The Stenhouse Blog

Teacher's Corner Podcast with Gravity Goldberg and Renée Houser

Posted by admin on Nov 11, 2019 2:44:22 PM

On this week's Teacher's Corner Podcast, we talk to educators, Gravity Goldberg and Renée Houser about how to use their newest resource to conduct one-on-one reading conferences with confidence.

The Teacher's Toolkit for Independent Reading, Grades 3 - 5 was created to help teachers be as organized and prepared as possible when going into conferences during independent reading time. By having the tools and knowledge from this new system, teachers can focus more on their observations and teaching decisions--making room for more meaningful, robust conversations. Have a listen!


Go to to purchase or learn more about the Teacher's Toolkit for Independent Reading, Grades 3 - 5.

Read the Transcript:

Nate Butler: This is Teacher's Corner from Stenhouse Publishers. I'm Nate Butler. Helping students become strong, independent readers requires thoughtful planning, active listening, accurate tracking, and personalized follow-up. But many teachers don't have the time, the tools, or the experience to plan effective conferring conversations to assess students independent reading development, and help them become stronger readers.

Nate Butler:  Today's Teacher's Corner features longtime friends and colleagues, Gravity Goldberg and Renee Hauser, reflecting on their experience together, and what led them to create the Teacher's Toolkit for Independent Reading; a comprehensive collection of resources for grades three, four and five, containing everything teachers need to prepare, model, track and manage effective student-centered conferring sessions with confidence.

Renee H.:  Hi, I'm Renee.

Gravity G.: Hi, I'm Gravity, and we're the authors of the upcoming resource, Teacher's Toolkit for Independent Reading, for grades three to five. Let's talk a little bit about how we met, and became friends, and collaborators, and colleagues, Renee. So, how do you remember it?

Renee H.:   Well, I think the first story that I like to tell is that Gravity and I are both teachers, Gravity taught in Boston and I taught in New York, and we were hired the same year to join The Teachers College Reading and Writing Project. And we knew one another, but it wasn't until we were assigned a school in Spokane, Washington, I feel like that was like the birth of our friendship, right?

Renee H.:  We had to fly there, and as I recall, I don't even think I was sitting near you, but we had to take a puddle jumper from Seattle to Spokane. And if I recall, the plane literally dropped out of the sky, and it was because of the topography of the land. We learned all kinds of nerdy things about the landscape, and you weren't a fan of flying, and I found out later on in the week that you were really anxious about returning on that flight.

Gravity G.:    That's kind to say a little anxious. I think I said, "There is no way I am getting back on that flight."

Renee H.: But it worked out. We had a huge time frame, we had a lot of time since when we ended work to get back on that plane, so we decided to rent a car, one-way, and we drove from Spokane back to Seattle, which was about four hours. We probably made it in five because I think we stopped at every Dairy Queen, and perhaps Starbucks along the way.

Gravity G.:   Yes, a lot of Chai Latte's.

Renee H.:   A lot of blizzards. It was beautiful, and we probably covered every topic possible in a really comfortable way, and that way you feel like, have we been friends for a long time? I think that's probably one of my favorite parts of our story.

Gravity G.: So, that was the moment I think we became friends, and then it also became solidified when a few months later I decided we were going to form a running club. There was about 80 of us that worked together, and you and our friend [Breck 00:03:06] were the only two that showed up, and so we had that running club of three. We ended up doing marathons, triathlons, and many years later, maybe the harder sports of becoming wives and partners and mothers.

Gravity G.:  And what I think about throughout all of those experiences is, we sort of had this balance of talking about our lives, and talking about ways to support teachers, right? There's always this part of our work where we can never shut down our passion for teaching students to fall in love and be engaged as readers, and to help teachers fall in love with the teaching of reading. So, I think a lot of our best work was written while we were swimming, biking and running together, or traveling somewhere together.

Renee H.:  Yeah. And I think that it stemmed from reminiscing of our own classroom stories when we were teachers, and then getting the opportunity, really, and the privilege, to support and study with teachers in their classrooms as staff developers. And then later on, even, I was in Los Angeles for a stint here in New York, you still are in New York. But that idea of having lots of different classrooms as our research, I think that's the inspiration for all of our projects together.

