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I love having writing conferences with my students.  It is one of the best ways to learn about their strengths and goals in writing as well as to get to know them better as students.  How do you decide what to work on with your students during conferences?  I like to use engagement inventories, On-demand writing samples, and previous notes to help be prioritize the skills that will move students forward in their writing.  This post will be the first in a series about writing conferences, focusing on preparing and selecting the skills.

This post shares strategies to prepare for independent writing conferences.  It includes suggestions and resources to find appropriate writing goals for your students.

Engagement Inventory
One of the first things I like to do is get an idea of which students need help with engagement during writing workshop.  Last year, our awesome instructional coach helped with this by conducting a writing engagement inventory while I was working with students.  (If you do not have an instructional coach, you could do this on your own.)  I wrote about writing engagement inventories on a previous post.  You can read about them here.  They are a great way to see the varying levels of stamina during writing workshop.  I found some students were able to stay on task the whole time, some needed some immediate assistance with engagement, and many were somewhere in between.  

I do prioritize engagement as a topic for my first writing conferences.  The most important thing I do here is make sure students have appropriate topics as well as strategies to self-monitor.  More to come on specific strategies I use in conferences on a post in the near future.

On-demand Writing Sample
Before every unit, I administer an On-demand writing assessment to gather information about strengths and possible goals for each unit of writing.  You can read more about On-demand writing assessments here.  After looking through the writing samples, I score them on a district-provided continuum.  (If you are interested a Lucy Calkins continuum, you can find them on the following links: narrative, informational, opinion)  The continuum is extremely useful for matching students to appropriate goals.  After looking closely at the continuum, I make a decision about the best area of focus for each child.  I track this information by listing students' names in the appropriate section of where I think the focus of conferences should be in order to move them forward.  I use this form for writing strategy groups as well.  However, I almost always meet with them individually first to make sure the groups are compatible.  You can download the form by clicking here or on the picture below.  (If you'd like to use the form digitally, you just need to add text boxes.)

This form is great for organizing students into categories based on their writing goals.  It helps organize for independent writing conferences as well as writing strategy groups.

Previous Conference Notes
I use the app Confer to take my conference notes for writing.  This app is no longer available, but I thought it might be helpful to see the categories I include.  I also take a picture of the student's writing to show a place where we worked on the skill together.  I use the comment section for a variety of notes like where they are in the writing process, possible future goals, and level of enthusiasm.


If you are looking for a form to track your information, I found a couple of good free ones on TPT here and here.  I believe that conference notes are invaluable when it comes to making decisions about the most appropriate goals for each student.  The notes do not need to be super lengthy, but they should share where the student is at (compliment), the goal, and the current strategy.

Talk to the Students
In Carl Anderson's book A Teacher's Guide to Writing Conferences, he recommends beginning each conference by asking students what they are working on.  If they answer with a skill that you do not feel is an appropriate goal, you can respond by asking, "What else are you working on?"  Allowing students input on the direction to the conference can give the students ownership in their goals.  Hopefully, this will lead to a more productive writing conference.  I am going to try and add this element to my writing conferences next year.  My notes will likely look slightly different after implementing this.  I will share the results with you on a future post.

I hope to see you back next week for more information about writing conferences.  I will dig deeper into resources and strategies that are designed to move the students forward.

I can't believe we are already at the end of June! We are out of school, but I still have some teaching favorites to share for you this month.  Here are my favorite things that I have found, read, or created.

June teaching favorites include a professional book, new decor, digital resources and more!


Professional Book
This month I read A Teacher's Guide to Writing Conferences by Carl Anderson.  This book was easy to read and full of great advice for conducting writing conferences.  The recommended structure for the conference is to discover what the writer is doing, assess & decide what to teach, and then teach powerfully.  The book focuses on patterns to look for, teaching points that build off mastered skills, and providing quality feedback.  The coordinating online videos show lots of examples of the conferences in action.  My next several blog posts will be a series on writing conferences.  This series will be similar to my reading conference series, and I am sure to reference this book often.

