As always during the summer, I am reading teaching books. I fondly imagine that they will make me a better teacher, and sometimes they do. I get lots of good ideas and deeper understandings of old ones, and apply them to my teaching. Most of the time I learn and apply what I read, making changes to accommodate my personal teaching situation. But, and it is a big BUT, there is one thing I am continually frustrated over, No one seems to address the difficulty of conferring with large numbers of middle school students. They talk about high school and elementary school, but their books seem to concern themselves with numbers below 40 and ages twelve to fourteen.
I teach in a school district in California with an average of 40 students per class. In my Honors classes it has been up to 48. How do you confer with that many students during Independent reading time, or writing, time effectively? Everybody stops reading or writing to listen, and looks shocked when they get asked a different question. If it’s the same question the answers immediately lose their individuality. To say nothing of the time it takes to confer with that many students over a week, or two, or three! Yes, I have read Atwell, Steineke, Daniels, Burke, and may others, The book that has prompted this blog is called Not This But That: No more Independent Reading TIme WIthout Support. On page 34 of the book the writer states, “You’ll learn how to confer with larger number of students in Section 3.” I turned to Section 3 (page 59) with excitement only to find absolutely no reference at all to conferring with large numbers of students. I was furious! Partly because before referring me to Section 3 the writer had shared how they had tried conferring with middle school students in a thirty minute Independent reading period on a fifty minute class period. This is exactly my situation except that I have 42 students compared to the writer’s thirty-five. The writer found it “impossible” to meet with more than two students in that time, a situation I completely understand from my own experience. I will keep trying, and looking for more advice from authors such as Penny Kittle and writers on the internet. I do not mean to suggest that this is the only book I have read that has bothered me this way. I just have not found an answer to the question as yet, although I keep looking and experimenting.
By all means share your experience and advice with me. I am always willing to learn, even if it is learning that others have had my same failures. I plan to continue to find ways to confer with my students, and have even had some successes talking to them as they come into the room, while they settle down to read, and while I walk around monitoring. If this is conferring I am doing okay, but I can’t help feeling there is more to it. Maybe it is up to me and the kids I teach, the responses they give me, and what I do with those responses.
So, back to my reading and learning. The next book on my list is The Writing Thief an appropriate title as my teaching is full of stolen ideas!