10 Reasons We Confer Plus 1 Great Book Study Opportunity

The school year is underway across the country.

Classroom libraries are stocked with books and students are settling in to a daily independent reading practice.

Now it’s time to get to know each and every one as readers and as people so we can provide the personalized coaching and support they need to build truly vibrant reading lives. In other words, it’s time to confer.

And whether conferring with readers is new to you or you’re a long time conferring teacher who wants to revamp your practice, we’d like to invite you to join the To Know and Nurture a Reader book study happening over at the Stenhouse Book Study Facebook Group. The book study runs from September 16th to October 21st.

To kick things off, we thought we’d dust off a post we first offered back in May 2018: Why Confer with Readers: Ten Compelling Reasons (linked here and copied below).

Why confer, anyway?

We confer because we want to . . .

  • KNOW readers.  We confer because there’s so much we want and need to know about what goes on in the heads and hearts of the young readers we care about. So, the first reason we confer is to better know each and every child as a reader and a person. Knowing who a reader is, what they love, what they hope for, and what gets in their way is the foundation on which we help students build sturdy, vibrant reading lives.  We show up first to learn and only later to teach, offering our wholehearted presence to one child at time, in a ways that say, “You’re important to me. Knowing all about you and your life as a reader will help me be the best possible teacher I can be for you.”
  • NURTURE readers.  We confer because it is the truest way we know to meet the needs of each and every reader in our classrooms.  Because we are committed to helping students build reading lives that flourish and thrive in the classroom and beyond, we need to consistently peek in on them while they engage in self-directed reading. Here we can pair what what we know about individual readers with what we know about how to nurture reading growth, moving each student forward with personalized, just-in-time, bite-sized nudges.  As we confer we are both intentional and responsive, as we follow precisely where a single reader may lead. By doing so we say to readers  “As we talk and think together about how things are going for you as a reader, we can find ways to keep strengthening your reading skills, habits, and love of reading.”
  • AFFIRM readers. We confer because we want  readers to see what we see, affirming them by shining light on things we want them to value and repeat over and over again. Our students deserve to know that we recognize their efforts and see the strategic things they are already doing. We use conferring as an opportunity to notice and draw attention to the wise and intentional ways they are helping themselves already. When we affirm readers we are letting them know, “You’re already taking thoughtful and strategic actions to help yourself as a reader. Let me point out what I notice, so you’ll  be certain to keep doing it.”  
  • EXTEND readers. We confer to keep every reader on the cutting edge of learning. When we’re up close studying what it is readers are currently doing, we are also positioned to spot just-within-reach opportunities for growth. We offer these new ways for readers to stretch themselves, extending their current reading behaviors step by step up the ladder to greater success and possibility, by telling them, “It seems you’re ready for a next step. May I show you another way you can continue to grow as a reader?”
  • REMIND readers. We confer to make our teaching stick, connecting the dots from other learning settings to self-selected reading and helping students transfer their learning from day to day and text to text. To do this, we intentionally remind readers of the actions they can take to help themselves, not just today or with this book, but into the future and with any book they choose to pick up.  In this way, our conferring supports transfer, which is the ultimate goal of our teaching. Our reminders say, “This strategic thing you did right here is something you can do over and over again, throughout your whole life as a reader.”
  • Bolster BOOK CHOICE.  We believe books are the magic fairy dust of engagement for all readers. And we believe that every book choice tells a story, about both the reader and their book-finding skills. Therefore, we often confer in the direction of book choice, equipping readers to find one good-fit book after another, in school and beyond, throughout their lifetimes. Regardless of the age of the reader or stage of reading, we use our conversations and observations of our readers to consider, “Is this reader consistently finding texts that lead to high levels of engagement?”  If not, we know we’ve got urgent work to do. So, we roll up our sleeves to help strengthen their skills and strategies for finding their way to a steady stream of books they both can and want to read.
  • Foster HEALTHY HABITS.  Ultimately, every reading life is shaped by a combination of choices that a reader makes. As we confer we help students reflect on their own habits as readers so that they can learn to make intentional adjustments to both the quantity and the quality of their time spent reading. We ask ourselves,“Is the reader making intentional decisions that result in lots of time spent reading both in and out of school?  If not, we use conferring time to support readers in shaping their habits, decisions, and plans in ways that will  help them grow into readers who have both the skill and the will to read often and by choice, long after our time with them has passed.
  • Develop STRATEGIC PROCESS. We confer because we are committed to equip readers with the skills and strategies  that will open up more and more possibilities for them as readers. Whether readers are at the earliest stages, not reading conventionally, or they are fluently reading at grade level and beyond, every growing reader needs to support in learning to tackle increasingly challenging texts, And so, as we listen to readers read and listen to them talk about their reading, we ask ourselves, “What strategic actions is the reader taking to solve problems and make meaning of the text? “ By carefully considering each reader’s stage of reading development as well as the demands of the texts they want to read, we can use conferring to help learn new strategies for tackling challenges, make meaning, and confidently solve problems as they go.
  • Encourage AUTHENTIC RESPONSE. Readers don’t just read to read. Readers read to be changed or moved in some way. By conferring we are able to support readers in the classrooms in learning to do what readers in the world outside of school naturally do in response to reading: think, feel, question, wonder, talk, explore, and take action as growing readers and deep-thinking, contributing citizens of the world.  As we confer we consider, “How is the reader using reflection, connection, or action in authentic ways?”  Then, we ask ourselves how we might help to shape each reader’s sense of what is possible because of having read something that matters.
  • GROW as teachers. Finally, we confer not only to learn about and help our students grow, but also to learn about and help ourselves grow as teachers. As we sit side by side with readers, we are able to measure their needs against our own readiness to respond. We are able to see where our own practice is already vibrant and strong. And, if we are truly courageous in our conferring, we will also notice those places where we don’t yet feel confident or prepared to respond to what our readers show us. In these moments, we bravely ask ourselves, “If I am to make the greatest possible impact with this reader, what next steps might I take to stretch myself and strengthen my own practice as a conferring teacher?”  

