Conferencing With Students in the Upper Grades

Conferencing with students...every teacher's dream, right? But who has the time you ask?  We all do! Here's why I make a point to conference with my students in my high school English classes, and why you should, too!

Conferencing is a powerful tool for building relationships with our students.  Not only does meeting individually help us get to know our kiddos, but it also lets them know that we're interested in their progress and we want to see them improve.  In these brief conferences, teachers gain a better understanding of the student as a whole.  We are able to talk one on one, and sure, much of that discussion is educational, but we can also ask how their game went, or how they are doing in their other classes.  To better teach our students, we have to know our students, and conferencing helps to open that door.  That, itself, is important.  But there's so much more that conferencing can do...

Conferencing can:
  • Give students real-time feedback on a current assignment
  • Reinforce what they are doing well
  • Provide the student freedom to ask questions about their work that they wouldn't ask in a whole-class setting
  • Allow for student self-reflection
  • Offer differentiated instruction for individual students
  • Give additional practice and examples with one-on-one assistance
  • Provide a quiet work time for students who are not conferencing
  • Allow students to set goals for their progress in class
  • Provide teachers with actual data of what students need

Recently, during our first process essay of the year, I made a point to conference with each of my students during the week.  I'd start class with a mini-lesson to set the purpose for the day, and the students would work independently on their drafts.  As the class worked, I'd call students one by one to my conference table to chat.  They'd bring their previous one-page essays (the ones that were leading up to this essay) and their essay planning sheet.  While we talked, I had a plan that looked something like this:
  1. Ask them how their day is going, what they have planned after school or on the weekend, etc.
  2. Ask them how they're feeling about class--any concerns, any challenges, any questions?
  3. Ask for them to talk briefly about their previous writings.  As we looked at them, I'd ask what the easy parts were for them, and more importantly, what were the challenges.
  4. We'd discuss the challenging parts and I'd offer some tips to help them through.
  5. At the end of the conference, I'd ask them one area that they'd like to improve in, and we made that their writing goal.

And just look:

From several days of conferencing, I got to know my students a little better.  And, even better, I got to see what my students feel are their strengths and weaknesses.  I got to ask deeper questions and find out more of what they need help with.  And, just look.  From this little notetaker, I was able to identify the work I need to do.  I can see their top areas of need and can plan accordingly.  I can group students according to need, I can provide specific mini-lessons that will help them grow, and I can track whether these small interventions are working by the essays they turn in and our future conferences.

I'll say it again, conferencing has been a game-changer for me! If you've never tried it because you thought you didn't have the time, I challenge you to add it to your lesson plans. You'll see what a difference it makes in your classroom!

And, if you click here, I've made a few conference trackers for you to use.  Enjoy!

First Chapter Fridays for High School Students

First Chapter Fridays...I know you've heard of it, but do you know how it works?

Well, as you can imagine, First Chapter Fridays are just that!  It's a time to share the first chapter of a high-interest book with your students so that they can learn what types of books call to them and choose their own reading experience.

What I like about First Chapter Fridays, though, is the freedom it provides.  Sure it's called "First Chapter" Fridays, but does that limit you to read only the first chapter?  Not me!  Some first chapters are boring and that's ok.  I find a chapter, even a small excerpt of one that I think will excite my readers and I share that.  And what about sharing only books that are age and Lexile appropriate?  No way!  While I'd be careful about sharing books that are too mature, and thus inappropriate for a variety of reasons, I have no problem sharing books that are considered too young for my students.  One of my favorite books is The Tiger Rising by Kate DiCamillo.  Sure, it's often read in elementary or middle school settings, but its language is so rich and its themes so powerful that I always share it with my high schoolers.  The beauty in First Chapter Fridays is the exposure to new books and the freedom to choose books that the students are interested in.

I've also heard teachers debate about whether or not they choose the books in advance.  While that is a personal choice, I like to have my books picked ahead of time for a few reasons.  First, as I mentioned, I don't always stick to the first chapter format.  If I'm going to find a section that really interests my students, I have to have it ready beforehand so I can read it a few times and figure out where all the emphasis goes.  Also, I'm a planner.  If I don't have the book out and ready and on my plans for the day, I forget about it and there goes that Friday's read.  Finally, I like to pull books that are relevant and timely...the week of September 11, I share Towers Falling by Jewell Parker Rhodes.  Halloween week calls for a spooky choice, of course, and I like to read Let it Snow by John Green or What Light by Jay Asher right before Winter Break.  And, if something is newsworthy that week, I try to find a book to fit the situation (This is Where it Ends by Marieke Nijkamp comes to mind, as one I shared after another school shooting),

My classroom library is huge...really like a mini school library, and my passion is reading and sharing young adult literature with my students.  So, when I heard about First Chapter Friday a few years ago, I knew this was the right format for me.  I've always book-talked and shared books, but it was easy to lose consistency when class got busy.  Having a dedicated time at the start of each Friday's classes makes me stick to it much better than before.  Is it hard to narrow down my choices?  Of course! There are waaayy too many good books to break it down to about 35 books, but you can always provide other recommendations throughout the year.

