The first step to make conferring feel more doable for you, and to maximize its usefulness for students, is to make sure it’s purposeful. You’re one-on-one with a student, so why waste time teaching something the student doesn’t need or something that’s way out of the scope of what they can practice? An Assessment Conference offers you a little time to
study a reader along a number of different dimensions, considering a variety of possible goals. These conferences can set you both up to focus during future conferring time and can help students focus during the independent practice time.
All conferences offer some chance to assess. With eyes open, it’s possible to get feedback every day from students about how they are working on strategies you’ve taught, how they are making gains toward their goals, what they struggle with, and what new learning they’ve taken on since you last met with them. An Assessment Conference is really a deeper dive into assessment where you explore all or most of the possible goals. You may end an Assessment Conference with a bit of feedback or even offer the reader a tip—but the
majority of the time is spent assessing the student and encouraging student self-reflection.
Part of the art of conducting an effective Assessment Conference is to ask questions in a way that feels like a conversation, rather than an inquisition. It’s important, also, to remember that you’re assessing what the student can do, not what the student can do with lots and lots of prompting, feedback, and support from a teacher. Try to stay disciplined about asking the question, and then stay quiet while assuming a listening stance. Try not to coach the child or to offer lots of feedback, response, or praise. Your job is to listen and analyze the responses a student offers, so you can figure out what area to pinpoint for a goal.
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Jennifer Serravallo is the author of New York Times bestseller The Reading Strategies Book as well as other popular Heinemann titles, including The Writing Strategies Book; Teaching Reading in Small Groups; Conferring with Readers; and The Literacy Teacher's Playbook, Grades K–2 and Grades 3–6. Her newest book is Understanding Texts & Readers. She is also the author of the On-Demand Course Teaching Reading in Small Groups: Matching Methods to Purposes where you can watch dozens of videos of Jen teaching in real classrooms and engage with other educators in a self-guided course.
Jen began her career in education as a teacher in Title I schools in NYC and later joined the Teachers College Reading and Writing Project at Columbia University. Through TCRWP and now as an independent consultant, she has spent over a decade helping teachers across the country to create literacy classrooms where students are joyfully engaged and the the instruction is meaningfully individualized to students' goals.
Jen holds a BA from Vassar College and an MA from Teachers College, where she has also taught graduate and undergraduate classes on urban education reform and children’s literature.