For these reasons and many more, we believe the journey toward a thriving conferring practice is worth every ounce of time, love, and effort it might take.

Happy conferring!

Three Tips to Help Students Carry Their Healthy Reading Habits into the Summer Months

With just a few weeks to go in the school year, Stephen steps back to observe his fourth grade class during independent reading, reflecting on how far they’ve come as readers since the start of the year. He doesn’t measure their growth merely in terms of standards or discrete skills. Instead, he sees the ways his class of nine and ten year olds have worked to become a community of engaged and thriving readers over the past eight months.

He smiles as he thinks about how far some of his students have come. Elsa, who was a self-proclaimed non reader in September, is now devouring Jason Reynold’s Track series. Vince, who had a tough time establishing an at-home reading practice due to the challenges of sharing a small bedroom with two younger siblings, is now carving out time to read during what Donalyn Miller refers to as on the edges– those in between times when a few spare minutes can be found here and there. While Stephen sees much to celebrate, the thought of summer approaching also brings concern.

On the other side of the school, Dolores is busy conferring with one of her first graders, Viet. Dolores can’t help but revel in how Viet now takes charge of her own reading life. At the start of the year, Viet had a tough time holding a book and turning pages one at a time. Now, eight months later, Viet takes great care making choices while book shopping and carefully creating an ordered stack of books at the start of independent reading time. She now happily readies herself for 25+ joyful and purposeful reading minutes each day in class.

Like Stephen, Dolores worries about what the summer months may mean for her readers when they are away from the guidance and care of a teacher, a classroom library full of books, and a predictable time for daily independent reading.

Educators like Stephen and Dolores all over the country are thinking about the impending summer away from school and what it means for our students. We’re guessing you probably are, too.

Summer can be a scary, unpredictable space where our students take what we’ve offered and either use it or potentially lose it while they are away from school. The summer months humbly remind us that the point of school isn’t school at all. Rather, the point of school is preparing kids for life outside of school. When it comes to reading, summer is definitely a test of what has stuck in terms of reading habits and what has not.

To gauge and guide our work in this area of healthy reading habits we’ve come to rely on one powerful essential question, “Is the reader making intentional decisions that result in lots of time spent reading both in and out of school?” (To Know and Nurture a Reader, pg. 94).

Today, we offer thee specific ideas to support you and your students as you reflect on and respond to this question while thinking about each of your students during the last weeks of school.

These ideas are meant to help you to increase the likelihood that when summer arrives, students don’t leave their reading commitments behind, but instead are ready to carry the healthy reading habits they’ve worked so hard to develop during the school year with them into the summer months.

