In January, I started doing reading conferences with my students for the first time.
There are two main schools of thought about what teachers should do while students are reading silently during independent reading time in class: one is that the teacher should read silently with the students to model and encourage reading (and prevent any distractions for the students); the other is that the teacher should conference individually with students about their reading.
Until now, I’ve always sat and read silently with my students during our independent reading time because I had read about the benefits of it in Janice L. Pilgreen’s The SSR Handbook. I also worried that having reading conferences with individual students might be distracting to the rest of the class—even if we whispered, it could be hard for the others to focus on their reading.
Despite my hesitations, I decided to try it out. Before I started doing the conferences, I had all my students fill out a Reading Identity and Goals Survey, which you can download for free here (it’s editable, so you can change it as needed for your students). I then used the survey as a starting point for our discussions in the conferences.
Initially, I was a little worried about not having enough to talk about in the conferences, but I shouldn’t have worried. I tried to keep each conference to about 3-5 minutes, but in many cases, they lasted a little longer.
If you’re looking for ideas, these are some of the possible questions that could be discussed with students in a reading conference:
- Do you like reading books in English? Why or why not?
- Have you read many books in English before?
- Do you like to read in your native language? What do you like to read?
- What book are you reading now?
- Do you like it? Why or why not?
- Is it at a good level for you?
- What is the book about?
- What’s your favorite part so far? Who is your favorite character?
- Is reading easy or difficult for you? What is difficult about it?
- When you read a part of a book that is hard for you or you don’t understand, what do you do?
- Do you like to read in English at home? How often do you read at home?
- What kind of book do you think you want to read next?
- How do you usually decide if you want to read a book? (e.g, look at the cover? Get a recommendation from a friend?)
- Are there any specific books (or a genre of books) that you would like to have in our classroom library?
- Do you have any reading goals right now? (e.g., a number of books you want to read; a certain amount of time you want to spend reading each day/week)
- What can I do to help you with your reading goals?
The conferences helped me get a better idea of how my students feel about reading. Overall, I was pleasantly surprised by how many students have positive attitudes toward reading. The conferences also eased my mind about a couple of students who I feared might have been fake reading. After each conference, I quickly jotted down some notes so that I can look back at them later before my next conference and can follow up on anything I need to.
In keeping with the principle of using as little accountability as possible for students’ free reading time, I tried to keep the conferences very low-key and casual. I don’t want my students to think that the conferences are some kind of formal evaluation where they need to “prove” their reading abilities to me. I think that would only heighten their anxiety and take away some of the enjoyment of their free reading time.
Aside from the benefits in reading instruction, I also felt like the conferences helped me to connect with my students in a way that is very different from our usual whole-class interactions. One of my students who never speaks up in class suddenly became extremely chatty when talking with me one-on-one. Especially for our introverted students (and us introverted teachers!), I think these one-on-one interactions are important.
I’m glad I decided to try out the reading conferences, and I will definitely continue doing them, though my plan is to do a combined approach—doing a round of reading conferences every once in a while so that I can check in with students but still taking a few weeks off between the rounds of conferences to sit and read silently with my students. Even though I enjoyed doing the conferences, I also missed having my own silent reading time during class, and I do think it’s beneficial for students to see me reading. And when I’m reading with students, it’s easier for me to keep an eye on all the students at the same time so I can see who looks like they get easily distracted, who is yawning, who seems to be looking up a lot of words in their dictionary…and so on.
If you want to read more about how to do reading conferences, I recommend these articles:
- Pernille Ripp’s post, “Reading Conferences with Students within the 45-Minute English Class; Yes, It’s Possible“
- Jori Krulder’s article, “The Unexpected Power of Reading Conferences“