The workshop model has absolutely changed the way I teach and think about students. I love the insights into their thinking that I now have, that somehow I never used to have with the traditional way of teaching literature.
But conferring is my constant challenge.
I talk to students all the time, yet I don’t talk to them enough.
The all the time is in the form of hallway conversations, the check-ins during lunch, and when I ensure that they have enough to read over the upcoming break or weekend.
It’s the mini-lesson, checking for understanding, making sure they “get it” conferences that I wish I could do more of, and I wish I could do better.
I did discover one strategy that works for me and my students, and I’ll share it here.
First, a little bit of background: this year our high school has the Readers Workshop class separate from the Writers Workshop class. It’s also the first year for us with the workshop model in any form, so teachers and students are learning together. It’s fun!
The writing teachers set their students up with writers notebooks, and there was some discussion regarding how to integrate, add, or separate the readers notebooks from the writers notebooks.
Instead of a traditional spiral notebook, I landed on using two google products for the readers notebook: Hapara and Blogger. The students each started a blog on Blogger, and I manage it all using Hapara. I have loved them for a couple of reasons.
First: portability. I don’t have to lug heavy real-life notebooks to and from school. I can read their entries online, any time, any where. Students can respond to literature from their phones, tablets, and laptops, and they don’t have to worry if they have their readers notebooks with them or not – because of course they do, they can access Blogger as long as they have the internet. Also, even without internet, they can add entries into the notes app on their phones to post later.
The second, and I think better reason that Hapara is a great tool for readers notebooks and workshop is because it allows the workshop catch and release model that our literacy consultant, Stevi Quate, described to our department last fall.
It’s both authentic and immediate.
From my computer screen, I can see what all of my students are doing, almost at the same time.
If I just hover my mouse over their current (or any) post, I can read what they’ve been typing, which of course gives me insight to the important part: the thinking.
I can see if they are typing, what they are typing, and what they are thinking. And I can read everyone’s writing in about two minutes. I can do this from my desk, from a different room, or from a different country.
I can’t do that when I walk around the room and try to discover who needs help.
When I see a student is on the right track, I move on to the next.
If someone is not producing much evidence of his or her thinking, I make a note of it and quickly check to see if anyone has similar issues, or immediately go to that student and check in to find out why and how I can help.
If I see that two or more students are struggling with the same concept or task, I can group them and confer immediately.
I don’t have to wait for them to publish their blogs; I can see the posts in draft form, catch any misconceptions they might have, and help when my help is needed. Then I release them back to the good work I now know they can do.
Below is a screenshot of the Hapara Hover – this particular blog post that this student was working on was a reflection about the goal setting they’ve done this semester, but you can see that whatever the task might be, I can check on progress as the students are working in class.
For example, a few weeks ago I asked my students to write about whether or not the narrators in their books were reliable or unreliable. My lesson went something like this:
- Book Talks
- Mini Lesson with mentor text about unreliable narrators (this was mind-blowing for some of the students who had always assumed that authors and narrators could and should be trusted – fun!)
- Respond to the literature, independent reading, student-teacher conferring (the work part of the class)
- Regroup and dismissal
During part three of class, from the comfort of my own desk and chair, I watched the students type and think, on my screen, for a few minutes before I began moving about the room to confer with students.
I noticed that most of the students needed a two-minute reminder about perspective and point of view, so I caught them and taught them as a whole class. Then I released them back to their work.
When I noticed, based on what she was typing, that one of my solid readers still needed help with understanding the idea of an unreliable narrator, I caught her as an individual and gave her immediate feedback. Then I released her back to her own work.
When I noticed that a group of more than one of my students wasn’t immediately jumping into the task, I was able to quickly catch and confer with them as a small group and help explain the directions in a different way. I then released them back to their work.
I like this better than pencil and paper because of its immediacy. I don’t know how long it might have taken me to read everyone’s completed quick-writes. It would have been at least a few days before I would have gotten back to those students, and by then the task is over… the thinking has moved on…
I know that Penny Kittle says that my students should write more than I can read, but I do think that this is one way to stay a little bit more caught up with the student writing. I know I won’t be able to read it all, but I can read at least a little bit more.
When I can see what the students are thinking now, and the students can pivot and redirect their thinking now, together we can tackle some challenging learning targets and create some solid reading habits.
I can catch the students who need help, motivation, or reminders, and quickly help them move in the right direction. Then I can release them back to their work and their thinking, and watch them go.
I think that’s the point of conferring, so Blogger and Hapara are tools that I’m happy to use and recommend.
It’s technology that improves learning.
The strategy is powerful and immediate.