How can I use conferring to connect with students who are very new to English?

Since arriving in the country with her family just a few months ago, Renata’s days are filled with new and sometimes peculiar settings, people, smells, tastes, and expectations. Because Spanish is the language she’s grown up with, there are added layers of complexity that she must navigate in her new school as she tries to find entry points into conversation, social structures, and the academic curriculum of her second grade classroom. Since Renata isn’t yet reading or understanding much English, her teacher worries about how to help her make the most of independent choice reading each day and feels a bit stymied about what to say and do in a conference, since the two of them have so few words in common.

With an estimated 5 million English learners (ELs) currently in US classrooms (US Department of Education, 2015), roughly 1 out of every 10 students has a home language other than English. Embracing the presence of these immigrant, refugee, and US born language diverse learners into our classrooms is an opportunity to welcome world in, modeling for all students what it means to be a member of a culturally and linguistically diverse world. In today’s post we offer a few simple entry points for using conferring with English learners to build relationships, help them grow as readers, leverage their interests and strengths, and help them to help them become thriving members of the classroom community. Continue reading “How can I use conferring to connect with students who are very new to English?”

Help! My students want to choose books I’m afraid are too hard!

Help! My students want to choose books I’m afraid are too hard!

As Carmen looks around her third-grade classroom, she sees her peers reading chapter books like Clementine, The One and Only Ivan, The Spiderwick Chronicles, and even Harry Potter. She mentioned to her teacher, Mr. Chen, that everyone’s books seem “so fat and brainy” and the books she’s reading look like “baby books.”  Most of her peer’s current reads exceed 100, 200, and even 300 pages. Carmen longs to read the same books as her friends. In Carmen’s opinion, most of the classroom library books at her current “level” look like they’re for much younger kids. Mr. Chen is at a loss. He knows that if Carmen is to grow as a reader, she’ll have to spend lots of time with books she can actually read and comprehend. But, Carmen is so determined to read what her friends are reading. Like many kids in her position, she just wants to fit in.

The last message we want to give readers is, “You can’t read this book. It’s too hard for you.” So, what can teachers like Mr. Chen do to help readers like Carmen find books they love, can read, and feel proud to hold in their hands?  Continue reading “Help! My students want to choose books I’m afraid are too hard!”

Tips to Help Students Develop the Independence They Need So You Can Confer

Question: I want to regularly confer with every reader in my classroom. But, how can I respond to students who persistently seek my attention while I’m trying to confer with others?

Aaron, a second grade teacher, is working to establish both independent reading and conferring in his classroom. However, as soon as he starts to dig in with one student, he finds himself interrupted by other students who want his attention. Joey needs to go to the restroom; Ava has can’t find her book bag; Isaac keeps tattling on the kids around him. Aaron is beginning to wonder if  his kids just aren’t ready for this level of independence yet, or if maybe they need something “more structured” than independent reading to do while he confers.

Because conferring calls on us to be wholeheartedly present with just one student at a time, What will the other kids be doing? often comes up when we talk with teachers about conferring. Our answer is clear and simple: they’ll be reading self-selected texts. After all, conferring is our primary means of reflecting on what students are doing as they read independently, so we can find meaningful ways to cultivate thriving reading lives. In other words, conferring is something we do while students read independently, in order to understand, affirm, and extend how they read independently.

However, helping your students learn to carry on with engaged independence is not something that just happens overnight. This is tricky, ongoing work that takes clarity, patience, and persistence on your part. To get you started we offer a handful of strategies that will work with any age or stage of reading development.  Continue reading “Tips to Help Students Develop the Independence They Need So You Can Confer”