Isabel Sawyer's picture

Offering Your Full Attention to the One Sitting by Your Side

"The average higher-achieving students read approximately three times as much a week as their lower-achieving classmates, not including out-of-school reading."

Richard Allington

Lucy Calkins and Donald Murray both have said about writing conferences that the writer should leave the conference wanting to write. This is also true about reading conferences. The reader should leave the conference wanting to read—both our higher-achieving and lower-achieving students.

Conferring is at the heart of the literacy work educators do when growing young readers and writers. Through one-on-one conferences, community is built and important life skills are modeled (like listening and empathy). However, most importantly, through conferring is how students’ individual needs are met and literacy instruction is differentiated.  Conferring is not a glossy add-on that just makes us feel good—it’s absolutely the critical component in our core instructional work with students.

Not only is conferring the heart of our daily instructional work, it is just as critical a component during the intervention work we do with students. Patrick Allen writes in his article “Eliciting Joy: Exploring New Territories Through Reading Conferences,” “I don’t do much small-group work anymore—don’t have to—because through conferring and wise large-group instruction, I’m not compelled to group students based on a level or a number. Because I confer every day, I know that I am meeting individual readers’ needs in the most direct and effective way.”

When a student moves into the intervention room, we should not stop what decades of research tells us is an effective instructional practice—instead we should harness its power, make it more focused and occur more often to support our struggling readers and writers. The trick is supporting teachers in their professional learning about conferring. One-on-one conferences are challenging but as we know, it’s critical to growing and nurturing young readers and writers. Jen Serravello says that it takes two years of solid and thoughtful practice to become skilled at conferring. Sadly, most teachers view their jobs as crafting lessons for thirty students and not necessarily digging deep with one child.

Here are some resources for helping your teachers think more deeply about the power of conferring and the structures that need to be in place in classrooms in order for one-on-one conferences to take place:

Debbie Miller writes that “we reach, touch and teach by being present, putting ourselves in the moment and focusing our full attention on the one sitting by our side.” I think that is a reminder we all can heed—let’s focus our full attention on the one sitting by our side.

Isabel Sawyer, PhD, is a Regional Director at Center for the Collaborative Classroom. She presents keynotes, workshops, presentations, and professional development for teachers, literacy coaches, and administrators across the country. Previously Isabel worked as a lead instructional coach for Albemarle County Public Schools and as an instructional coordinator for an inner-city school in Charlottesville, Virginia. Isabel holds her PhD from the University of Virginia and serves as an adjunct instructor in UVA's Curry School of Education. She has presented at local, state, and national conferences and worked with schools across the country as an independent consultant. 

 

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