Do you want to have authentic conversations with students about books? Do you want to learn more about your students as readers? Then reading conferences are the thing for you! While the word conference may sound too professional for your teaching style, these conversations are a great way to learn about your students, discuss reading materials, and reteach skills that you have covered in your whole or small group activities.
What is a reading conference?
A reading conference is a short 4-5 minute conversation with students about the book they are currently reading. Hopefully, this book is something that the student chose independently, but could also be used for book clubs or a whole class novel. During a reading conference, teachers are engaging with students one-on-one about how their reading is going and what they are learning. Each reading conference will be different, depending on what your student wants to talk about or what skills you may discuss with a student.
As a teacher, it is your goal to try and meet with a student twice a month, but if you can meet with them more, that would be even better. You can schedule your reading conferences during the sustained reading time since it does not have to be a long conversation– try to avoid conversations longer than ten minutes. However, you do not need a strict calendar in order to meet with students. There are days where students need to make-up conversations, so a strict schedule may make it hard to meet with all students.
How do you begin and then where do you go?
First, you need to have an initial conference that helps you understand your students as readers. Students need to know that reading conferences are a judgment free zone, so they can be open and honest about how their reading is going. Along with this, you need to find out their previous history as a reader. You can do this through conversations, or you can have students complete a reading interest survey about their history. This gives you another talking point during the initial conversations. It is beneficial to also learn about your students by asking what they have struggled or excelled at in the past, along with what strategies they may use while reading a book for “fun.”
Once you have found out what interests the student, you can identify Just Right books. During your initial conference, you can give book recommendations after you have learned more about topics or themes that students may enjoy reading. You want to make sure that you are helping them find books that they are interested in and truly want to read, especially during independent reading time. If you do not have knowledge on certain books, you can reach out to your librarian to help you find a book that may intrigue a specific student.
After the initial reading conference, the conference may look different from here on out. Each conference can start with a basic question like, “How is your reading going?” or “What have you learned this week?” After this, the reading conference may turn more conversational. This is also a great time to have a more supportive conversation about the skills you are teaching in the classroom. You can shift your discussion to skills that have been taught at the whole group level. If you notice that a student does not understand or know how to apply a new skill, you can use the conference time to have a mini lesson. This allows you to have additional support for the students, all while applying the skill in a conversation.
Once you have been using reading conferences for a while, students should be doing most of the talking. It is okay if you have not read the book they are currently reading. Always make sure you are using open-ended questions in order to get the conversations started and to keep them rolling. If you are going to structure your reading conferences around a standard or a skill that students have worked on, make sure you have questions written down or prepared, so you know the structure of your conference.
What are the benefits of reading conferences?
Reading conferences have many benefits for student learning. First, you get to know your students on a personal level and figure out what they love. As a teacher, you want students to enjoy what they are reading. This is a great time to hear about what students are passionate about, which in turn, helps you find books that are Just Right for them! Students also really love working with a teacher in a one-on-one setting. This is a time for them to express concerns, be heard, and share their love (or new interest) for reading.
Reading conferences are also a great way to provide additional support for students. Through these conversations, you can focus specifically on content or standards that are being taught in the whole class setting. You can use questions that will help you gauge student knowledge on the topic through their books. If students seem to be struggling with a concept, reading conferences are a great way to incorporate short mini lessons to help students apply their learning.
Finally, you get to help students set goals and work to reach them. This allows you to have conversations around books and show students the importance of setting goals and achieving them. This will always be a life-long skill, so it is a great way to show students the importance of setting goals and crossing off steps to meeting them.
How can you help students set goals?
At the beginning of reading conferences, it is important to create small goals for students. A goal should be obtainable and can be set to be accomplished weekly, monthly, or quarterly. The student and teacher will work together to create goals and help the students achieve them throughout the year. By creating goals, you are able to have a conversation to reflect upon throughout the reading process. Along with this, it helps teachers give feedback and monitor a student’s progress during independent reading time.
The best part of setting goals is the celebration when it has been achieved. As teachers, sometimes we do not always set aside time to celebrate with our students, especially in an individualized setting. If a student has worked hard to achieve a goal, it is a great time to celebrate and focus on a new goal to work towards. This keeps students accountable, but also gives them a chance to feel accomplished in their reading.
What other ways can teachers support students?
Reading conferences are a great way to check in with students and provide support with their learning. Many kids struggle with asking questions in a whole class setting, but reading conferences allow them the chance to directly talk with the teacher. You can quickly review lessons during this time and go over them during the conferences. This is so helpful if a student was absent or missed something a day or week before.
You can also use mini lessons by moving conversations towards a new skill that you have worked on. This will help you see and understand learning gaps with students. It will also help you see if there is a common misunderstanding on a skill that needs to be retaught at the whole class or small group level. Through these conferences, you can get to know your students’ passions and instill a love for reading!
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