Saturday, August 26, 2017

Let's Get Ready for Conferring!

Small Group and Individual Conferring
For teachers, the bulk of reading or writing workshop should be spent conferring, either with individuals or small groups.  I know I’m constantly trying to improve my conferring skills, whether it be timing, delivery, or getting to enough kids within a workshop session. Following are some wonderful tips I received at a TCRWP institute back in August of 2015,  As we are on the eve of launching a new school year with students, I thought this post might be helpful to keep in mind as our workshops get started.

The “Big Ideas” of Small Group Work
Adapted from a session at TCRWP-August 2015

  1. Small group work IS assessment based-either formal (summative) or informal (formative), what is the student showing you they need NOW?
  2. Small group work IS NOT just for our most struggling students.
  3. In small group work students HAVE to do most of the work.
  4. Small group work provides support, but does not over scaffold.  Kids should feel the struggle. Change the methods in the small groups, not the teaching point, just change the strategies to get to the teaching point.

Assessments we can look at:
  • Look across assessments-writing samples, running records, book logs, response entries, summative data.
  • What will you do with the information you glean?
  • Types of Assessments-formal, formative, observation, etc.
  • On demand prompts, running records
  • Conference notes
  • Notebook entries-length, volume, etc.
  • Checklists-have kids keep a tally of every time they work on a skill, put it right on their checklists.
  • Listen in on partner conversations.

Types of Small Groups

Deeper data-analysis~identify what the student(s) really needs.
Predictable problems~such as a kid isn’t reading or writing!
Find and identify overarching goals and plan a series of small group lessons.
Reteach the mini lesson in a modified way.  
This is type is more like a COURSE.
A complement conference.

Research only conferences-find out more information for the point of putting a student in pre-planned small groups.

This is more like a CLASS.

  • Use the RUOS and WUOS of study learning progressions/rubrics, checklists as a guide.
  • You’re trying to get kids to mastery in small groups on a particular SKILL, not a whole unit.  
  • These are NOT one and done lessons, get kids to independence over time.
  • Group kids with the help of the progressions/rubrics, checklists.
  • Ask yourself, will the small group be a CLASS or a COURSE?
  • Class~a quick tip and they’ve got it! Shorter, very intentional focus.
  • Course~a series of small group lessons to help them move toward independence and mastery. More meetings/lessons, more gradual release.
  • Keep groups to a reasonable size, 4-5.  “Dismiss” kids from the group as soon as they are ready and can demonstrate the skill you’ve taught.  Keep them moving forward.
  • If they really get it, they now become the teacher, especially to their writing partner.

Methods for Small Groups

  1. Demonstration
    1. Needs to be quick.
    2. Like a recipe.
    3. Kids are working, not watching.
  2. Inquiry
    1. Teacher invites students to study something with him/her.
    2. Teacher helps student pull out the skill and transfer into their own work.
  3. Explanation with Example
    1. Referencing something (such as the mini-lesson) mentor text
    2. Something another student has done
  4. Guided Practice and Coaching
    1. Run alongside the reader or writer, lean-in prompts.
    2. Not overtaking
  5. Problem-Solving
    1. Teacher lays out the problem she sees students are having.  Be honest, don’t shy away from the stuff that kids really need to do, and do now!   Name it, teach how to fix and get out of their way!
    2. Teacher coaches and provides feedback.  

Possible Sequence for Small Group “Series-A Course”

Session 1:  Revise and Re-Do
Re-do a  mini-lesson with revision and coach into their reading or writing.
Example:  Try out 3 different leads.  Maybe use explanation with example. Remind of work they’ve already seen or heard.

Session 2: Use a Mentor
If more scaffolding is needed, use mentor text/piece and then coach (optional).
Example:  Check in on work they’ve been doing-they’ve got it, or need more scaffolding.  If they need more scaffolding provide guided practice by using a text or piece of writing that demonstrates the skill well.  It can be a student authored or published author piece.

Session 3:  State and Coach
Quickly check over work they’ve been doing-maybe dismiss 1-2 kids from the group because they’ve got it.  Keep working on the skill with the others.  
Example: Constantly assess as you go, what are they still not getting?  What do they have solid?  What scaffolds and/or accommodations do they STILL need? Name what they are doing right AND what they need to work on.  Consider, Glow, Grow and GO!

Session 4:  Inquiry and Learning Progression (
Review learning progressions, and checklists, students self-assess.
Example:  Bring best piece of example they’ve been working on.  Have student partner up-use checklist, where are you?  They do this independently, then you come back to see work they’re doing.  Kids are now working on their own.  

  • Did it work?
  • Sort of work?
  • What did I learn so far?
  • What can I do better/differently?
  • What will be MY next steps with this group of students?


Reading/Writing Unit:  Narrative
Skill: Students will write satisfying endings that meet the criteria of the rubric/checklist for Grade 3.