Renee H.:  And this latest one, we really thought about how the idea of real, transferable teaching, doesn't really necessarily happen in whole class. But what we got to witness is this idea of sitting side-by-side, when we were with teachers sitting side-by-side with students, that the teaching was really quite remarkable. And we got to see the brilliance of all the children, and all the readers in these classrooms, and teacher's kind of said, "Hey, how is that happening? Help us do this a little bit more."

Gravity G.:  And I think back on... So, this is my 20th year, is it year 22 for you?

Renee H.:   Yep.

Gravity G.:  As an educator. And while we're not in that our classrooms anymore, we still spend time every week, sometimes almost every day in a week, in classrooms with teachers. The feedback that I always get, no matter what the setting is, no matter what the age group is, "How do you make it look easy to sit side-by-side and teach these students something? You don't even know the students, you don't know the books that they're holding? How do you do that?"

Gravity G.:  And so much of the key is what we try to offer teachers, is there's not a quick answer. There's not a one minute answer to that. There's a bunch of resources and tools that we created with the hope of helping every teacher feel like it could be, maybe not easy, because it actually is never easy. But it doesn't have to be scary or daunting, that it actually can be joyful and a space of curiosity.

Renee H.:   Absolutely. And I think the that... I would agree that it's not easy, but what may appear to be easy is the idea of being really well prepared when we sit down and have those side-by-side conversations. And even before that, maybe even one seeing myself as like really reflecting on my own practice as a reader, and then having some tools prepared ahead of time. And so, that kind of looks "easy" but I think it's the idea of being prepared ahead of time.

Renee H.:   So, thinking about preparing teaching texts ahead of time, preparing my own reading notebook, preparing literally my mindset, and having places to write things down. I know that we used to talk about in our own classrooms of kind of being scattered and reaching for... Literally physically leaving the student and having to go reach and get that book or that thing, and just feeling like this is not sticking, or I feel chaotic.

Renee H.:  And so, just being able to... When you are prepared, you can be a little bit more present. You can be really a lot more present when you're sitting side-by-side, and physically look into their eyes, and take a big deep breath, and hear what they're actually saying, versus kind of going through the motions of like, "I think I need to sit beside a kid, but I'm not really quite sure what to say." And that's an okay place to start, right? So, I feel what we really worked on for in the toolkit for teachers is tools to help them feel prepared.

Gravity G.:    Yeah. So, I'm thinking about, sort of, what it doesn't feel like to feel prepared, because I have certainly been there, right? So, I'm thinking about the times where I showed up with nothing in my hands and sat down next to a student, and I would ask the question, "So, how's it going?" And they'd say, "Good," And then I'd be like, "Oh, shoot, now how are we going to keep the conversation going?"

Gravity G.: Or maybe I would ask, "Tell me about your book." And then I'd get like a page by page recap of a very, maybe not as interesting to me, chapter book that the student was reading. And I'd be looking at my watch like, how do I get out of this? There wasn't really anything to uncover in that because I'm getting just a plot summary. And so, I feel like when we sit down, at least I'll speak for me, when I sit down with nothing in my hands, there are sort of aimless, wandering conversations.

Gravity G.:    I remember going in the other extreme where I'm like, I'm going to plan for every conference. So, I would make a calendar, and know exactly, these are the students I'm going to work with every day. And I would come up with teaching points away from students, like on Monday, I would plan my teaching point for my Tuesday conferences. Meanwhile, I wasn't even sitting with these kids.

Gravity G.:  So then, when I would go to sit down with students on Tuesday, I had my pre plan, here's exactly what I'm going to teach them, and what I'm going to say. But then I would start talking to them, and what I had planned didn't match where they were. And so, I either had to abandon this plan that I felt like, oh, gosh, I spent all this time planning for this, or I had to go back into winging it, which felt again like having nothing at the ready.

Gravity G.:    So, this idea, what you're talking about preparation is sort of like this natural in between that helps us feel like we are not just winging it, that we don't have like nothing in our hands. We actually have tools and resources, but we can be responsive. We don't have to pre plan every moment of it, so that I can listen to what a student is saying, and follow their lead.

