Quick Tip Tuesday: Independent reading conferences

February 16th, 2010

In this week’s Quick Tip, Tony Stead shows what an independent reading conference looks like in his classroom as he helps a student select a just-right book. Check out his recent book, Good Choice: Supporting Independent Reading and Response, K-6, for more sample conferences.

The Conference in Action

Once children know when they will be attending the conference and are prepared for the encounter, the conference can begin. The conference must be a focused event, so I follow a sequence of implementation procedures to help with this task. These procedures include the following:

Implementation Procedures

■ I ask the student to tell me what he or she has been working on in independent reading. This is based on the tasks set at the previous conference. These tasks stem from each student’s ability to internalize the different strategies modeled in the whole-class settings.

■ Once the student has identified his or her goals, I ask a series of questions based on the goals. I may also ask the student to read part of the text to me to check his or her fluency, phrasing, and expression. If the student is unable to identify his or her reading goals, I remind the student what they were. At this stage, I usually end the conference because it’s obvious that the student is not prepared. I reschedule the conference for another day and make sure the student works on established goals during independent reading.

■ If the child is struggling with the set goals, I provide the appropriate scaffolds and make recommendations. I make sure I follow up with the child before the next conference so that I am not waiting an entire week to see whether the student has internalized the modeled strategies. This follow-up is not in the form of an additional conference, but more of an informal conversation. The conference with Jessica on pages 117–119 demonstrates this procedure.

■ If the child appears to have accomplished the set goals, I congratulate him or her and set new goals. I record these goals in a notebook or conference record sheet. I also have the student record his or her new goals.

■ If I find that I have several students struggling with specific strategies or goals, I call them together for small-group instruction. If I find that the majority of my students are struggling, I reintroduce the focus in a whole-class setting.

The following are two transcripts from conferences that demonstrate the previously described procedure. The first is with Jessica from Betty Mason’s second-grade class. This conference shows what I do when a child is struggling with his or her set goals. The second is with Kirk from Peter’s fifth-grade class. In this conference, Kirk has achieved his set goals, so I concentrate on other aspects of his reading.

Conference with Jessica in Grade 2

Focus: Selecting Texts That Are Comfortable Reads

Tony: Hi, Jessica. Would you like to tell me what you’ve been working on in your reading?

Jessica: Getting books that are right for me.

Tony: What do you mean, “books that are right”?

Jessica: Well, ones that I can read the words.

Tony: Do you think understanding what the words are saying is also important?

Jessica: Yeah.

Tony: Did you find any?

Jessica: I got three of ’em.

Tony: That’s terrific. Would you like to read one of them to me?

Jessica begins reading a book about fish. Her reading of the text is slow and labored. She mispronounces many words. My running record reveals that this book is too hard for her. After she has read four pages, I stop her because she is struggling.

Tony: Jessica, I’m noticing that you are having problems with some of the words.

Jessica: Some of them are hard for me.

Tony: So do you find this is an easy book to read and understand?

Jessica: I can read some of it.

Tony: Do you understand it?

Jessica: Some bits.

Tony: That’s great if you can understand some of it. Is there another book in your book bag that’s a bit easier? Maybe a book where you can read nearly all of the words and understand what’s happening?

Jessica: Well, I think that they could be a bit hard.

Tony: Then why don’t you go back to the classroom library and find one that feels just right. Remember how we talked about using the chart to help you select comfortable texts?

I refer Jessica to the chart created in the whole-class mini-lesson. Refer to pages 93–94 in Chapter 6.

Tony: Do you think you can do that, Jessica? Or do you need more help? Maybe one of your friends can help you.

Jessica: I think I can do it.

Tony: That’s terrific, Jessica. I’d like you to do that for me, and after I’ve finished my next conference, I’m going to come over to see how it’s all going. Does that sound good?

Jessica: Yeah.

I write down Jessica’s goals on her conference record sheet. I also write down the words: “I’m going to find something I can read and understand” on an index card and give it to Jessica. This is her record of her set goals. This is put into her book bag so that she has her own record of what she is going to be working on in her reading.

Tony: Okay, Jessica. I’ve written down in my notes that you are going to find a text that you can read and understand. I’ve written this on a card for you. It says, “I’m going to find something I can read and understand.” So can you tell me what you’re going to work on?

Jessica: Find something I know how to read.

Tony: And not only be able to read but also be able to . . .

Jessica: Understand.

Tony: Excellent. I’ll be over soon to check how you’re going.

At the end of my next conference, I go over to see how Jessica is doing. She has selected two books that appear easier. I congratulate her on her selections and ask her to find a few more. I tell her that when I meet with her next, I want her to bring one of her new selections to share at the conference. If Jessica had again struggled making appropriate selections, I would either have provided her with further support, or met with her in a small group with other children who were encountering the same problem.

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