A Teacher's Guide to Writing Conferences provides lots of information and resources to help you organize, conduct, and track your writiing conferences.


Conscious Discipline
At the end of the school year, we had a professional development day devoted to Conscious Discipline.   Being calm and assertive are two key points that were stressed in the workshop.  We also talked about ways to build community, specifically during morning meetings.  One of my favorite take aways is to have a student choose the greeting each day.  I have a daily helper, so my plan is to have them create a handshake for students to use to greet each other.  I will allow about a minute for students to greet each other using the handshake of the day.  I am planning to show students the video below as inspiration.  I like that the handshakes are from NBA teams so students can see how they can help foster community.


You can check out this site to learn more about Conscious Discipline.


My New Decor
For my first three years teaching second grade, I felt like I had every color under the sun in my classroom.  I loved the colorful look, but now I'm ready to change to a simpler color palette.  I going with a palette of turquoise, pink, and lime green.  So far, I only have the numbers cut and laminated, but I love how they look.  Hopefully, that will motivate me to get more done next month, as school will start up again before I know it!  I am using all dots, but there are lots of other options in the student number pack that is in my TPT store.  You can check it out by clicking here or on the picture below.

Fun classroom numbers in pink, turquoise, and lime green dots


Going Digital
I've been working hard on some major updates in my TPT store.  One of my focuses is to create digital versions for my products.  Last week, I posted my first digital product.  I made a set of activities for contractions to use in Google Classroom.  Last year, I was truly amazed by how quickly my second graders mastered using electronic resources.  I definitely plan on making more.  I shared a couple of the slides below.  The activities are differentiated and include a self-correcting quiz on a Google Form. You can see the entire preview by clicking here or on any of the images below.

Awesome resources for contractions using Google Classroom

Awesome resources for contractions using Google Classroom

Awesome resources for contractions using Google Classroom

Awesome resources for contractions using Google Classroom


That's all for this month.  I hope you discovered good things in June as well (teaching & otherwise).  I am looking forward to beginning a new series on writing conferences next week.

Thank you and have a great week!

I'm back for more on reading conferences.  In my first post of this series, I share some ways to plan and organize for reading conferences by collecting data.  Last week in part two, I wrote about different types of conferences you might have with your students, with the plan of meeting with all students at least once a week.  This week, I'd like to share more about goal setting and tracking.

This post shares ways to set and track reading goals during independent reading conferences.

After you and the students have decided on a goal, it is important to have some accountability, both for the student in practicing the goal and the teacher for monitoring the goal.

Teacher Accountability
I keep my notes on the iPad.  I know this will not work for everyone.  However, I thought it might be helpful to share a screenshot of the types of notes I take so you can see the categories.  I do think it's important to incorporate compliments in every conference and make the teaching point a skill that will build off of the compliment.


I usually take a photo and include it to show the notes I left for the student.  You could just as easily jot that on your form.  Here is a sample of a reminder I might leave for the hypothetical student above.

Write reminders of reading goals on Post-it notes to help students stay accountable.

I searched for some other quality record keeping ideas.  There is a great free form here.  You can also try keeping notes on labels and sticking them in student folders/sections in your binder.  The Colorful Apple has a post that does a great job explaining this method.  You can read that post here.

Student Accountability
One of my biggest takeaways from Jennifer Seravallo's book, A Teacher's Guide to Reading Conferences is the importance of keeping goals visible.  She shares some great ideas to do this, and I am now inspired to rethink the way I organize my reading folders.  On the left students will keep a half sheet of tag board with the students' current goal and strategies.  On the right side, students will keep their reading log.  If students keep their reading folders with them during independent reading, it will be much easier for me to have a conversation with them about their current goals, and check in with them on their reading logs.  (I used to keep reading logs in data notebooks, and the process for completing them was a bit to cumbersome to consistently maintain.)  My plan is for the folders to look like this.