Tip #1 Plan Healthy Habits Lessons and Check-Ins Between Now & Summer Break: All year long, you’ve poured your heart into to getting and keeping kids engaged in lots of independent choice reading every day. Now, it’s time to support them in taking charge of keeping that reading going when you aren’t there.

Making time for reflection is the place we like to start. One way to do this is to consider offering a short lesson focused on inviting students to reflect on their current healthy reading habits and habits they’d like to commit to working on before summer arrives. This planning sheet for students may help.

Another idea you might try is highlighting the healthy reading habits that you notice in the classroom. Ask students to consider which of these they feel confident they are ready to carry over into their lives outside of school, and which they might decide to continue to work on.

When Christina did this with her class, they created the chart seen above together. The anchor charts you create with your readers will be unique to their thoughts and identified reading habits.

Tip #2 Invite Students to Create Individual Summer Reading Plans: Once you’ve helped your community of readers start to reflect on and talk about reading habits, you can move them into intentional planning for summer reading. As adults, we know the power of planning and goal setting in our own lives. We know that we are more likely to do something if we make specific plans before we embark on the task or goal. Now is the time to help kids leverage that same power in order to avoid the possible summer slide.

Summer reading plans will look different for each reader. Since no two students will experience the same summer break from school, no two readers should have an identical plan. As you help readers plan for summer, you’ll want to help them consider in detail:

  • What they have interest in reading
  • How they will choose books to read
  • How they might access books
  • When and where they will build in time for reading
  • Who they will talk to or connect with around their reading
  • Contingency plans- the best laid plans always have a back up!

We invite you to model this for your students. Creating your own summer reading plan in front of your students will support them in thinking about and creating their own plans. Let them see the process you go through. Allow them hear you think about how you’ll get books, when and where you’ll read, and how you’ll share your reading. This kind of modeling holds an immense amount of power.

To see what this might look like in practice, take a peek at a few summer reading plans created by students: Christina’s students’ plans from last year. For more detailed insight on summer reading plans, Kari offers specific ideas about summer planning in her free ebook here.

Avoid leaving planning for summer reading until the last days of school. The idea is to help your students internalize these plans before they head off for the summer. So, we suggest helping kids dig into planning as soon as you’re able- even three to four weeks out is not too early! Have kids keep those plans close at hand, sharing them with each other, revising, and visualizing what their summer reading might look like until the very last day.

Tip #3 Leverage the Power of Conferring: Once you’ve helped students reflect on their current habits and draft some concrete summer plans, you’ll be ready to leverage the power of conferring in a new and intentional way.

Of course it’s no secret that we believe there is no more powerful way to make a difference in a reader’s life than committing to the practice of conferring. This personalized one to one learning conversation is the perfect venue to help kids strengthen and realize their summer plans.

Taking the time to sit down with a reader, look in their eyes, explore and offer your partnership in strengthening their plans for summer reading will go far. Wondering about what and how they’ll read this summer, affirming the great ideas they have to help themselves read away from school, and offering additional ideas or suggestions will empower them. This personalized conversation you offer for each student can help to make their plans more intentional, more specific, and more likely to to happen.

Supporting young readers in reflection and planning not only helps to strengthen their reading habits now, but also sets them up for more success once they leave our doors. So, if you don’t want to see your efforts toward nurturing reading lives walk out the door with your students, now’s the time to dig in.

-Kari & Christina



			
		

Diverse readers? Eight Ideas to Consider

The needs of my readers are so diverse. How can I manage it all?  

Sandy’s first grade classroom is comprised of students who read everything from Elephant and Piggie books to Clementine and beyond.  Within Sandy’s classroom of 26 readers, she has nine students who are learning English, a student with Asperger Syndrome, several students on IEPs, and at least three students who are working through the social/emotional effects of trauma.  Her current assessment shows 10 different independent reading levels ranging from what her school considers kindergarten to third grade and beyond. She often worries she won’t be able to meet the needs of these diverse learners.

Does Sandy’s classroom sound familiar?  Every  classroom is comprised of children with diverse strengths, needs, interests, backgrounds, and experiences, and therefore Sandy’s worries are common to most teachers. 

