teaching moves. We need to remember that and not be so hard on ourselves. That's also why I love this work it's a journey. Enjoy the journey!
Our reading and writing workshops are all about building habits for students; helping them develop those, "go to" reading and writing moves, that move them forward in their learning. We don’t want them dependent on us for that. We want our students in charge of their own learning. And that is all wrapped up in the nuance of our teaching language.
So conferring is key because it supports:
- Accountability & Independence
Here are a few other nuggets from Day 1:
- “If you don’t have an idea to say ‘more’ about in your writing, then how about you write a bunch of short entries until you find something to say more about.” I think this is a great idea! It takes the pressure off and gives the student choice.
- Conferring is a balance between responsive teaching (based on your “research” in the conference) and planning your teaching point ahead (based on looking at student writing).
DAY 2: WRITING & SMALL GROUPS
This all lead into Day 2: Writing & Small Groups. Amanda Hartman talked about how so may of the things are the same about conferring and small groups. Ultimately, small groups comes out of trends you are noticing in your conferring and makes your teaching more efficient. Here's a list of the different kinds of small groups:
Kinds of Small Groups
1. Table Conference: Ways to support habits and behaviors.
- Start with observing behaviors
- Confer with one student
- Complement the whole table
- Highlight one students’ strategies
- Then check in with each student
2. Start with an Individual Conference
- Notice what the student needs instruction in
- Gather a few more kids that need the same thing
3. Repertoire Small Group: Reminding them of something and watching them do it more. Check in with each person.
4. Using small groups to support partner work. Partners use the sign while listening to each other(one side: “Keep Going” Other side: “Oops!”) and the teacher coaches with lean coaching prompts.
5. Inquiry Using a mentor text or a piece of writing, have students notice craft moves and discuss. Coach students in their thinking and discussion about how and why this is helpful and how they can apply to their own writing.
Other nuggets from Day 2:
- We don’t need to look for a mentor text for every trait. We can find a handful of books that support many traits.
- First read of a mentor text, just read and let students get connected to the text.
- After a key mini-lesson, then take more time for small group to repeat, so you can allow more time for guided practice.
- The work we confer with students about should be BIG enough so they are working on it across many days in order to acquire the skill or strategy.
- Multiple Tries - How many times did the students actually practice? We have to set the expectation and teach students to work during small group instruction.
- Most small groups don’t have a demonstration. It takes too long. We want kids WORKING and us COACHING with LEAN prompts.
- Look for patterns in our teaching. What are the variety of scaffolds we use and do we differentiate? Or are we saying the same thing to each student in the small group.
- When you have tools (create a conferring toolkit), checklist or chart at the ready and your coaching prompts it helps us to not talk so much. So kids have more time to practice. This also gives students something else to rely on besides you.
Variety of Scaffolds at our Disposal
- Explain and Example
- Restate the Teaching
- Give Directions or Prompts
- Ask Students to Think About Their Own Work
- Point to or Offer a Tool (Chart or Mentor Text)
- Use Gestures
Goals for Small Group Instruction:
- Longer and mostly practice (10 minutes-ish)
- Dr. Mary Howard - The one important thing to remember. “Meet with kids more frequently for less amount of time.” We don’t have to meet with all kids the same amount of time, but all kids should get equity.
- Variety of Scaffolds: More or Less Scaffolds
- What are the prompts that I use
- How do I provide support and feedback in small group
- You can coach with a variety of moves
- Restate the teaching point
- Show a chart or checklist
- Did you respond to each student differently
- Did you stay on the teaching point
- Who needs more? Who needs less?
- Multiple Tries - How many times did the students actually practice?
- Series of Small Group Work
- Make them as engaging as possible
- Lead students to work with more independence
For me I definitely want to get students working during the small group, so I can see them taking multiple tries at a strategy or skill. It feels a little like whack-a-mole, but I think the more I practice the better I'll get at it. I also want to be reflective of the different kinds of prompts I'm using to coach in small group. Am I saying the same thing to each student or am I differentiating?
What are your goals for small group instruction?