Use the reading folder to help with student accountability for tracking their reading goals.  If they have their folders with them during reading workshop, it will help make conferences run smoother and more intentionally.
(Strategy ideas are from The Reading Strategies Book.  Goal tracking idea is from A Teacher's Guide to Reading Conferences.)

The goals will be determined at goal-setting conferences (described here.)  I will certainly do some coaching to make sure students have a goal that is relevant and attainable.  In addition to assessing and conferring, I will use this chart to help decide appropriate goals. 

This chart is a great place to start when thinking about reading goals for independent reading conferences.

I plan to start at the top of the hierarchy as much as possible.  Within each goal, I will build on a strength.  For example if a students is reading in longer phrases and stopping appropriately at punctuation, but not reading with expression, the goal would be fluency, and the strategy could be to pay attention to the dialogue in the story.

This is the final post of the mini-series on reading conferences.  However, I will be sure to check back in at some point during the school year to let you know how the changes I have made are working.  I also have a post planned for August that will share my reorganized conferring binder.  Next week, I will share June Favorites.  This month, I will include resources, tip, and tricks that I have discovered this month and am excited to use next year.

If you missed the previous posts on reading conferences, you can check them out below.

Thank you, and have a great week!

Last week, I shared some of the ways I prepare for reading conferences.  You can check that post out by clicking here.  This week, I'd like to continue talking about reading conferences.  This time, I am focusing on resources I use to track conferences as well as different purposes for conducting reading conferences.

This post shares forms and strategies to help teachers prepare for independent reading conferences.

Many of the ideas I am sharing today are adapted from Jennifer Serravallo's book, A Teacher's Guide to Reading Conferences.  You will find me referencing this book often and sharing my twist on her ideas.  I can not recommend this book enough, especially if conferring with readers is one of your professional goals.

A Teacher's Guide to Reading Conferences is an excellent mentor text to guide teachers through the process of independent reading conferences.  It includes steps and strategies for planning, preparing, conducting and tracking conferences.

It is important to make sure you reach all students in your conferences.  In order to track the dates I see students, I use an app called Confer.  Unfortunately, this app is no longer available.  However there is an app called Reading Conferences, which looks like it may be even better.  (Although I can't say for sure because I am sticking with what I have for now.)  You can check out that app here.

If apps aren't your preferred way to track your conferences, you can use a planning sheet.  You simply add your students' names in the first column, and then write the date every time you meet with them.  I tracked conferences this way for years.  I created a fully editable tracking sheet that you can download by clicking here or on the picture below.

This free form will help you keep track of whose turn it is for an independent reading conference.  Just type (or write) in your students names and list the dates of the reading conferences.

Once you've decided who you need to meet with and what you need to meet about (last post), it's time to decide the type of conference that would work best.  Serravallo goes into great detail about different types of conferences, and she provides great printable resources for each.  Below, you will find a basic definition and how I integrate the different types of conferences into reading workshop.

Assessment Conference
"An Assessment Conference offers you a little time to study a reader along a number of different dimensions, considering a variety of possible goals." - Jennifer Seravallo, p. 15
There are many ways you can assess young readers.  Our district uses the Fountas and Pinnell Benchmark assessment.  In addition, I always ask students some general questions to find out what types of books they like and whether or not they enjoy reading/listening to reading.  If you want a more formal inventory, I found a couple of good free ones.  Click here for one geared toward younger students, here for one that's more suitable for intermediate grades, and here for one that is suitable across ages.  If your district does not use a formal assessment program, running records are a great option.  The idea is to make a decision on what goal will move the students forward as readers. 

I conduct an assessment conference with all students at the beginning of the year.  At mid-year, I conduct another one for any student who I need to progress-monitor in one or more areas.  Otherwise, they are conducted on an "as needed" basis - mainly if a student is progressing faster or slower than expected, or if they are showing some inconsistencies.  I want to make sure students always have "just right" books on hand for independent reading.