Gravity G.: But I feel confident to follow their lead because I have my own reading notebook, because I have some texts I can model with, because I have maybe a sheet of look and listen for's that let me know, if you see this, here is something that you might teach. And so, that's what I'm so excited about, is we've been developing these for 20 years, right? Sometimes on swims and bikes and runs, and sometimes in classrooms together; mostly in classrooms together, and in different classrooms with teachers around the country, and now we have them all in one place. So, I'm really excited about that.

Renee H.:    There are so many different definitions right now about what it means to be responsive, and it feels like what we're saying here is, this was what we would say is being truly responsive. And when we can be responsive, it really does bring joy to our teaching, which I feel like reads to students, right? So that the students feel that energy, and that they can truly represent themselves, right?

Renee H.:  They can be themselves, they don't have to fake their way through school. And I feel like that's what's really help students become engaged, giving them a little bit of autonomy, and showing up as themselves, as a reader, and as an individual.

Gravity G.:  Yeah. I actually wrote about this story in a book I call Mindsets and Moves, but I'm thinking about, I was in this fifth grade classroom with Gail, who's one of the most phenomenal teachers I've ever gotten to learn from myself, and Gail is doing this whole class lesson on how to identify a major conflict in novels, and she has a room full of students who want to please her. So, she finishes her whole class lesson, and the kids go off, and she goes around student to student, having conferences, and making sure, because she thinks this is her role, that every student is identifying the major conflict.

Gravity G.:     And I'm listening, and I'm getting to watch, and the first student she asks, "So, what's the major conflict in your book?" He gets really nervous, and he can't answer. And I look down, and he's on page three of his book. So, of course, he can't do that, he hasn't even gotten to that part of the book, and Gail's looking at me, like, "What do I do?" And then she goes to another student, and she's like, "Oh, so tell me about the major conflict." And he's clearly annoyed, that she's interrupting him.

Gravity G.: And I looked at him, he's at the end of his book, like, he figured out the conflict days ago, and is like, why are you drawing me away from my book? And this idea of, when we think we have to plan and we have to have every conference match our whole class instruction like this, we're actually missing the ability to be responsive. So, going back to your definition of, what does it mean to be responsive? I also could tell that both Gail and her students were not having a joyful experience.

Gravity G.: So, I said, "Well, instead of asking for the kids to tell you what the conflict is, why don't you ask them to ask them, what are you thinking about today? How is Conflict impacting your understanding of the characters? Or what do you predict the conflict might be? Having more room for openness like that. And then if they say something that has nothing to do with conflict, you can still follow that. And I remember she asked the student who was at the end of the book about the conflict, and whether he wanted to talk about it.

Gravity G.:   And I said, "Can I butt in? You can talk about something else, if you want." And he said, "Can we talk about how this author is leaving us hanging? I wish that there was going to be another book. Is there another book? Because it cannot end this way. I have one page left in this book." And then he said, "And can I just finish the book, and then talk to you more?" And she was like, "Absolutely." There's this way and sometimes we overthink it, but our human instincts of connection with children are the way to go.

Gravity G.:  And then she had this beautiful conference around big themes in the book, but like, why he would have left it open ended. And then he was able to critique the author, which was not in her whole class lesson, but was still something that she could respond to in that moment. So, I think this responsiveness is following the leads of students, responding as a human right in that way, and forming a connection around what seems like a logical and empathetic next step for students.

Renee H.:  It makes me think that the best moments of teaching is where we are giving ourselves permission to get curious about kids, to really be curious, like, being open to allowing students to teach us about them. And so, one of my favorite parts of the toolkit, there's many of them, but is in the... We have a professional development resource book that's designed in a Q&A form, right?

Renee H.:   So, we kind of collected 25 questions are the most frequently asked questions that you and I have ourselves asked as teachers and practitioners, but also from teachers across the globe, and one of them is how do I start a conference? And so, when I was listening to the story about Gail, it feels like that, and I've been using it as well, it's just kind of sitting on my lap of questions that will invite students to open up and will yield a lot of information for us so that we can get curious about their thinking versus the book.

Gravity G.:  And also, they don't feel like an oral quiz.I still have trauma from my philosophy oral exam and college when that was clearly an oral quiz, right? So, how do we have it feel like a conversation?

