Friday, December 5, 2014

What's the Score?

Words with Friends is an app on my phone. I rarely look at the score, but when I do, especially when playing my friend who teaches high school English, I inevitably see that I am getting crushed (see photo). If I ever get serious about winning, it will require looking at the score more often and a shift from making random moves to making strategic moves.

I recently met a wonderful group of educators who shared the joys and struggles they are experiencing in their role as coaches. One of their biggest challenges is conveying to some of their teachers the importance of one-on-one conferring. They confessed to feeling dismay when they walk past certain classroom doors time after time and see students working independently while teachers sit behind their desks.

It occurred to me that those teachers are working a bit like I play Words with Friends, but unlike my game, which isn’t really important, they are missing out on critical opportunities to help children win. Our students come to us at different stages with differing needs, and they need different kinds of teaching to accelerate their growth. One-on-one conferring is like checking to see what the score is. When we hunker next to a child, providing undivided attention and individualized instruction, we can make strategic moves that will optimize every speck of their learning potential.

If one-on-one conferring is out of your comfort zone, may I encourage you to consider its benefits for you and your students? One-on-one conferring provides an opportunity to
  • build relationships by giving children our deserved and undivided attention;
  • notice and name individual strengths;
  • differentiate, set goals, monitor progress, and establish next steps; and
  • collect essential data points.
If we want to be focused and intentional, it is important that we establish a system whereby we can keep track of
  • student strengths and areas of need, 
  • the instruction we delivered, 
  • data to monitor progress, and
  • a list of possible next steps.  
For me, a conferring notebook is the easiest and most efficient way to do this.

Finally, if you would benefit from some personalized professional development in the area of one-on-one conferring, there are great books that can help. Just type one-on-one conferring into the Amazon search bar and you can read the synopses and reviews of many of my favorites. And if you are fortunate enough to have a good coach in your building, ask him or her to partner with you. Once you experience the benefits, you’ll want to make use of every moment that students are working independently to talk with them one-on-one.