How to implement conferencing in your classroom

You don’t have to mark!

Scroll to the end for a link to a policy you can adapt for your school.

Last week, my blog about conferencing instead of marking gained a lot of attention. I was asked about how to implement conferencing in the classroom and how to get your SLT to engage with this instead of traditional marking. Here’s a link to my previous blog post about why my school put the pens down and stopped marking children’s books.

Conferencing is a conversation about learning. It’s not just providing feedback; it’s also an opportunity to provide challenge. As it is ‘in the moment’ and specific to that child, you are able to give highly personalised feedback that is acted on immediately. Of course, it’s not just down to the teacher. Conferencing is the responsibility of all school stakeholders. Everyone has an equal part to play and when they do, the impact is phenomenal.

You may find it useful to have a notebook or journal to take notes during the conferencing sessions. When I first started, I had a folder with notes about each child and the conversations we had. Whilst this did provide me with focus for the conversation, I did find that it was still too formal. Did I really look at those notes again? No, I remembered the conversation I had with the child. I know their targets and what is going well for them. After a while the folder became redundant and I stopped using it. However, I know that other teachers in the school have a notebook where they jot a couple of notes down. Some also have a class book where the child can add a note if they want too. They can then be supported by their peers when working towards their target. The key message here is that it is the verbal feedback that is important; if you want to make notes, make sure they are serving a purpose.

In order to focus the discussion on feedback and challenge, having a bank of questions to get you started can be useful. I have these in my classroom and refer to them. The children also use them when discussing their work with other people too.

So you’ve trialled conferencing in your class and now you want to take it school-wide. The key component to making this a success is training the children. Explain to them what you are doing and why. Model the responses you expect to see. When talking to the children about conferencing, consider the following points:

  • What will conferencing look like in your classroom?
  • How will the children ask for a conferencing session?
  • How will the adults ask for a conferencing session?
  • How will conferencing be timetabled? Will it be timetabled?
  • How will questions be used? What kind of language are you expecting?
  • Do the children know why books won’t be marked anymore?
  • Do the children understand that conferencing will be used for all subjects, not just English and Maths?
  • How will you develop the children’s language skills so that they can articulate their thoughts clearly?

The key thing is to tell people that this is what you do as your feedback policy. Some people still expect to see triple marking. Don’t wait to argue your point. When it comes to visitors:

Tell them what they are going to see.

Show them.

Tell them what they saw.

Click here to find an example conferencing policy to adapt for your school.

How to make everyone a phonics expert

I saw this article on the TES website and it piqued my interest.

Effective teaching of reading and writing means effective phonics teaching. Indeed, phonics enthusiasts such as Debbie Hepplewhite have dedicated their careers to ensuring high quality phonics instruction is delivered in schools. In England, we are leading where others are following with regard to phonics instruction. Australia is currently launching a phonics drive with an assessment not too dissimilar from the phonics screening check.

From my own experience, I can see where this statistic comes from. In many schools I’ve worked in, phonics has been seen as the job of the EYFS and Year 1 teacher. As long as they pass the phonics screening, they don’t need to learn phonics anymore.

Phonics is the responsibility of every member of staff. Phonics goes far beyond Year 1; particularly in a language that has 44 phonemes represented by around 250 graphemes.

So how do you get every member of staff onboard with phonics instruction?

You need to support your colleagues to overcome the fear, uncertainty and doubt they have regarding phonics. This includes SLT. As a phonics leader, you need to be able to answer the following questions:

If you are clear on the answers to these questions, then you can convey your reasoning effectively.

Appeal to their frustrations. I know that the KS2 staff are frustrated because they don’t know how to support their weaker readers. They don’t know phonics (or are out of practise) and it’s an alien language to them. The key is to empower them. Break the vocabulary down for them without being patronising. It was new to you too once.

I’ve found that short, focused sessions have worked best with practical takeaways that can be used in classrooms straightaway. Suggesting that you will come and observe puts barriers up, but offering to work alongside and share the responsibility allows you to get into the classroom and tailor your coaching to support the teacher at the same time as supporting the child.

There will be experts in your school – use them.

Sometimes TAs can be overlooked but quite often they are fantastic phonics practitioners and can be used to support other members of staff.

I’ll post some follow up blogs around the implementation and monitoring of phonics alongside the resources I use.

But remember: phonics is not difficult. We expect 4 and 5 year olds to be able to do this – and they can.