Renee H.: And it's okay to check in, but call it a check-in. I feel like, if you we're moving toward true conferring, we really wanted to feel conversations between readers, versus a check-in or a quiz. Just call those things that, and really kind of see the difference.

Gravity G.:   So, some of the other questions; so there's 25 of them, all of them are important. So, you said, how do I start a conference is one. How do I end the conference? Because sometimes it's also this like, okay, thanks.

Renee H.:   Or like, let's go have coffee together, right?

Gravity G.:  Yes. I think about how my husband has a really large family, and when we're leaving a party, oftentimes we just don't say goodbye because it's too overwhelming, you just leave the party, and what would it be like. And I'm like, "Oh, we need this. How do you end lots of things?" We're not really good as a society for endings, right?. So, we have some different ways of how we can end and how students can take ownership of the ending, so that it actually can transfer to their independent reading.

Renee H.:   One of my another chapter we, again, I'm biased, I like them all, but is just note taking, right? We really kind of worked through all of our reflections of some systems around how keeping notes as memory tools, kind of remembering can help you.

Gravity G.:    So, there's like, how do I take notes, and how do I use them? Because that's the other thing, is I remember piles and notes on my desk. I remember showing my principal, I was so proud of myself, like, "Look I took all these notes." And I remember she said, "How are you using them?" And I was like, "Oh, I haven't figured out that part yet."

Renee H.:   Step-by-step. Well, that reminds me too, we hope that the 25 questions will support teachers wherever they are in their journey because some questions in there will be for teachers who are just starting. So, thinking about how to set up a student-centered classroom library is like a place where, okay, I'm just starting this work, or I might need to reset my library to our not so favorite conversations like, how does conferring support greeting, right?

Gravity G.:  We have a section on greeting. And I'm also thinking about our classroom teaching experiences. I worked only in special education settings, and we both worked in schools where the vast majority of students, English was not their home language. So, we also have some sections around how to make sure conferring works for all students, and how we might adapt them no matter their stage of language acquisition, and no matter of their current reading level, whether it's on grade level or not.

Renee H.:   I'm now thinking a little bit about just the design. So, those are kind of like what the questions are, but how we designed it was also a fun journey. I'm going to just speak for myself that I am not a cook.

Gravity G.:  Renee, neither am I.

Renee H.:       But we do have beautiful cookbooks in our homes, so we studied. I just remember kind of looking through lots and lots formats that we liked because we realized there are times in our professional career when we have time to take in a long professional book but there are times, especially during the year, as teachers, we just don't really have the time to read a ton.

Renee H.:   So, we wanted to kind of honor that idea that, can we get some information quickly? Let's make it usable. So, each chapter is really kind of designed after some of our favorite cookbooks, right? It's a two-page spread of us talking a little bit about our thinking and our experiences, sometimes in life, and sometimes in classrooms, that kind of answer the question. And then that's quickly followed by two or three tools that we feel like teachers can take immediately into a conference.

Gravity G.: And the tools are, for example, a chart on how to start a conference with the language right there, or a tool could be an infographic that visually represents how to pace through a conference, so that we're not getting stuck spending all of our time with one student. Or another one could be a diagram that shows you how to create a reading notebook entry, right? So, we have photographs, infographics, charts... Oh, videos.

Renee H.:    Oh yes.

Gravity G.:   How do we forget that? We should have a lot of videos. Some of the tools are videos of us either in a professional development type setting where we're talking and answering a question, and also, there are several that are showing examples of parts or whole conferences at particular grade levels. So, there's several just third grade conferences, if you're a third grade teacher, or fourth, or fifth.

Renee H.:  And I think it's important to say too that, you and I have the privilege and kind of a good fortune to do this together as a team, and so, we hope that we can serve as a teammate to you, the teacher, or you can take it to your professional learning communities as well. So, we've designed it in that way to bring some community around the study.

Gravity G.:  So, we've talked so far about the professional development book. There's also some grade level specific resources, which we are really excited about because I know, when I taught third grade for many years, I could read a book that was geared towards K-5, but I felt like it was a lot of heavy lifting for me to read through and pull out, what parts of this are actually going to be applicable to my third graders?

Gravity G.:  So, we have your everyday guide to conferring at grades three, four, or five, and those are really grade level specific, and they take you through a year aligned to the most important skills that are in all the state standards and they are organized around understanding characters, interpreting themes when it comes to reading fiction, and synthesizing information or understanding perspectives when it comes to nonfiction.

