My most recent Aha: The Beauty and Power of Conferring

I've happily spent the past year in a district cohort working with Cris Tovani and Sam Bennett. One of the biggest ahas for me has been the conferring piece. Instead of just talking with the kids while standing, SIT DOWN with them. Talk one on one about content. Like you're in a cafe.

Before the cohort, I would actively walk around and talk with kids, especially those who needed my help, but I was more a monitor than a focused content conferrer. Reflecting back on MY school years, I don't remember teachers sitting beside me (or beside other students) during class and talking with me about the content, my thoughts, or my questions. If I asked my teachers for help, they, of course, would help me, but I have no memories of frequent 1:1 content conversations during class.

I'll tell you this, the teachers that impacted my life and remain in my thoughts to this day are the ones with whom I HAD CONVERSATIONS in class (as well as outside of class). Those teachers were largely my coaches and fine arts teachers--show choir (Mr. Schneider), volleyball (Coach Schooley), newspaper (Mrs. Hornaday). I had extended content talk time with them as we worked to put on a good 'show', whether that show was a concert, a volleyball game, or paper. Talking to learn. Along with way, we'd talk life, cares, hopes, dreams, interests, and so on. The emotional and behavioral connections naturally fell in place with the content/skill discussions.

Two high school content teachers that influenced me greatly, Mr. Price and Mrs. Northup (physics and history), TOLD STORIES. Even though they did not confer with me at my desk in class I connected with them through laughter and images formed in my mind's eye--and in my heart. Mr. Price's class was where I launched my punster ways and reigned supreme in wordplay. :) Two middle school content teachers that changed me, Mrs. May and Mrs. Sybert, took interest in me, mostly outside of class. Mrs. May inspired me in the ways she taught Science and look what I now teach. My content teachers did not typically sit down, pull up a chair, and engage in 1:1 content conversation during class with me. If they HAD done that, I can imagine how much stronger the impact on me would have been. I look at classrooms that do this seated conferring and I see BEAUTY. Then I wonder why we haven't been doing that all along.

Yes, I sat down on a log beside these guys and we talked about what natural resources they were using and how it would help form an effective water carrier. They got muddy. I didn't. :)

I believe in my heart of educational hearts that increasing time TALKING with kids 1:1 IN CLASS about content is imperative to impacting our kids on all 3 levels--cognitive, emotional, behavioral--for the rest of their lives. Embedded in 1:1 content conferring during class are the emotional and behavioral pieces.

When it's student learning time, I work the room. I SIT DOWN and TALK with my kids, both 1:1 and in small groups. I learn each time I watch Cris Tovani masterfully confer with kids. Before I would largely remain standing as I interacted with kids. Now, when it's work time I sit in chairs, I sit on the floor, I perch on my knees besides them. It is actually pretty intense, but so worth it and so right for student growth.

My new VISION and VIEW of my classroom is the following:

I'm in a cafe. Yes. A cafe. When class starts, I set up the reason/purpose and teach the mini-lesson-- and then it's time to converse in the CAFE with my favorite people, my students! I get to go out into my cafe and SIT DOWN and TALK 1:1 with a handful of kids each day about big ideas, facts, questions, concerns, and guide and coach my kids. It's energizing and it's real. Here is a summer Instagram video from the cafe my family and I visited today --

I couldn't believe my ears when I heard this quote from the brilliant mind of Samantha Bennett at our most recent meeting. Did she read my mind? She and Cris Tovani actually helped plant that seed in my mind.

"Having a literate conversation with each student as if you were at a cafe--that is the goal of conferring."

~Samantha Bennett January 8, 2015

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Learners and learning communities thrive on face to face conversation. We know that intuitively as connected educators. Try increasing your 1:1 content conferring sitting down beside your learners and see what happens! I'd love to hear your thoughts.