Goal-Setting Conference
The purpose of a Goal-Setting Conference is to work with students to create an appropriate goal to move them forward with their reading.  I do believe that the more the student is involved in choosing the goal, the more meaningful it will be, and the more likely they will be to achieve the goal.  Having a goal setting conference will help make the students more invested and accountable to reach their goals.  Having said that, one of my goals is to resist the urge to tell students what I've noticed and what I think their goal should be.  Next year, I will be more intentional about scheduling this type of conference.  I will still make sure the goal is what is most appropriate, but my role in this type of conference will be more of a guide.

Compliment Conference
The point of a Compliment Conference is to name a strategy that the student is already doing to move forward with their reading.  The idea is to state the strategy, explain why it is helpful, and tell the student when you noticed them applying the strategy to their reading.  This is my favorite type of conference.  I love seeing the students' faces light up when they hear a genuine compliment.  Because these conferences are usually quick, I like to do one with everyone within the first couple of days of reading workshop.  I use the data as a means to move the students forward by building on what they can already do as a reader.  Plus, it is a great way to build rapport with your students.

Yes!  Building off of students' strengths is so important!

Research-Compliment-Teacher Conference
When conducting this type of conference, Serravallo recommends keeping two questions in mind as you meet with each student.  "What is the student doing, and what is the next step?"  Use what you already know to be a strength for the students as well as what you discussed the the Goal-Setting Conference and decide how to proceed.  Start off by listening to the student read, asking them for a summary, or some other prompt related to their current goal.  Next, offer a compliment (what they are doing and why it is helpful).  After the compliment, give the student a strategy that will help them move forward.  If you need a resource for strategies, Jennifer Serravallo has anther great book called The Reading Strategies Book.  I constantly refer back to this book for both conference strategies and small group strategies.  As you can tell from the Table of Contents, there are a wide variety of strategies for each reading goal.  She included 13 goals in all.

The Reading Strategies Book includes strategies for 13 different reading goals!  The strategies work great for individual conferences as well as strategy groups.

The Reading Conferences book also goes into detail about conferring with partnerships and small groups.  I am saving those topics for future posts, as they deserve a post (or series of posts) of their own.

I was originally planning to make this a two part series.  However, I would still like to share some organizational changes I'm planning to implement next year.  In an effort not to make this post too long, I am going to add a part three to this series next week.  In part three, I will share ideas for students and teachers to keep track of progress on individual goals.  In the meantime, enjoy your week!

For more about reading conferences, click on the links below.
Part 1 - Getting organized for reading conferences
Part 3 - Setting and tracking independent reading goals

Thank you!

Conferring with students about their reading is one of my favorite parts of the day.  Over the years, my reading conferences have definitely evolved, but I'm always looking for ways to improve them.  Just before school got out, I finished reading Jen Serravallo's book, A Teacher's Guide to Reading Conferences.  I am looking forward to applying her strategies to help me take my conferences to the next level.

This post includes free reading conference form to help you organize for reading conferences with students.

Getting Organized
When it comes to effectiveness and efficiency for reading conferences in my classroom, preparedness is key.  The more prepared I am, the smoother the conferences run.  I am certainly not perfect when it comes to planning, but this sheet I made several years ago (and adapted many times since) has been a huge help.  The schedule is not written in stone, but I like to make sure I have a plan to see everyone at least once a week in a small group or individual conference.  Twice would be ideal, but many times, that's just not possible.  The small group section might be a guided reading group or a strategy group.

If you are interested in using this planning sheet, you can download a completely editable version here.  You can fill it in digitally or print it out to use.

This post includes free reading conference form to help you organize for reading conferences with students.

Collecting Data to Make Decisions on Conference Topics
Jennifer Serravallo suggests looking at formal assessments, engagement inventories and reading logs to make decisions on topics for conferences.

Formal Assessments - Our district uses the Fountas and Pinnel Benchmark System.  This assessment provides detailed information on students' strengths and weaknesses related to decoding, fluency, and comprehension.  I have found this to be a great place to get started!  If your district does not provide an assessment, you could use running records, and/or a reading inventory to complete what Serravallo refers to as an Assessment Conference.