Gravity G.:  And along with that, we give you some sample notebook entries that you can create yourself, so you know what to model for students. As teachers, you do not have to copy ours, but it's meant as a starting off point, and that is one of the number one questions we get too, like, what goes into a reading notebook? How do I use this? So, we don't just answer that in general terms, we answer that with, here's what a third grade set of notebook entries look like, and fourth grade and fifth grade. And we also have teaching texts. I know that was one of your love projects, Renee. You want to talk about that?

Renee H.: Sure. So, we curated a set of teaching texts for each grade that accompanies each of the teaching focus areas across the year. So, there's a lot of information, that is a chapter in the professional book is, what is a teaching text, and how do I use it? And so, we've curated a text set for each grade level that you can find in your everyday guide to conferring with third, fourth or fifth grader teachers, and they match the teaching focus that we've designed for kind of the year long curriculum around conferring.

Renee H.:   Our hope is that those texts can kind of come alongside, texts that teachers already love. We all have texts that we love that we use to teach certain aspects of our curriculum. So, by no means does this text replace those love text, but we are hoping that it's portable, that it can be part of that preparation when we sit side-by-side.

Gravity G.: Something else I'm thinking about, Renee, that actually I feel like was really important to us was that, each teaching text can be read in 10 minutes or less. Because we also know that one of the number one things teachers say is like, "I don't have time to read this entire chapter book out loud to my students, and then refer back to it when I'm conferring." But you do have time, in 10 minutes, to read the short story, or the short article, or these two short articles, and then refer back to them.

Gravity G.:   That alone is a big exhale for me. Like, okay, I don't have to show up planned, I don't have to show up empty handed. I could have some short texts that I know and students know, and they're in my hands with me, and I might even have them with post-its on these short texts with some think aloud stems, so I can feel like I can actually be responsive to students because I'm prepared enough.

Gravity G.:   So, I feel like related to what we're talking about is this question of, what do I do when I don't know the book that the student is reading. So, I pull up next to them, I smile, we start a conversation, and I look down, and I don't know that book. Either I only read the back cover blurb, or I've never even heard of that book, which is really, I think, the sign of a thriving classroom library.

Gravity G.:   Because if you have 500 plus books in your classroom, which is the ultimate goal, and we know not everyone has that yet. There's no way you're going to read all 500 plus of those books in a single year. So that becomes a challenge. And what teachers often say to me is, "I really can have great conferences," Or "I feel confident to confer when I know the book, but when I don't, I freeze. I'm not really sure what to say or do."

Gravity G.:   So, let's talk a little bit about; one, how we handle that mentally, our mindset, and then also, some tools that we created to help with that. Do you want to talk a little bit about the mindset of conferring with a book that we don't know, Renee?

Renee H.:   Yeah. Well, the first thing that comes to my mind, as I hear you, is this idea of here's the good news, is that it's not an all or nothing situation, right? So, you're thinking about a conversation with a reader, anywhere from four to seven minutes, just roughly. Because I think if we put so much pressure on like, I'm sitting with a student, and it's make or break. Think about the hundreds of conferences that you're going to have with this one reader over the entire year, or over a month, or over a week.

Gravity G.:  Wait, let me interrupt you. So, how many conferences are you having with a student across the year? Give me a rough ballpark of that.

Renee H.: You're asking me to do numbers? Well, I can say this, with something that I try to give myself a little bit of research in my own classroom is I used to say, in a week, I want to be able to support every student in my class in some capacity. So, sometimes I would be meeting with you in a one-on-one, and sometimes I might group you with readers who are working on something similar, so I might meet you in a small group.

Gravity G.:  So, they're getting some sort of teaching around their independent reading every week?

Renee H.:      Every week, and we do have a tool that can kind of help you organize that, if that sounds like an interesting area of research for yourself, just so that we're clear on what conferring really is, right? Conferring really isn't intervening, right? It's like not only working with your developing readers, and sometimes we get caught in that little rut, is that I'm sometimes pushing you to go beyond where you are, and sometimes I'm supporting you, it depends on you, the reader.

