Differentiated Instruction has been an educational buzz word for quite some time. The idea of meeting each child at their level can seem overwhelming to say the least. As I look back on the time when this was being focused on in my district, I remember feeling like I would never make it happen. I imagined creating a few different activities for each lesson, varying spelling lists, planning numerous small group lessons and....whew!
There are multiple ways to differentiate instruction, but one that I feel is highly effective, as well as pretty easy to implement is CONFERRING!
Conferencing with students is one of the best ways to meet a student on their level and guide them to the next. These one-on-one sessions may happen during independent reading or writing time. In my classroom, I scheduled students' independent reading time all together. This could happen during the independent reading time of the Reader's Workshop model, or as one "round" of centers. When students are all reading simultaneously, I could either conference with a few students that day, or pull a strategy or guided-reading group, or both! During Writer's Workshop, everyone writes at the same time, so that was my time to conference.
During the 5-7 minutes in which you are conferencing with a student, you pack a powerful punch. You have the opportunity to hear what the student is working on (or not working on!), compliment them as a reader or writer, speak to them about their current goals or strategies, and teach them something new. All the while, you are showing the student that you care about them and are supporting them in their learning! You will also gather vital information about each reader and writer that will guide YOU in your instruction.
Below you will find a list of steps to begin the practice of conferring in your classroom. They should be tried one at a time, and each can be added to your practice as you are ready!
As students are reading or writing, and you ask them a bit about what they are doing as a reader or writer, look for a positive behavior they are exhibiting or a strategy they are utilizing well. Then, let them know that you see what they are doing! Here are a few examples:
"I notice that you are very focused on your book today! You have been keeping your eyes on your book and reading the whole time!"
"The notes you have about the main character really show that you are using clues in the book to get to understand them. Great work!"
"Good writers make sure to have a plan, and I can see that you have one here!"
This step is one of the easiest! You can begin this step with just a pen and a checklist of student names. Keeping track will help ensure that you have met with each student (at least once) each week. It will also help you in a future step!
As you are listening to your students giving feedback about their reading or writing work, you have a chance to consider their next step. If you have given a compliment, then you have an idea of what they are doing well as a reader or writer. This information will help you to identify the skill or strategy that the student is ready to learn. This could be a behavior based on engagement, or a strategy for reading or writing. Then, you get ready for the next step!
This is the step I was speaking of in Tip #2; Remember to Keep Track. Once you have been keeping track, you will be ready to add one more part! This step will take some time to feel as though you have chosen the best way for you and your style of teaching and organizing, but it is EXTREMELY effective in the successful implementation of conferring. In your notes, you can include your compliment and your thoughts for what to teach next. More will be included once you have incorporated more steps!
There are many templates and platforms available for note-taking, and trial and error are the best way to choose the one for you! You could use one page for each student, one page for the class, etc. Try a google search or take a look around Pinterest for different ideas.
Now that you have complimented, kept notes and considered the next step, you are ready to teach your reader or writer something new! This is when you will let your reader or writer know (after giving them their compliment) what you are going to teach them as well as the purpose for this strategy. Then, walk them through the strategy, and give them a chance to practice before you finish the conference.
Finally, encourage your reader or writer to remember this new strategy as they read and write in the future. You can say something like, "as you are reading fiction stories, pay attention to the clues about the change in setting, as it will help you to understand the mood of the story". Be sure to focus on what they will do as a reader or writer, not on the specific book or piece of writing.
Conferring will help you to feel much more in-touch with your students' needs as readers and writers. Compliments help to keep them encouraged, notes help you to track progress and streamline your conferring, and the entire process will give you a concrete way to meet each student where they are in their reading and writing development.
For even more information on conferring, check out my YouTube channel, or join the writing Facebook Group-Transform Writing Instruction K-8 below.