Engagement Inventory - I first heard about Engagement Inventories when I read one of Jennifer Seravallo's other books, The Literacy Teacher's Playbook.  Engagement Inventories are a great way to see who is really on task during reading workshop.  I went into detail about engagement inventories on a previous post.  You can read more about them here.  For the past two years, our awesome instructional coach has come into my classroom and completed this for me while I was working with individuals on Benchmarks.  I prioritize students that we flag as being disengaged during reading workshop time.  It is important to make sure these students have just right books that they love.  It is equally important that they have strategies to help them stay on task (written reminders, reading buddy, timer, stretch break, stop and jot/sketch).  These strategies are the focus of our conferences.  Staying on task during workshop time is absolutely essential, so I check in with these students frequently, especially in the beginning of the year.

Reading Logs - Reading logs are a tool that I would like to utilize more before and during conferences.  This year, I revised my reading log, and I like it a lot better.  The key is for students to get into the habit of setting goals and recording their reading every day.  Consistency with this is one of my goals for next year.  I plan to use reading logs to help monitor and design conferences around choosing just right books, engagement, reading speed, finishing books, and trying to prevent "book hopping".

You can click here if you would like a copy of my reading log (shown below).

How to use reading logs to help plan for reading conferences (link to free log included).

Students have two options for filling out the log.  If they choose to read a chapter book, they write the title (abbreviations are fine), and their goal will be how many pages they think they can read in a given amount of time.  At the end of reading workshop, they record the actual pages read.  If students are reading shorter books, they record the level of the books they are reading, a goal of how many books to complete, and they place a tally mark as they finish each book.  Finally, all students complete the check in for whether or not they met their goal.  In the beginning, I do need to monitor this closely, but students get the hang of it pretty quickly.

Formative Assessments - In addition to all the information listed above, I also use a variety of formative assessments to guide my conference schedule.  I view graphic organizers, lesson participation, and listening in to "turn and talks" as valuable tools to help with goal setting.  I create many goals for conferences related to comprehension using these tools.

My goal for next year is to continue improving on incorporating all of these tools to get a clear picture of each student's strengths and appropriate goals.  Next week, I am looking forward to sharing some different types of conferences and how I incorporate them in my classroom.

For more on reading conferences, click on the links below
Part 2 - Setting a purpose for reading conferences
Part 3 - Setting and tracking independent reading goals

Have a great week!

I just finished my 26th year of teaching, and I can hardly believe it's over already!  One of the best things about the ending of the school year is that I have time to reflect and to set goals.  One of my goals is to blog consistently (once a week on Sunday).  I plan on sharing strategies I've learned, mistakes I've made, and successes I have experienced.  One regular occurring post will be my monthly favorites.  At the end of every month I will share teaching resources, tips, and tricks that worked well for my classroom.  I'm starting off with this post with my favorites from May, 2019.

Teaching Resources: Ant Farm, Reading Conferences, Read Aloud


Ant Farm
Yes, I allowed these little, creepy critters into my classroom.  I am very grateful that there were no escapes!  The Ohio science standards require that second grade completes a unit on ecosystems.  Specifically, I was addressing the standard, "Living things cause changes on Earth."  This standard focuses on changes that are easily noticed.   As you can see from the pictures below, these little guys can make some pretty quick changes!  (The second picture did make me a little nervous.  It really looked like they were plotting an escape!)

Having an ant farm is a great way for students to see how animals change the environment.
(Click on photo for product link.)

The students loved seeing the ants work together to create their tunnels.  In order for students to track the changes, I had them record their observations by drawing a picture and writing what they noticed as the biggest change.  We used the form below.  If you'd like to use them for your own ant farm observations, you can download the form here.

Having an ant farm is a great way for students to see how animals change the environment.


How to Steal a Dog
Let me first say that I do not promote dog stealing in my classroom!  However, I do promote read alouds that provide ample opportunities for quality discussions.  This book is a proven favorite for me and my students.

(Click on the picture below to see more details about this book on Amazon.)
A great read aloud for empathy and compassion!

