Quick Tip Tuesday: Independence Through Conferences

October 12th, 2010

In More Than Guided Reading, author Cathy Mere shares her journey as she moved from focusing on guided reading as the center of her reading program to placing children at the heart of literacy learning. In this week’s Quick Tip, Cathy talks about how individual conferences play a big role in creating independent readers.

One afternoon during reader’s workshop, I knelt down beside Katie to talk about the book she had chosen to read, The Big Kick by Beverley Randell. Even though I had read this story aloud a million times, I was having a hard time understanding her retelling. She didn’t quite seem to get the gist of what she was reading. The story is about Tom and his dad who, while out in the yard playing soccer, kick the ball over the fence and have to try to find it. Since Katie seemed to be having a hard time understanding the story, I wanted to try to determine what was making the reading challenging for her. Was she actually having trouble reading the story or just difficulty understanding it? I asked if she would read a page or two to me and took a running record as she read.

As I listened, I noticed that when she got to an unknown word she would stop and look at me. My prompts to “try it” produced only puzzled looks. She was uncertain about how to help herself. I thought that if I gave her some strategies to try, she might be able to read with more success. Unfortunately, because Katie was not attempting to read tricky words at all, I had little information to go on.Was she able to use meaning to help figure out unknown words? Was she using available picture cues? Was she looking at the word and thinking about what it might be?

There was no way for me to know the cues she was attending to. As I talked with Katie I said, “I notice that when you are reading and you come to a word you don’t know, you stop and look at me. I want you to try to figure out the word on your own. Let me show you something I think might help. When you are stuck, go back a little and reread; then, when you reach that hard word, try something that makes sense. You can use the picture and think about the story to help as well.” We practiced rereading and attempting to figure out the word when she was stuck. Then, since she was still having difficulty, I reread with her and let her try the word, lowering my voice as hers took over.We did this several times, with occasional prompts from me. I praised these attempts, even though she did not always produce the word in the text, because they did allow me to see what information Katie was using to read new text. I put her back on my schedule for the following day. I wanted to follow up quickly, to make attempting an unknown word something she does independently.

Conferences That Shape Independence
While focus lessons allow me to develop common conversations in our classroom community, conferences allow me to shape my instruction to individual students. Changing my schedule to allow time for conferences has not only helped me to carry focus-lesson conversations into the workshop and learn about my students as readers, it has also allowed me to address specific student needs.

The readers in our primary-level classrooms read at their own pace and often have different needs. Instead of working with Katie in a small group, where my attention is divided, in a conference I can focus on her, jumping in quickly when she needs support, prompting her responses as necessary, and praising her attempts at reading.My goal is to support Katie with what is next in her learning, helping her to use new strategies to read increasingly challenging text with understanding.

Having time within the day to meet individually with students has made it easier for me to address the specific needs of my students. In classes of twenty-five or more, students are often not in the same place at the same time. Not everyone is going to be reading a book that is good for asking questions when my focus lesson is about that strategy, not everyone is going to need to learn strategies for figuring out challenging vocabulary, not everyone is going to need to learn to check through a word (search visually), and not everyone is going to need help in monitoring their reading. Conferences allow me to tailor my instruction.

Guided Conferences: I teach students something they need to know about
reading and we try it together. I am there to provide immediate support.
Conferences That Support the Teaching of the Focus Lesson: I follow up on my
teaching of a new strategy or understanding from the focus lesson.
 Conferences That Extend the Teaching of the Focus Lesson: I am able to teach
something that builds on the focus lesson and extends student learning.
Conferences That Develop the Reader: In these conferences, often more conversational,
I help students to develop a reading life.
Assessment Conferences: I am able to find out what the child knows and
understands about reading.

Entry Filed under: Quick Tip Tuesday

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