We don’t pretend to have a quick or slick answer to doing this important work, but in today’s post we share eight starting points for creating conditions to support a very diverse class of readers. Perhaps a couple or all eight might resonate with you. Continue reading “Diverse readers? Eight Ideas to Consider”

Conferring with Students Who’ve Experienced Childhood Trauma

Mrs. Anthony is a third grade teacher with a classroom of 26 diverse students. This year, she has more students than ever who seem to struggle with emotional regulation, attention, and peer interactions. During recent professional development in her school, she and her colleagues have had the opportunity to start to learn about how the effects of childhood trauma can present themselves in school. Through the lens of trauma, Mrs. Anthony is working to take a careful inventory of her own practices and decisions in the classroom, working to create a calm, predictable, and safe place for learning to unfold every day. As she does so, she begins to wonder about how her conferring practice might intersect with the needs and/or triggers of her students who are experiencing chronic trauma in their lives. 

No matter where you teach, what your class size, or how long you’ve been in the business, chances are you’re working to build more skills yourself for meeting the needs of students whose exposure to traumatic life experiences is interfering with school success. Continue reading “Conferring with Students Who’ve Experienced Childhood Trauma”

Challenge #13: Trust yourself and keep growing all year long.

Challenge #13: Trust yourself and keep growing all year long.  Cultivating a community of readers is a year long labor of love. It starts before you ever even meet this year’s students and doesn’t end until the last good-byes in May or June.

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“There is not one right or wrong way to do this work. So loosen up,

have some fun, and when in doubt trust your instincts

to follow your students.”

-Kari Yates & Christina Nosek

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We’re delighted you decided to be part of this challenge. 

We hope the challenges we posed have affirmed many of the things you’re already working so hard to do, given you some ideas of how to refine others, and maybe planted a few ideas about ways you might stretch yourself in the weeks and months ahead. 

The thirteen challenges together are meant to help you lay the foundation for a building a vibrant community of readers this year. Of course each of these ideas is simply a starting point. The real trick is to keep your courage and your energy high throughout the entire school year, as you work to help readers thrive, not only as individuals, but as true members of a community of readers.  Continue reading “Challenge #13: Trust yourself and keep growing all year long.”

This Week’s Quote, August 19, 2018

“When we publicly acknowledge and celebrate the work of one student, the whole community of readers benefits.” –page 60

If you want to read more, you can visit the Stenhouse website to order your own copy of our book, To Know and Nurture a Reader; Conferring with Confidence and Joy.  If you’d like to be part of the conversation, come on over and join our To Know and Nurture a Reader Facebook Group. If you want more content like this delivered right to your inbox, click the Follow button below and  you’ll never miss a post.

We’re so glad to have you with us on our learning journey.  – Kari & Christina

This Week’s Quote, August 12, 2018

“An affirmation is much more than simply telling a reader what it is we like about their reading. It is an intentional learning message- helping the reader understand what helpful thing they are already doing so they will leverage it time and time again.” -page 28

If you want to read more, you can visit the Stenhouse website to order your own copy of our book, To Know and Nurture a Reader; Conferring with Confidence and Joy.  If you’d like to be part of the conversation, come on over and join our To Know and Nurture a Reader Facebook Group. If you want more content like this delivered right to your inbox, click the Follow button below and  you’ll never miss a post.

We’re so glad to have you with us on our learning journey.  – Kari & Christina

This Week’s Quote, August 5, 2018

“If we are serious about nurturing lifelong readers, we must take seriously the work of book choice.” -page 74

If you want to read more, you can visit the Stenhouse website to order your own copy of our book, To Know and Nurture a Reader; Conferring with Confidence and Joy.  If you’d like to be part of the conversation, come on over and join our To Know and Nurture a Reader Facebook Group. If you want more content like this delivered right to your inbox, click the Follow button below and  you’ll never miss a post.

We’re so glad to have you with us on our learning journey.  – Kari & Christina

This Week’s Quote, July 29, 2018

“There is not one right or wrong way to do this work. So loosen up, have some fun, and when in doubt trust your instincts to follow your students.” –page 6

If you want to read more, you can visit the Stenhouse website to order your own copy of our book, To Know and Nurture a Reader; Conferring with Confidence and Joy.  If you’d like to be part of the conversation, come on over and join our To Know and Nurture a Reader Facebook Group. If you want more content like this delivered right to your inbox, click the Follow button below and  you’ll never miss a post.

We’re so glad to have you with us on our learning journey.  – Kari & Christina