Conferring with Students: Examining Our Practices

Posted 05/29/12
Last updated 07/19/12

Companion Pieces

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This case features the work of a collaborative inquiry group that used student work to focus conversations on writing instruction and to examine practices around conferring.  The group was formed during the 2010–2011 school year as part of a district initiative that encouraged teachers to form self-selected professional learning teams. The group consisted of two third-grade teachers, a literacy coach, and myself, a teacher collaborator from the Center of Education in Small Urban Communities (CESUC) in the College of Education at the University of Illinois–Urbana-Champaign. The group met on seven designated school improvement days (scheduled in-service days), as well as meeting on additional days they scheduled. 

Confirring with StudentsProfessional learning can be a source of innovation and change in practice, but it can also be an ineffective and haphazard time when decontextualized practices and strategies are given to teachers without their input. Our district, like many others across the nation, recognizes the tension inherent in providing teachers with some flexibility to structure their own professional learning and practice while also dealing with pressures to raise teacher quality through regulating their practice. During the past academic year (2010–2011), district administrators offered a different approach to professional learning  involving the formation of self-selected professional learning teams. Learning teams were formed by the teachers themselves, who were encouraged to explore issues, problems, or ideas collectively. Various types of groups were formed; some had a grade-level focus, others were formed around friendships, and others were formed based on a common interest. (What is a community of practice?)  

Our Questions

We chose to focus our year of study on writing instruction and the writing workshop. While each group member identified specific inquiry questions for exploration, underlying our questions was the concern that current writing instruction was not proving effective for all students. Link to NCTE Beliefs about the Teaching of WritingOur goals were to examine whether writing strategies were working and whether students were responding to instruction and to make necessary changes. One teacher was concerned with how much time she spent meeting individually with students. Another was worried about how to motivate reluctant writers without having to "stay on them all the time.” Since part of the literacy coach’s job was to support teachers with the curriculum, she was interested in examining the areas in which teachers struggled as they implemented the curriculum. My own questions as a teacher collaborator addressed how students engaged and used the strategies we taught them to become better writers. I was also interested in how teachers were transforming the curriculum through their own insights.

Prior to beginning, our learning team filled out a Professional Learning Plan (PLP), which outlined our goals, plans for the team time, ideas for implementation, and ways to share our work. (Click on the Artifacts link below to view a sample group plan, a blank template, and other forms we used in our work.)  

Artifacts from Our Group