Recently a teacher told me she wanted to focus our coaching work on conferring and in particular on improving her writing conferring notes.
“Why?” I asked.
She paused, “Well, I mean if I have better records then I’m conferring better.”
“How do you see notes helping you do that?”
“I’ll be able to remember what I talked about with students for one and I’ll be able to see trends. Plus I’ll have evidence for reporting to parents and anecdotal notes.”
In the past I might’ve quickly agreed to the professional goal of improving conferring notes because it’s something I believe can enhance conferring. Having a better appreciation for what it takes to change professional habits, I want to make sure teachers have reasons why they want to do it. Sometimes teachers who don’t really have a purpose will take conferring notes while I’m coaching them and then drop it when we wrap up the coaching cycle. Here’s a list of reasons teachers tell me makes investing time on improving conferring notes worthwhile.
1. “Writing it down helps me remember.”
2. “I am more accountable to the students.” This is so true. If I tell a student I’m going to check back with them tomorrow. I need a note reminding me to do it.
3. “I can document what students said even if they didn’t get it down in writing yet.” Speaking and listening is a huge part of writing. When I capture students’ storytelling, I’m validating this work.
4. “I notice trends of the students I’m meeting with more and less often.”
5. “Conferring notes are extremely handy for a note home to families about progress and narratives on report cards.”
6. “In my evaluation, I used my conferring notes as another piece of evidence of student growth.”
7. “I plan instruction based on my notes.”
8. “I quote my kids accurately so I can share their thoughts with peers.”
As a coach, reasons 1, 2, 3, 4, 7 and 8 are a fit for me. In addition I’d add:
9. Conferring notes give me a way to talk specifically about students with the teachers. Especially for teachers who have difficulty taking a strengths-based approach with writers.
10. They are my own record of the types of conferences I’m having so I can see patterns emerge and make sure I’m modeling a variety when I co-confer.
11. They provide another way to model best practices for teachers.
Here is the form I use from the Cafe menu and a sample conferring note from a classroom where I work as a coach:
Ben (Character) Ben falls off his skateboard (Trouble) Detailed pictures, incl labels. Touch/tell. “Ben is an adventure boy. After school he gets on his skateboard.” Asked for spell help: adventure and skateboard. Using word wall.
Next steps: Encourage Kai to stretch sounds on his own, add some words to personal dictionary?
Kai was writing a realistic fiction series about his character, Ben. In a few minutes I noted many of his first-grade strengths (touch/tell, labeled drawings, independence with word wall) as well as possible next steps to work on. When teachers read over my notes they are often surprised by how little I write. I jot, shorten and quote what students tell me. It provides me with exactly what I need the next time I connect with Kai and his teacher.
How do your writing conferring notes benefit your practice?