So, here are my choices that I plan to share this year.  These are affiliate links, which means I get a small commission if you buy from here.  Wherever you buy them, though, these choices are sure to resonate with your students!

1. We Were Liars - E Lockhart
2. Speak - Laurie Halse Anderson
3. Blur - Steven James
4. One of Us is Lying - Karen McManus
5. Stormbreaker - Anthony Horowitz
6. The Tiger Rising - Kate di Camillo
7. Love, Hate, and Other Filters - Samira Ahmed
8. The Hate U Give - Angie Thomas
9. Prisoner B-3087 - Alan Gratz
10. I'll Give You the Sun - Jandy Nelson
11. Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes - Chris Crutcher
12. Solo - Kwame Alexander
13. All the Bright Places - Jennifer Niven
14.All American Boys - Jason Reynolds and Brandon Kiely
15. Fat Kid Rules the World - KL Going
16. Between Shades of Gray - Ruta Sepetys
17. Salt to the Sea - Ruta Sepatys
18. The 57 Bus - Dashka Slater
19.  People Kill People - Ellen Hopkins
20. Mexican Whiteboy - Matt de la Pena
21.  Internment -  Samira Ahmed
22. Warcross - Marie Lu
23. War Horse - Michael Morpurgo
24. Love Letters to the Dead - Ava Dellaira
25. Long Way Down  - Jason Reynolds
26. The Sun is Also a Star - Nicola Yoon
27. Will Grayson, Will Grayson - John Green and David Levithan
28. Unwind - Neal Shusterman
29. When Dimple Meets Rishi - Sandhya Menon
30. Orbiting Jupiter - Gary D. Schmidt
31. Silent to the Bone - EL Konigsburg
32. Simon and the Homosapiens Agenda - Becky Albertalli
33.  Black and White - Paul Volponi
34. Sold - Patricia McCormick
35. With the Fire on High - Elizabeth Acevedo

Are YOU Using the Signposts?

If you've been an English teacher for any length of time, chances are you've heard about the "Reading Signposts."  The Signposts were developed by Kylene Beers and Robert Probst, and are a fantastic way to teach students how to recognize patterns in their reading.

I bought this book in 2013 and promptly read it then started teaching the signposts. I had been teaching English for over a decade at that time, but I was given a period of remedial intensive reading and I wanted to do all I could to help those kiddos succeed, especially since I'm not a reading specialist.  And boy was this book helpful--for me and the students! But, the school year ended and I went back to only teaching English classes.  I got busy teaching standards and my school's curriculum, and just as promptly as I first implemented them, I forgot about the signposts that had made such a difference for my struggling readers.  Well, as I was straightening my bookshelf this summer, I happened upon this book again and I decided that this was the year to make a change.

This year, I'll only be teaching Freshman Honors, and at our school, with a large IB program, 9th Honors is a pre-IB/AP course.  Knowing the literary demands of the upper-division courses, I realized that the signposts will be a great wat to start our year, and will give the students important foundational knowledge that they can build on not only this year but as they continue on as readers in high school and college.

**Side note: Regardless of what grade you teach, I believe that the signposts can be successfully implemented in your class**

To be fair, the book does an amazing job of providing reproducible resources (and even sample anchor charts that you can replicate), but I am a tinkerer...I always have to adjust and tweak and make things suitable for my classroom needs.

After I created them, I realized that these resources may be helpful to you, too, so I'm offering them as a free download in my Teachers Pay Teachers store.

Inside you'll find:
  • A Signpost chart that combines several of the book's charts into one document.  It provides the signpost definition, clues to recognize it, the literary elements it reinforces, follow-up questions, and why the signpost matters.  And, even more importantly, it is sized to be cut and glued into a standard composition book!
  • A page of Signpost bookmarks.  I printed mine on Astrobright cardstock and cut them out.  I can't wait to give them to my students as we delve into the literature selections this year.
  • A graphic organizer/notes handout to give students as we read several short stories at the start of the year. This organizer provides guiding questions to help students understand the signposts.

While I can't take credit for the creation of the signposts, I hope that you'll find use in these handouts.  And if you haven't read the book yet, check the link above...I don't get anything from Amazon, I just believe in this resource.

Happy teaching!