Reading conferences are one the best parts of reading workshop. I know it may not always feel that way; you may feel unsure of how to meet with each student, you may not know when to fit conferences into your already full schedule, and you may feel unsure of what questions to ask during a conference. Reading conferences should not feel like one more thing to add to your list, but an exciting part of your student's reading growth that you get to be a part of. Getting organized and having a system for a conferencing schedule allows you to appreciate reading conferences and see them as the icing on the already amazing reading workshop cake.
Why are reading conferences so important?
Reading conferences are a time when you can really get to know your students as readers. You can learn their reading behaviors, develop relationships with them as readers, and learn how to tailor your instruction to what they need. Reading instruction teaches students to work things out in their heads, becoming active readers as they dive into a text. Reading conferences allow them time to put their thoughts into words and give them confidence as readers and speakers.
What is a reading conference?
A reading conference is a conversation between the teacher and student. It allows students to share their thoughts about their reading and set goals for future reading. It is a time for students to reflect on their reading and for the teacher to provide guidance.
- It is not an assessment or a time to reteach. The teacher does not model a skill or strategy. The student does most of the talking with thoughtful prompts from the teacher.
- It is a time for individualized instruction.
- It is a time to get to know your students as readers.
- It is a conversation between you and your student. It should feel natural and casual. Your students should feel excited about your conference, not nervous when they meet with you!
- It is a time to offer support for strategies and goals the student is practicing.
- It is a time to give feedback and strategies to reach goals.
What is your job?
- Be prepared! Look back at your notes from your last conference with students before you meet with them again. Begin by making a connection to your last conference. This lets them know that your time together MATTERS!!! You remember what you last discussed and you're invested in checking in on them again.
- Listen! I know this is a hard one when there is usually a lot going on in the background! But be there as a listener and help students articulate the purpose of their reading. Give meaningful prompts to get students thinking.
- Help with student goals! Students should leave the conference with an action item that is clear and achievable. Working together to set a goal gives students confidence in their learning and they know they'll be checking back in with you and their goal, so they will work hard towards success. During a conference, you're able to model goal-setting behavior. Goal setting is sometimes hard for students and meeting one on one allows you time to model the language and questioning that is involved in setting a goal.
- Set high expectations! Your expectations set the bar for your students' achievement and you know what they are capable of. You can be your students' biggest motivator, don't be afraid to set those expectations high!
What does the teacher do during a reading conference?
- Make a connection to your last conference
- Give a compliment, try to focus the compliment around the goal or the focus skill
- Give a tip or something related to their goal
- Ask specific questions about their reading and then listen as they talk (this is the real meat of the conference, right here!)
- Discuss their reading goal and give an action item to work on as they continue their reading
And when you wrap up the conference, make sure to take notes so that you can look back as a reminder of what was discussed and the goals that were set.
What does the student do during the reading conference?
- Shares their goal
- Reads a section of the text
- Discusses the text with thoughtful prompts from the teacher when necessary
- Considers if they've met their goal
- Works to set a new reading goal
- And let them brag about themselves!! They are working hard, meeting their goals, and growing as readers. Give them time to share their excitement about their goals and about their reading!
How can you keep track of all of your students?
Keep a separate conference binder. You can keep each student's conferencing notes and all of their conferencing materials in a plastic sheet protector in the binder so it is easy to access each student and it saves time. You can also use dividers for each student's conferencing materials.
A separate binder allows you to keep everything in one place, gives you easy access to each student's goals and notes, and allows you to review them easily before your conference.
So, are you ready for reading conferences? I have a strong feeling that if you get into a good routine with your conferences, they will become one of your favorite parts of reading workshop! You'll learn so much about your students in that short conference time!