Making conferring has become the greatest shift in my practice because I learn something, each time, to help that student grow. Infinitely more helpful than reading their work with the intention of assessing it, conferring leads to an attitude of mentoring. And when I started mentoring I became a more supportive, encouraging teacher.
I am more aware of mentoring and supportive environments even in my reading life. I'm fascinated by the creative partnership of Lennon and McCartney. But I was unhinged when I read Judd Apatow's book Sick in the Head. For me, it read like a series of writing conferences between Apatow and dozens of comedians. Each person spoke to the critical component of encouragement and mentoring in their lives--often coming from people already accomplished in the craft.
And Apatow phrased his approach as hanging around other comedians. Isn't that what we do with our writing conferences? (I do.) Apatow also used a wonderful phrase (part of a tribe) that is often in the back of my mind when I make decisions in the classroom: "One thing I took from these interviews is that these people were part of a tribe."
I notice that my students (slowly) want to become a part of the tribe of readers and writers when immersed in an environment of readers and writers who read and write for their purposes, their curiosity, their enjoyment. Not mine. Not yours.
The sooner we can help students help us create a tribe of readers and writers (with an attitude that we learn from one another not just the teacher) the sooner we can transfer the behaviors of learning from great books. While reading for pleasure and joy, it is possible for students to learn how to notice how the writer did what he/she did. It is possible for students to ask questions when we do not know how to identify what the writer is doing. It is possible to unlock the door of a lifetime of mentors who will help students on their journey especially after they leave our classrooms.