How to Confer with Your Readers

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It’s been just over a month since school started. My fourth graders and I have spent four weeks building community, establishing routines and practicing procedures. Every day we increased our reading stamina by agonizingly slow (for me!) increments, until we finally reached the 20 minute mark – and the heart of my teaching. Finally, a week ago, I was able to begin conferring with my students.

For me Reading Conferences are the reason to use a Workshop model. This format allows me to meet with each and every student, discuss their reading, set goals, and tailor their instruction in a way that nothing else can. I know every child’s reading habits, strengths and challenges, and I work with them to grow their learning over the course of the year.

I’ve done a lot of reading on this topic, trying to find the perfect formula for my conferences and there are some great resources out there which I’ve listed at the bottom of this post. But the truth is, the way my conference goes depends on the student sitting in front of me. And to my mind, this is the way it should be. The whole point of conferring with my students is to be able to create an individualized plan for each and every one of my readers. I want them to feel like they have a ‘personal trainer’ for reading – someone who will guide, support and celebrate their reading goals. That being said however, I usually follow an outline that helps keep me on track and ensures I cover all the important bases.

The first conference I have with a student usually takes longer than future conferences will. This one sets the tone and provides momentum for learning.  Below is an outline of what my initial conferences look like:

1) This is What I’ve Learned About You as a Reader
We review the Reading Survey students filled out for me at the beginning of the school year, and then go over assessment data (formative and summative). I also review their Reading Logs to see what they’ve been reading since school started.  I make sure to give a compliment and highlight strengths.

2) This is an Area We Could Work on Together
I always ask first, “Is there an area of reading you feel you need to work on?” (I use the broad categories comprehension, fluency, accuracy and vocabulary – there is abundant research to support these as the building blocks of reading). I want my students to feel like they have some control over their learning.  If students are unsure, we go back and review the data and pick an area together.

3) Now You Pick a Strategy to Focus On
I use Gail and Joan’s amazing CAFE Menu for this part. The CAFE Menu lists reading strategies under the four categories above. My mini lessons have already explored many of these strategies and taught students how to implement them in their own reading.  I let students pick one that they would like to focus on and we highlight it in their Readers Notebook.

4) Here’s a Plan to Help You Grow
I provide students with a step by step plan to implement this strategy. This is the central part of our conference – it’s the ‘teaching moment’ and differs for every child. The depth and complexity of the plan depends on the needs of each student. This is where your knowledge as a reading teacher is so crucial. You need to know what will help your students meet their goals.

5) Tell Me Your Plan and Put it on Paper
I have students write down their focus area, and strategy plan in the “Goals” section of their Readers Notebook. I ask them to tell me in their own words what their plan is. They also write their name on a small sticky note and place it on our Reading Strategy Board under their area of focus.

6) Let’s Set a Date
I mark a date on my calendar to meet with the student to review the work they have done on their goal. This is when I will assess their progress and we will either move on to a new strategy if they have mastered their first goal, or rework our plan if they are still struggling. The frequency I meet with students depends on their needs. I may be checking in with some students every day if they are well below grade level expectations. Others I may not see (in a formal conference) for two weeks if they are working well above grade level, and their goal requires significant time and thought.  I will still check in with them informally in a “how’s it going?” style in between formal conferences.


I have so enjoyed the conferences I’ve completed so far.  Right now, I get through 2 or 3 in one Independent Reading period (25 minutes).  It’s a slow process, but I’m already seeing amazing results.  This year, I made sure to incorporate goal work into my students’ Readers Notebooks, so now I have a written record of the work they’re doing (pictures to come in a future post).

Below are some of the best resources I have found for conferring.  I welcome your comments and feedback – how does conferring work in your classroom?  What are your conferring strengths and struggles?

Have a great week!

Annabel

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Juicy Goodness

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This week, I have been able to experience my absolute favorite reading feeling. I spent several days immersing myself in some truly incredible professional books and lapped each paragraph up for its juicy goodness. I mean, I feel like I have the juice of ripe fruit dribbling down my chin, the sticky chocolate bits on my fingers, and the melt in my mouth gorgeousness of sugary meringue on my tongue. There were so many wonderful nuggets in these books that I literally had to set them down every 20 minutes or so and spend some time just absorbing what I’d learned. My family was slightly amused by my desire to start conversations with them about reading, and to discuss the meaning and validity of certain teaching practices (not so easy with my 9 year old who was lucky enough to be home with me most of the time and the recipient of the majority of my ramblings!) I miss my co-workers!

This, my friends is my reading Nirvana – my truly happy place. I love exploring my profession and learning from others. I am the proverbial “sponge” that can’t wait for school to start on Monday so I can implement the things I’ve read about. But more importantly, I can’t wait to tell my students how much I enjoyed my reading life over the break. If I could boil my teaching down to one single statement it would be “find your juicy goodness”. Well, maybe to be a bit less amorphous, “Find your reading bliss”. I want my students to discover the books that make them smile, exclaim “YES!”, grab the nearest warm body to discuss, sometimes cry, wail, and ultimately be changed forever. If I can do this lofty thing, then I have created readers for life or Readers in the Wild as Donalyn Miller would say. Connecting students with books that make them want to read more is, after all, the best way to start them on the road to educational success.

I hope you have enjoyed this respite we call Winter Break, and had a chance to rejuvenate your teaching core. I know I’m ready to jump back in and I can’t wait to get my students reinvigorated for 2014. I will share my reading life with them, and spend some time helping them set goals for the rest of the school year – including reading goals. I can’t wait to hear what my accomplished readers and formerly reluctant readers read over the break, and I will begin anew my quest to bring those last few stragglers into the fold of juicy goodness.

Best wishes to you for 2014 and may you always have a good book on hand.

Annabel Hurlburt

If you’re interested, my amazing reads this week were:

Writing about Reading by Janet Angelillo (I’m starting a book study with this book at my school – inspired by a post Donalyn Miller shared on #titletalk)

Building a Reading Life by Lucy Calkins
A Guide to Reading Workshop by Lucy Calkins
These books were a part of this set
(I do a form of Reading Workshop in my classroom already – Daily 5 and CAFE which was designed by the Two Sisters and I LOVE it. I wanted to read Lucy’s work and see how they compared and where I could add more. )