Quick Tip Tuesday: Independent reading conferences

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.

Add comment February 16th, 2010

Quick Tip Tuesday: Book choice and fluency

In this week’s Quick Tip, Pat Johnson talks about how choosing the right book can help struggling students become better, more fluent readers. In her book, One Child at a Time: Making the Most of Your Time with Struggling Readers, K-6, Pat provides a framework she has used with hundreds of students to help teachers understand and assist struggling readers.

One of the best ways a teacher can support a struggling reader who is working on fluency is to choose books carefully. A child needs some books in his basket or book box that he can read easily. Time for familiar reading each day will provide the child with opportunities to practice reading fluently. Each child needs to know what it feels like to be a fluent reader.

Juliza’s favorite book is Lazy Mary, with the chorus, “Lazy Mary, will you get up? Will you, will you, will you get up? Lazy Mary, will you get up? Will you get up today?” Oftentimes, I use that book as a way for her to gauge her own fluency. I say, “Try to make this one sound as smooth as when you are reading Lazy Mary.

We all know how young children love to join in on the refrains in familiar Big Books, like, “Run, run, as fast as you can. You can’t catch me. I’m the Gingerbread Man.” Teachers can use shared reading experiences with Big Books or poems on charts to talk to children about reading groups of words together. In Shared Reading for Today’s Classroom (2005) Carleen Payne gives various ideas of how to use Big Books to model, teach, and practice fluent reading with young children. Other ideas in her book include fluency activities for literacy centers, how to create Readers Theater scripts from familiar stories, and ways to reproduce familiar stories, songs, or poems to use with a take-home reading program. In Jodi Maher’s first-grade room, children love Mem Fox’s books. As you pass their room during shared reading, you can hear them reading with great expression. They love exclaiming words, such as, “Good grief!” or “Well, well!” as they enjoy Mem Fox’s repeated, singsong phrasing and delightful story lines.

Jodi: How did you know how to read this part so well? (points to the line “‘Good grief!’ said the goose.” )

Lindsey: I was sounding like the goose.

Conner: And I saw the exciting mark.

Jodi is choosing Big Books that support fluency teaching during shared reading for the whole class. She knows, however, that some children will need more of a focus on fluency than others, so for guided reading with small groups, she chooses sets of books for these readers that have singsong patterns or repetitive refrains. These books are not only fun to read, but beg to be read fluently. The list on the next page contains a few possible titles.

Carol Felderman, a second-grade teacher, noticed Gary’s choppy reading and began to try some of the suggestions I had shared with her. She was having trouble, though, finding just the right book that Gary would be willing to practice over time. Although he enjoyed and understood the books she gave him in guided reading and was beginning to improve his fluency, he rarely reread them during individual reading time. Carol knew that the familiar practice time was crucial for Gary to build fluency. I located a copy of Joy Cowley’s The Gumby Shop. This rhyming, rhythmic book is about the weird items you can buy at the Gumby Shop—from “a bear with electric hair” to “a bed made out of bread.” The humor appealed to Gary. After reading it together, I suggested that he read it to three of his friends during buddy reading time, since it was so crazy and he read it so well. He left full of excitement that he had a funny book to share with his friends.

Finding books that interest a child so that he will want to reread is not always easy. Other techniques are sometimes needed to keep children like Gary on task during individual reading time. One thing Carol found useful was to let Gary work with a tape recorder once in a while. He would tape himself reading a book, listen to his fluency, then try reading the book again to see if he could sound better. The challenge of trying to sound a little bit more phrased and fluent on the next try kept him engaged and on task.

Add comment October 6th, 2009

Quick Tip Tuesday: Helping students find the right books

In her book, More Than Guided Reading, 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 focused conferences with children help them pick the right books that meet their learning needs and improve their reading skills.

Books, of course, only help children learn to read if they meet children’s needs. Sometimes, as I make a teaching point during a conference, I also talk about books that might be helpful in learning this new strategy or understanding. Jade, for example, was able to read books with several lines of text and more complicated story lines. Many of them contained dialogue, but her reading was mostly word-by-word. During a conference, we talked about fluency. Before I moved on I recommended some titles that might help her to practice reading as if she were talking: books with dialogue that were a bit easier and more familiar and might therefore be good places to practice reading fluently.

I also try to help students learn to balance their reading time. John, a third grader, was busy reading an Eric Carle book as I walked by his desk. This was the second day in a row I had seen him spending all his time with picture books. I stopped to talk with him. “What are you reading?” “The Very Quiet Cricket,” he responded. “I have noticed the last few days that you have spent all your time during the workshop reading picture books.” John explained that he enjoyed picture books and that Eric Carle was one of his favorite authors.

Knowing that I too have a few easy books I like to read, I wrestled with myself about how best to approach this issue. I want students to read books they love, but I also want them to read books that will challenge them as readers. Picture books can challenge a third grader’s thinking, but Eric Carle’s probably aren’t the first ones that come to mind. “Eric Carle is one of my favorite authors too,” I told John, “but I’m wondering how this book helps you to be a better reader?”

By asking the question I hoped to plant a seed that would help him use his time well during future workshops. After I had talked with him for a bit about balancing his reading, he finished his Eric Carle book and went back to another one he had started.

I met Brooke working in a second-grade classroom. Each day, she would place herself right at my feet during the focus lesson. She listened intently as I shared stories with her class and participated in our conversations. When students would begin to read independently, I’d look up from conferences to see her with a chapter book turning pages a little too quickly to be reading the book, and her eyes didn’t seem to be moving from left to right. When she wasn’t pretending to read chapter books, I’d see her roaming around the room, slowly moving from one basket to another. As I talked and read with her I quickly realized that the books she was trying to read were far too difficult for her. She wanted to read chapter books like her classmates, but chapter books weren’t helping her learn to read. We all have students like Brooke in our classroom. The more time they spend reading books that are just right, the better progress they will make.

Brooke and I had several conversations during our beginning weeks together. I was honest with her. “Brooke,” I said, “I understand that you want to read chapter books, but I have noticed that they are still difficult for you.”Brooke nodded her head as I continued, “Reading books that are a better match will help you with your reading, and it won’t be long before reading chapter books will seem easy.” But words alone did not solve this problem. We also talked about books she might like to read. I brought in books I thought would appeal to her interests that looked similar to the books her friends were reading. We even found some books she would be able to read that looked more like chapter books.

My interest in her reading seemed to help. She was always eager to see what I had brought for her. In our conferences we continued to talk about the importance of balancing the reading she was doing. Her teacher, Ginny Ryland, realized the importance of helping Brooke to make better choices and adjusted the classroom library to make easier books available to her. In addition to the basket containing a variety of books that might work for Brooke and for a few other readers in the classroom, she also met with her often to teach strategies for reading increasingly challenging stories and to introduce her to new stories.

Add comment September 8th, 2009

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