The story starts off with Georgina, her mother, and her brother Toby losing their home and being forced to live in their car.  Understandably, this causes quite a bit of tension in the family.  Georgina eventually hatches a plot to save the family.  All she has to do is steal a dog, wait for the reward sign to appear, return the dog, claim the reward money, and her family is saved.  Of course, this plan did not even come close to going as expected.  It was heartwarming to watch students show empathy to Georgina and her family (as well as the poor woman whose dog got stolen!)  There are lots of great places to "turn and talk" and/or have group discussions in this book.  I highly recommend it!

*If you teach older kids, this book works great for book clubs.  That's how I used it when I taught fourth grade.


Reading Conferences
If you follow me on Instagram, then you've likely seen a few pictures of professional books by Jennifer Serravallo.  She is one of my all time favorite mentors for teaching reading.  Last month, I read her new book on reading conferences.  It was full of great ideas for planning, organizing, conducting and recording reading conferences.

(Click on the picture below to see more details about this book on Amazon.)
A very thorough resource for planning, organizing, conducting and recording reading conferences!

My next two blog posts will be a mini-series on reading conferences.  I will include strategies I have used and modified over time as well as how I plan to integrate the wonderful tips I have learned through reading this book.  For now, let me say the book is definitely worth reading, and the online resources are fabulous!

Have a great week!

Sometimes, it's easy to get in a bit of a rut with student responses to reading.  I do see lots of value in Post-it notes and reading response journals.  I also see lots of value in trying different response modes.  I have blogged about how I use Padlet as an alternative way for students to respond to reading, and that works great in my classroom!  I recently tried using Flipgrid for partner responses to reading.  If you are looking for a motivator to up your engagement for reading responses, this is a great option.  Flipgrid is a FREE video service that Microsoft offers to educators.  There are a few kinks to work out for future use in my classroom, but overall it was a huge success!

Flipgrid is an excellent way for students to record video responses to reading.

The goal for this activity was to get students to talk more in depth about their topic, using a graphic organizer as a guide.  As with all new activities, I knew I would have to provide a model, so I filled out this graphic organizer ahead of time based on the book Tigers by Laura Marsh.

Tigers is a great nonfiction mentor text for thinking about reading.

Next, I recorded my response.  I added a few extras in addition to what I had written on my paper.  You can watch my video by clicking here.

After students saw my video, we worked together to create a list of rules and procedures for this type of response.  We discussed possible problems and how to avoid them.  Here is what we came up with.  

Expectations for recording video responses to reading.

When students finished completing their organizers, they had to checked by a teacher.  (I am very fortunate to have a fantastic Intervention Specialist teach with me during this block.)  Once the organizer was approved, students rehearsed and recorded their videos.  Despite a few minor technical difficulties (which are always to be expected when trying something new), students were able to record their video responses.  At the end of the recording, students were prompted to take a selfie.

After I listened to the videos, we had some follow up discussion on voice level, background noise, and elaboration, I allowed students to rerecord their responses if needed, keeping the rules we had established in mind.  They did a fantastic job!

Next, students took turns listening to responses recorded by their reading partner.  I love how this program allows students to record a video response.  Before recording feedback, we reviewed the list of sentence starters below.  I also printed this slide out (four to a page) so students would have a mini chart to keep with them when we do this activity in the future.

Providing specific feedback to a classmate's video response to reading.

I found this activity to be highly motivating.  Students knew that they needed quality written responses prior to making their video.  I was very pleased with the thought that went into their responses.  They loved being able to take a selfie holding their books at the end!  (There are options to decorate the selfie.  I disabled them for this first round, but I am going to let them play around with those next time.)

If you are interested in using the graphic organizer I made for this activity, you can download it here or by clicking on the picture below.

This graphic organizer is a great way for students to share what they learned as well as what they think about their reading.  Bonus: It's free!

Have you tried Flipgrid in your classroom?  I'd love to hear how you are using this awesome resource!

Thank you, and have a great week!

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