Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Reflections on Chapters 3 and 4 of Reading in the Wild: Conferring From the Heart

I'm a little late posting today; it was last day of vacation. A travel day. I finished my reading on the car ride home, making little scribbles in the margins of my copy of Reading in the Wild.  I'm not sure the best teacher-decipher out there could make sense of my notes today, as my normally messy handwriting was made unreadable by the bumps and curves of the Missouri Ozarks.

I'm composing on my bed, shutting out the unpacked suitcases around me and the nest of hangers that serves as a convenient book prop to the right of my laptop. I'm blocking it all out to talk reading, much as I ask my 11 and 12 year olds to do everyday. They come to me as weary travelers, loaded with "unpacked baggage" and I do what so many teachers do: I say, with a bright morning smile, "Let's talk about your reading!"

And they think, I'm sure, "Is that all she cares about??" They would be wrong, of course, but I don't blame them. I come along with my iPad ready to record their reading information, and I'm sure I look and sound like someone who only cares what page they are on today.

I looked in the mirror a lot this week as I read, and I see some room to grow...

These chapters were amazing, full of ideas and gifts of inspiration that are highlighted and underlined in my book. This week, though, my take-away is much more simple. It is captured in the look on Donalyn's face on page 131. Turn there and look, please...

See what I mean?

It's that look that says, "I'm listening and you matter." In fact her whole body says it as she leans in, arms folded quietly to hear the child's words.

I stared at that picture for a long time, noticing every detail of the expression on her face and the face of sweet Ashley G. I don't know that student, but I know what that look means on a sixth grader. It means, "You noticed me! You're listening! I have your attention! What I say means something to you!"

I love that look on the faces of my students. I don't see it often enough to satisfy me.

This week the section "Conferring: What's the Point?" made all the difference to me. First, it gave me permission to slow down a little in the wildness of the school day and focus on the "bottom line." The bottom line (see page 89) of conferring is "building relationships with my students as readers, writers, and people (pg. 130)."

Turns out, I had gotten lost in checking boxes, making my way through lists, and glancing over the shoulders of students during my hurried conferring time, and I totally forgot my bottom line: CONNECT with them.

This line on page 131 struck me to the heart. Donalyn says,

"I decided that this was the primary goal of conferring for me: to make sure that I spoke with every child as often as possible and that no one disappeared."

Talk about the "power" of reading, of books, of conferring, of community!! Wow!

My reflection as I've read this week?  I'm going to do all I can to create moments like that in my room this year. I've also noted that my recording techniques need an overhaul to be prepared for keeping records of these moments.

As I pondered all this, one of my big fears moving forward was for the other kids. While I conference with one child, what if I inadvertently leave one kiddo alone too long, miss a need, and fail to step in on time to help?

However, as I read more, especially in Chapter 4 about making reading plans, things started to come together in my head. If I can prepare my students to truly be independent readers in my room the majority of the time (readers with plans and a community of reading helpers), then I don't have to worry about my students; they'll take care of each other.

And, really, isn't that what this book is all about? If I'm creating "wild readers" who will read beyond the classroom and sixth grade, shouldn't I be willing to allow them to work together to solve those reading problems together? After all, I go to my peers and PLN for advice...why wouldn't they?

So, that's where I'm at right now as I move to the next section of this book. My mind is swimming with all the ideas (book swaps and reading challenges and reading doors, oh my!), but my heart is centered on one notion:

Conferring from the heart. 

I've done enough conferring from my teacher brain, full of reading theory and responsibilities. It's time to be the lead reader of my room and confer from a heart that truly loves to read! And not just that, but from a heart that loves my students, each and every one.

I think I'll take a step towards creating wild readers if I can do that.


  1. Hi Katy,

    Thank you for sharing this with us. We love how you studied Donalyn's photo - we breezed right by it. Before we can teach anyone, they need to know that we are listening and that we care. Our conferences are a way to make this happen.

  2. You make such an important point here: conferences need to be about connecting and listening. I think it's very easy to lose the point of conferencing in our mania for recordkeeping and our search for teachable moments. But I think the most meaningful and worthwhile conferences are often the ones where we don't talk or teach at all!

  3. WOW! "I'm listening and I care." How powerful that is! Isn't that at the heart of what it means to be a teacher? Thank you for pointing that out. Your idea about conferring from the heart is wonderful as well. Just think how meaningful our conferences will be with our students if we talked with them just as a fellow reader versus as a teacher. :)

  4. Your point about conferring and connecting is well made! I didn't notice the picture until you brought it to my attention. Letting the readers know you're listening (really listening) and care about each of them is a great piece to build on as we cultivate Wild Readers!

  5. Katie,
    Loved this! "Conferring from the heart.

    I've done enough conferring from my teacher brain, full of reading theory and responsibilities. It's time to be the lead reader of my room and confer from a heart that truly loves to read! And not just that, but from a heart that loves my students, each and every one." A subtle, yet powerful, change.

    You also mentioned the importance of developing readers who are truly independent so you can confer. I'm thinking about the power of community in this as well. One of my favorite parts of Ruth Ayres book, Celebrating Writers, is the way she talks about building conferring conversations BETWEEN PEERS. I'm thinking these same possibilities exist for readers. Last year I worked more explicitly to help readers know how to talk together about books. I know this is something I need to continue to improve.

    Welcome back from vacation. Kudos to you for managing a post in the midst of it all. I'm running a little late going from blog to blog as I'm just returning from vacation myself.