to confer or not to confer…

“Will you meet with every student?” I had an eager student come up to me and ask me after I shared with my class about my workshop routines. I shared how during independent reading or writing time I will meet with students individually or in small groups. My student seemed genuinely excited about getting feedback and conferring with me, which is the kind of response you want.

One of my #teachergoals (see my previous post) is to improve my feedback and I feel that conferring is the perfect place to start. In order to improve in this area, I needed to first improve how I keep my conferring notes. I’ve tried quite a few different ways to keep track of my conferences from a big 3 ring binder with tracking sheets, clipboards with student names on each box, to using different apps on my iPad (confer and evernote).

This year, I decided to go back to paper, but I created my own conferring notebook. I didn’t like the models I’ve used in the past and I had trouble finding a template that fit what I wanted, so I created my own. I wanted it to be simple enough and without too many categories, but I wanted to focus on a few areas like small group instruction, individual student goals, and teaching points.

So my DIY conferring notebook looked like this:IMG_1477

In the beginning I put a class roster page, so I can keep track of which students I meet with for individual and small group conferences. Then, I have a few pages of conference tips/reminders, and then a section for small group conferences that I can plan out in advance for the week.

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The main section of my conferring notes are pages for my individual students which I color coded each name with a label. Then, I put a goals sheet in front of each student’s section of notes so I can make sure I know what their goals are and I can check off when I the student meets a goal. So in theory it should all work out perfectly, but we’ll see how things go.

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For my writing workshop conferences, I’ve started conferring individually and in small groups for our narrative unit. When I go around to confer, I bring my conferring notebook along with my writer’s tool kit. The writer’s tool kit is something I learned from a summer writing institute I went a few years ago. Christy Curran, from the Teachers College Reading and Writing Project, shared this idea in a workshop about carrying a writer’s tool kit for the different genres (narrative, opinion, and informational) you teach. Inside my writer’s tool kit, I’ve have sections for: charts, mentor texts, writer’s notebook, and post-its & stickers. It’s an easy way to carry these tools around with you for easy access during a conference. I use the post-its to write the teaching point and compliment I give to my student. They keep the post-it note in their notebook to remind them about what we talked about.

It’s easy when the students are reading or writing independently to try to get other “stuff” done, but think about that student that is eagerly waiting to get your feedback, so keep conferring friends!

How do you keep track of your conferences? Please share any great ideas with us!

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Author Visit with Rukhsana Khan

Our school hosts various authors throughout the year,which is pretty amazing, considering we are all the way in Singapore! This year, we had an author visit from a well known children’s author, Rukhsana Khan. Her books include Big Red Lollipop, Muslim Child, and The Rose in My Carpet. Not only is she an amazing and accomplished author, but she was a captivating speaker! The room full of 5th grade kids were engaged, excited and laughed as they listened to her stories.

In one of our sessions with her, she shared her story about immigrating to Canada from Pakistan at a young age. She shared about her different struggles including being seriously bullied for being different in her school.   She shared with us her journey to becoming a writer and the funny stories along the way. She had the entire audience eagerly waiting to hear what happened next. (I don’t think I’ve ever met a writer who wasn’t an amazing story teller!)

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Rukhsana also shared a few stories of teachers that made a strong positive impact on her life and encouraged her to write. One teacher had her keep a creative writing journal. She even brought in the journal and showed us the letter that the teacher wrote to her after an entry. One of the students asked her to read it aloud. She shared the positive feedback that the teacher wrote in her notebook calling her a poet.

Our words can impact our students positively or negatively. I was reminded of the power that I have as a teacher. I was reminded that I need to continue to tell my students that they are writers. Thank you Rukhsana for inspiring our students and even our teachers!

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Also, I found out that our school hosts an annual children’s literature conference! How cool is that?! This year it will take place from Feb. 1-3rd. We will have the following authors presenting: Chris Crutcher, Kadir Nelson, Laura Vaccaro Seeger, and Deborah Wiles.  I can’t wait to meet and learn from them! Check out the website for more information on registration and the authors.

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Writing Across the School

Every year, our school has a tradition, where we write across the different elementary classrooms around common photos/drawings/paintings. It started off a few years ago, where during the first time, we used the famous illustrations from Chris Van Allsburg‘s, The Mysteries of Harris Burdick. Each of his drawing has a line that goes with it. The students from all of the elementary classes, each chose one of the photos to write about. They each wrote their own story, starting with the line from the photo. Then, we hung up all the stories for each photo on the walls of our school. It was so interesting to see the different stories that students came up with from Kindergarten to 5th grade.

Last year, we used photos from different Allen Say books. He has great photos in his picture books with Asian characters. This year, our theme is Norman Rockwell. We are using different paintings of his that the students are writing stories about. Our awesome literacy coach made color copies of the photos and laminated 2 sets so the elementary teachers can borrow them. Here are a few of the paintings the students can choose from.

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I’m excited to see what kind of stories the students will come up with this year!

P.S. Melody is going to the EARCOS 2012 conference next week in Bangkok, Thailand! Anyone else going to be there?!