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.