Why Confer with Readers? 10 Compelling Reasons

Our wish for every reader is that they are supported by a teacher fiercely committed to conferring. Why this passionate commitment to conferring?  Today, we share ten of our favorite reasons.

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. There 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.  In a conference 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.”

Continue reading “Why Confer with Readers? 10 Compelling Reasons”

Some of my students just hop from book to book! What can I do to support them?

Question: A few of the readers in my class just seem unable to stick with a book from beginning to end. What can I do to help them commit?

Daniel, a fourth grader, seems to have picked up and put down more books than almost any other student in his fourth-grade class this year.  In fact, his teacher worries that he may not have finished a single book all year aside from the ones read in small groups or with book clubs. Daniel’s ability to read is on par with his grade-level peers, but he just doesn’t ever seem to find a book that he really wants to commit to. His teacher knows Daniel needs support with this, so she decides to investigate the issue a little further through conferring… 

We all know those readers who have a difficult time committing to a book. In fact, as readers ourselves, we both know we’ve sometimes been in Daniel’s shoes; buying or borrowing a book we couldn’t wait to dive into, and then later finding our interest or attention waning. In reading as in poker, knowing when “to hold ‘em and when to fold ‘em” is a very real challenge. Students like Daniel, who abandon book after book, are sending a definite signal for help. Offering a series of focused conferences can be a lifesaver for these students.  Today, we offer some ideas about how you might structure a series of conferences to support readers like Daniel. Continue reading “Some of my students just hop from book to book! What can I do to support them?”

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?”

How can I support readers who pick the same types of books over and over again?


Question: I have some readers who pick the same book or types of books again and again. Shouldn’t I be pushing them toward more variety?

Juan is on a mission to know as much as he can about outer space. Day after day in his second-grade classroom, he immerses himself in books about space. Every single informational book he’s read in the past month has been about space. When he reads fiction, he prefers books that take place in space. If he can’t find a new book about space, he chooses to reread one he already spent time with. When Juan’s teacher suggests it may be time to move to a different topic, encouraging him instead to try out an ocean book or something from the sports bin, his interest in reading takes an immediate dive. It seems as though if Juan can’t be reading books about outer space, he’s not that interested in reading at all. 

Sometimes students fall so in love with a topic, a series, an author, or a genre that it seems nothing else will do for them as readers. As teachers who know the importance variety can play in developing well-rounded readers, it’s not uncommon that we try to push students in another direction and in doing so, unintentionally create disengagement. 

We worry less about about what many perceive as a reading rut – reading the same topic, book type, or title over and over again – and more about the level of engagement we see in a reader. Because Juan is so intentional and committed to his book choices, we don’t think he’s really in a rut. We think of a rut as a place we get stuck because we don’t know a better option. Students in true ruts look very different. They are students who aren’t truly engaged or excited about their reading. They are simply choosing the same types of texts over and over because they haven’t found or don’t know how to find a better or different option. These students will definitely benefit from our use of conferring time to support book choice. Continue reading “How can I support readers who pick the same types of books over and over again?”

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!”

How do I Confer with a Student Who’s Reading a Book That I Haven’t Read?

Question: I haven’t read the book myself, so how will I be able to confer with a reader about it?

Sylvie’s fifth-grade students are voracious readers. On most days, at least one of her students brings a book into the classroom that is completely unfamiliar to her. Even though Sylvie has tried to keep up with her students’ book choices, she has found that it is just not possible to know every book that every child in her class is reading. She wants to confer with her students, but she isn’t sure how to talk with them when they are reading a book that is unfamiliar to her. 

Trying to read everything our students are reading is a noble goal, but it’s simply not realistic. In fact, if you have read every book your students have read, your students probably aren’t reading enough. There are just way too many great books in the world to limit the choices of our students to those we’ve read ourselves!  So, in this post, we offer some suggestions for how to engage in meaningful conversations with students, when they are reading something you have not read.  Continue reading “How do I Confer with a Student Who’s Reading a Book That I Haven’t Read?”

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”