While Gravity Goldberg and Renée Houser created the Teacher’s Toolkit for Independent Reading to inspire immediate action, it’s important to note that a thoughtful vision lies at its foundation. Gravity and Renée spent many hours thinking about and researching what successful independent reading and impactful conferring entail and why they are so essential. Here are the seven core beliefs—in the authors’ words—that grew out of that research and became the cornerstone for this long-awaited resource for teachers.
Deliberate Practice Develops Expertise
Dr. Anders Ericsson, a prominent psychologist in the field of performance, has published widely, and his research reveals several key findings about what sorts of practice lead to expertise. In the following table, we connect some of his findings about deliberate practice to independent reading and conferring.
Choice Creates Intrinsic Motivation to Read
When students are in charge of their own reading lives, they don’t need to be forced to read or bribed to read or to have parents sign off to prove they have read. Being in charge of their own reading lives means students get to choose not only the texts they want to read but also their purpose for reading. They also get to control how they share their thinking in conversations and reading notebook entries. It is not a coincidence that the longer students are in school, the less they love reading, and the longer students are in school, the more assigned texts and papers they are given. Without the opportunity to decide for themselves what their preferences are, students begin to view reading as a chore to get through, as opposed to an enjoyable experience in and of itself (Goldberg 2015).
Individualized Instruction Has the Biggest Impact on Learning
Most of the people-based services in our society are built on the premise that individualization is key. We know from research, experience, and common sense that whenever we can customize a learning experience for a student, it is much more likely to stick. We know this, and rarely does anyone disagree with the idea of individualized instruction. But making it a daily part of classroom life is where the challenge lies.
Conferring with student readers requires us to commit to a regular chunk of time during which we invest in one student’s learning while the other students read independently. What makes this practice so challenging are the many day-to-day obstacles that can get in the way. These obstacles include insufficient student independence, scheduling conflicts, shaky teacher confidence, limited time for preparation, and lack of resources. We also know that most elementary teachers teach not just reading but also several other subjects a day. We created this toolkit so that the obstacles to conferring are mitigated and you can spend your time side by side with students during independent reading.
Classrooms Thrive on Positive Relationships
As parents of little ones, we want our children to be seen, valued, and admired for who they are as unique people in the world. As educators, we bring this same stance to teaching other people’s children. When we confer with students, we approach them as fellow readers, not as judges or evaluators. This flattens the typical classroom hierarchy and allows teachers to have reader-to-reader conversations with students. Our vision of classrooms is one where this sort of responsive relationship grows through conferring. Conferences become the water we use to nourish each relationship.
One of the best ways to build strong relationships with students is to take time to talk with them one-on-one, getting to know their current strengths, and offer next steps that show you believe they can continue to grow and develop as readers. The following graphic illustrates how a conference can support positive relationships by showing what conferring is and isn’t.
An Admiring Lens Is the Most Supportive Way to View
Starting from birth we are all fully capable human beings filled with potential. Therefore, as teachers we feel it is our job to view children as active constructors of knowledge rather than as targets of instruction. Like Loris Malaguzzi (1994), we “hold a strong and optimistic image of the child who is born with many resources and extraordinary potential.” When we hold this view of possibility of others, we exercise a way of seeing them with curiosity, wonder, and surprise in a manner that helps us get to know students as people first, and then as readers. When we take the time to admire students, we open the door of possibility to our teaching and their learning (Goldberg 2015).
When we shift our role to this sort of curious observation, we are shifting from an emphasis on teaching to an emphasis on learning about ourselves as teachers as well as learning about children. Each student reader wants to be known not as a reading level or score but rather as a thinker, a doer, and an interesting person.
Professionals Need Tools
Professional football players don’t show up without their helmets, chefs don’t cook without their knives, and gardeners don’t step outside without a good pair of gloves and a spade. As teachers of reading, we need our tools at the ready when we sit down with students and confer. We need books, a reading notebook, and places to record notes about our students.
This toolkit has developed over the past twenty years and is the result of lots of trial and error. We developed and tried out tools with our students, our colleagues, and with each other. Every single aspect has been designed to help you maximize your impact on independent reading so that you can confer every day with more ease and more confidence.
Responsive Teaching Comes from Preparation, Not Planning
When we sit beside a student reader, there is no script. We sit, ready to respond on the spot to the reader. This can be intimidating or exhilarating, or a little of both! Our motto is, You can’t plan, but you can prepare for conferences. The difference between preparing and planning has to do with when and how you make your instructional decisions. See the side-by-side comparison below to help clarify the distinction.
When teaching reading, it’s easy to become quickly overwhelmed with all of the choices. Our advice is to keep it simple. When we keep it simple, our decision-making process and our teaching are more likely to provide what student readers need.
This excerpt was taking from Supporting Independent Readers: 25 Answers to Your Most Frequently Asked Questions About Conferring, a component in the Teacher’s Toolkit for Independent Reading.
Ericsson, Anders, and Robert Pool. 2016. Peak: Secrets from the New Science of Expertise. New York: Eamon Dolan Books.
Goldberg, Gravity. 2015. Mindsets and Moves: Strategies That Help Readers Take Charge. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Literacy.