An Interview with Jennifer Serravallo
Sam Bommarito: Co-Editor of The Missouri Reader
Dr. Sam: I was taught that conferring is the heart of the workshop. How would you react to that? What might you say to convince teachers who feel there is not time for conferring to include it in their literacy program?
Jennifer S.: I say in the book that “conferring is where the magic happens,” so I agree with whoever told you it’s the “heart!” I believe that every reader in your classroom is unique – the two kids reading level J books don’t have the same strengths and needs, the two kids in your class who are your strongest readers might not be strongest with the same things, the children with IEPs likely don’t have the same plan. It’s crucial then that we spend some of our time each week working with children one-on-one to set goals, support them with strategies for those goals, and monitor their progress. I also describe strategy lessons (or “group conferences”) in the book, and these are going to be important to include in your repertoire for efficiency’s sake when kids would benefit from learning the same strategy and it makes sense to do so.
Dr. Sam: As a follow up to my second question, what advice do you have for making time for conferring? What support materials do you include to help with scheduling and managing it all?
Jennifer S.: I think sometimes there’s a struggle to find the time because it’s not clear what the rest of the class is doing while the teacher is conferring. My advice? While teachers confer, students read. This does a few things: first, it helps the students have ample time to practice strategies independently that they learned during their last conference with you and give them a chance for more reading volume which will help them grow as readers, and second, it frees you up to meet with students one-on-one and in groups. In the book, I offer sample schedules and a simple process for scheduling the conferring time (while the rest of the class is reading) to help teachers get to each student a couple of times a week, as well as tips for pacing each conference so they don't run too long.
Dr. Sam: You discuss different kinds of conferences. Could you give some examples of how and why to use a particular kind of conference and good ways to decide on the content of a particular conference?