Active Engagement
Session #
How Kids Will Practice
Assignment for Next Session
Explanation with Example
Students revise endings, teacher coaches
Revise endings across entries.
Guided Practice
Students practice the skill
Teacher coaches
Teach your partner what you’ve learned.  
State and Coach
Use strategies taught in other genres of work they’ve done
How can they do this in math or science journals?
Look at endings across their work
Identify achieved skill or the need for more scaffolds or teaching.

(Each “title” represents a group-this chart depicts four groups.  Conference means an individual student conference slot.)




Try with one group FIRST
What are kids doing well?
What ONE skill do groups need?
Hang schedule in class so kids can help hold you accountable for meeting days.

  • Individual conferring can follow a similar pattern to small group work in regard to days, and sequence.  
  • Individual conferences should:
  1. Start with a beginning complement for the reader or writer on something they are doing well right now.
  2. Include prompts that don’t say too much-get in and get out!  
  3. Include a teaching point.
  4. Provide think and wait time-give students time to think about what you’ve said, and then wait until they have a chance to respond.  5 seconds should be enough!
  5. Have the student do most of the work.  If you’re asking a child to scoop up more words to read more fluently, then let them try, don’t do it for them.  You might do it with them, but not for them.
  6. Provide teaching that is transferable across many pieces of writing or many different texts.  What will you leave the student with? What will last? What will they hear over and over in their own heads once you leave them?
  7. Coach in a way that helps students strengthen their weaker areas by using their stronger skills.  If you’re trying to help a child become more fluent and he/she keeps losing their place but you know they have strengths in one to one word correspondence ask them to use their “pointer power”.  If they are sounding out words with success on first sounds, but nothing later, ask them to check the picture, or read ahead.   
  8. Include specific non judgemental language
    1. “One thing writers do is…”
    2. “One thing readers do is…”

Hopefully these tips will help us all as we prep and prepare for our individual and small group instruction in workshop teaching!

Thursday, August 24, 2017

The 4 As!

Adult Learning, the 4As and the Connection to Workshop Teaching

In July, 2017, I attended a two day conference with Gene-Thompson Grove.  Gene is a skilled and talented educational consultant who works with the School Reform Initiative.  As an organization, SRI states its mission as, “The School Reform Initiative creates transformational learning communities fiercely committed to education quality and excellence.” (  SRI’s ongoing work fulfills their mission for educators.  I frequently use their protocols when facilitating professional development sessions and have adapted many that I now use with students.  I’ve participated in their “Critical Friends” course and frequently recommend the organization as a reliable, trusted resource.

The conference facilitated by Gene was entitled: “Designing Adult Learning”.  A major focus was on how to build strong, learning tasks through the use of a particular learning sequence.  Gene shared with us the “4-A Learning Sequence: Designing Effective Adult Learning” from Global Learning Partners, the work of Dr. Jane Vella. The suggestion was to use the 4-As to build strong agendas when working with adult learners.

After being introduced to this sequence, I immediately made connections between the 4-A design and writing workshop teaching.  The 4-A sequence is easy to learn, remember, and most importantly apply.  Here is the sequence and how I see it connecting to workshop teaching.

The 4-A Learning Sequence
Description of the A
Relationship to a Workshop Mini-Lesson
In this first stage, learners draw upon their prior knowledge to connect to the topic.  This sets the “anchor” or foundation for new learning to be built upon.
The Connection
Yesterday, we looked at our mentor text for words that helped us see, hear, and feel a scene in a story.  In Come on Rain, by, Karen Hesse we discovered words like: rumbles,broiling, drooping, bunched, bulging, dim, sizzling.
A task or opportunity for the learner to hear, see, experience a new piece of content or information.
The Teaching Point
Today, I want to teach you that writers try out a variety of words that help them describe scenes.  Writer’s don’t always choose the first word that comes to mind.  They play around with language, finding the exact vocabulary that fits best.
An activity, task or event that the learner will do right then and there to practice the skill or strategy.
Active Engagement
Turn and talk to your partner. Share one place in your own writing where you’ve used descriptive language that helps your reader see, hear and feel the scene.  Are you satisfied with that word or can you come up with a better word choice?
A task the learner will complete to tie new learning into a personal action plan or goal.  What the learner will take away and apply.
The Link
As you’re writing today, remember that writers choose their descriptive words carefully.  They try out different words, choosing words that help their readers see, hear and feel the scene.

I’ve already begun using the 4-A design as I plan for future professional development work with my colleagues.  It works beautifully when planning an agenda and being alert (oh my, another A) to what you really want to accomplish (and another!). I’m anxious (what, another A?) to try this sequence within a coaching cycle.  I’ll be teaching the 4-A model to my students as well.  I want them to see, hear and feel how easy it is to consider learning in this sequential way.  I can only imagine the opportunities for them to sail up, up and AWAY!


School Reform Initiative, 2014. “ Resource and Protocol Book-Version 3.0”.  Denver: School Reform Initiative

Global Learning Partners, 2017