Let's face it, one-on-one support—whether for students or teachers—is extremely helpful but often not a skill we're all comfortable practicing. Liz Janusz, ELA instructional coach in Chicago, IL, shows teachers how to take conferring to the next level by modeling individual reading and writing conferencing with students.
ndividual conferencing remains one of the most impactful practices to engage in as a classroom teacher. Working one-on-one with a student to uncover their greatest areas of need, while providing specific and targeted instruction, is something that takes time and practice to feel comfortable with. As instructional coaches, we're in a unique position to support teachers as they develop this skill set. Here's how!
Teachers come to the table with a variety of experience and information about conferring. It's the job of an instructional coach to meet them where they're at, so the first thing I do is ask teachers to complete an informal needs assessment. This serves as my starting point, helping me gauge their overall feelings about conferring. From there, I can begin to plan the route that will be most powerful for the teacher concerned. As with any new initiative, it can help to begin by asking for volunteers first! I simply ask for willing teachers to email me so I can reach out to them and set up times to meet with them.
Once a goal is set, I work with each individual teacher to create a timeline of what our work will look like. We'll typically arrange a time for me to come into their classroom to model a reading or writing conference and the teacher will pick a few students out for me to focus on ahead of time. (Teachers usually end up selecting students that are either significantly above or below grade level expectations). We also set a target end date for our conferring cycle.
Pro tip: Always schedule your next meeting during your current one to keep up momentum!
As teachers, we know that in order for our students to be successful we must provide them with a lot of modeling before we ask them to try something independently. The same is true when working with teachers.
When I get into the classroom for the first time, the teacher and I meet quickly to go over our goals for the session. The teacher then introduces me to the students she would like to observe me conferring with. I usually pull out a chair next to the student and have the teacher stand behind us so the student doesn't feel overwhelmed: Modeling a conference for a teacher can get tricky because of how intimate it is to meet individually with a student.
I begin by doing "research" on the student. This could be listening to them read something aloud or having them read something that they are currently writing. While I'm listening to the student read, I'm figuring out what my teaching point will be. It could be something I notice they're struggling with, or it could be something new that I want to teach that would enhance what they're working on. When I have decided on my teaching point, I spend a minute or two explicitly teaching it to them and then provide scaffolding while the student tries it on their own. I always end a conferring session by leaving the student with some sort of tangible take away. It could be a sticky note with a graphic organizer sketched on it or a goal for the student to continue working towards.
After I complete the first conference, I have a quick debrief with the teacher right there in the classroom. I ask them what they noticed, answer any questions they might have, and ask for one thing that they would be able to take back into their teaching right away. Depending on time, I may model one more conference, but during that first visit I’m doing all the modeling.
In between the classroom visits, I usually ask the teacher to try a few one-on-one conferences by themselves so they can begin to build their comfort level. During my second visit to the classroom we follow a similar plan to the first visit, except we have switched roles: The teacher now leads the conference with the student, and I stand behind observing. After the conference we engage in another quick debrief where the teacher leads the discussion.
As with any coaching cycle, the last step is to meet one-on-one with the teacher for a final debrief. During this time we have a conversation about how the modeling sessions went and discuss the key take-aways that really resonated with the teacher.
Another crucial aspect of this final meeting is to create a plan for the teacher's next steps. I like to recommend to the teachers that they practice at least one conference a day, following the same format that we worked on together. While they are doing this, I encourage them to keep a clipboard with them to jot down any questions that may arise.
When teachers learn to work one-on-one with students, the real magic in the classroom begins to happen. It's important to keep checking back in to see how this work is going, and to support teachers as needed. I like to follow up 2 or 3 weeks later to see if teachers are feeling comfortable with the conferring process and answer any of their lingering questions. Remember, ongoing teacher development is crucial to student success!
About our Guest Blogger
Liz Janusz is an instructional coach at River Valley School in Lemont, IL where she supports 3rd-5th grade students and teachers with all things literacy! Prior to coaching, she worked as a reading specialist and as a classroom teacher.
Liz received her Master’s degree in Reading from Roosevelt University and is currently working towards her second Master’s degree in Administration. She has a huge passion for ensuring that all students should have access to a diverse selection of books.
Be sure to follow Liz on Twitter @mrs_janusz as she shares book reviews, and other tips and ideas, for all different ages of students!