Renee H.:  So, you might be a strong fiction reader, and I'm pushing you, and you might be a developing nonfiction reader, so I'm supporting you. And so, we just want to make sure that we don't get caught in, oops, I accidentally forgot to confer with Manuel because he's over there doing his own thing, that happened to me. Manuel, I hope you're doing well now. He was just a reader who kind of did everything he was supposed to do, And I was like, oh, I accidentally forgot.

Gravity G.:  So, everyone's getting some sort of individualized support a week.

Renee H.:    Yeah. And so, if you do that math mentally, it kind of helps you kind of like breathe into the space of, okay, even if I'm not sure what to teach you right this minute, I have another opportunity next week when I can kind of take a moment, look at the notes I took, listen in to the conversations you're having with other readers.

Gravity G.:     So, you do a everyday teaching guide.

Renee H.:   Yes. And so, there's all of these resources you can gather from to give you a sense of where I'm going to go next.

Gravity G.:      So, I think this mindset thing is huge, Renee. We tend to, as teachers, make every day game day, but there's very few game days. There's lots of practice days, right? So, this idea of, can we take the pressure off to have a perfect conference? And instead, find something that we think is going to help nudge this reader along that's right for them. I remember what our mentor, Lucy Calkins, said to me.

Gravity G.: The first time she saw me confer, she said, "Gravity, you're not going to break him, just pick something to teach and move on." So, this idea of, you're not going to break them, has really stayed with me. And there's this way in which I am so grateful for that and many moments that Lucy had with me, but this idea of not putting so much pressure on ourselves, that conferring is like a conversation that continues throughout the whole year, and we pick up where we left off every week.

Gravity G.:   So, sometimes it might be twice a week, sometimes it's once a week, but that we're giving ourselves permission for all to add up to a powerful teaching experience, not just every single conference feeling like it has to be game day.

Renee H.: Listening to that makes me think and appreciate the idea that a conference could be like, if we think about I've got to... Sometimes we get in this rut of, "I've got to teach something," And if we frame that in a way of, like, let's think about what teaching really means. Teaching could be giving feedback to the reader on what they are already doing. I know sometimes I feel really anxious of like, I've got to teach the next thing, but the next thing could just be, can I tell you all the things you're doing, as a reader already, that are supporting you?

Renee H.:   Because I remember when I learned how to play golf with my dad. My dad's a really good golfer, and he was able to say to me what helped me make the ball go straight, and I wasn't even aware of it. He was able to name, your head goes down, your follow through, your weight shifted, and I had no idea was doing those things.

Gravity G.:    I had no idea you golf.

Renee H.:     Well, let's loosely define the term golf. But the idea of my dad was able to name really clear things that I didn't know I was doing, and I could replicate them. I could transfer them my own.

Gravity G.:  So, a conference could be, I see you, and here's what I see you doing, and I'm going to name that for you.We don't need to say this part to students, but then in our heads we're thinking, "And now I'm going to do some of my own work to figure out what to teach you. But I might not do that in this moment."

Renee H.:   Absolutely. So, maybe broadening the term what it means to teach students right. So, naming for kids, in that feedback move, is actually teaching them. My dad was teaching me things I needed to know in order to make the ball go straight.

Gravity G.: Because he's bringing something into your cognition, right? It's becoming meta cognitive, something you were doing naturally without knowing, and so then you can choose to do it again because you know you did it.

Renee H.:     And I have a name for it, right? He just pointed it out to me.

Gravity G.:     A really good point.

Renee H.:   So, I do think that sometimes helps us in this idea of, okay, but I can see you; that's a really nice way of saying it. If we redefine this idea of a conference is an ICU conference, or just a getting-to-know-you conference. That kind of releases this pressure of my job is to teach you the next thing that you're ready for. Because sometimes that next thing we don't know what it is, and that's when we get anxious because... But we accidentally sometimes think we are teaching into the book, and then also, but if we back out of the book and say, "Oh, but I'm teaching into your thinking," That helps us kind of alleviate this idea of, "I don't really know that book, so I don't know what to teach you."

Gravity G.:  Right. So, we have this mindset of I don't need to pressurize it. I can give feedback, I can give myself space, I can remember. I have a whole year of conferring, right? And even with that, there might be some content that we feel more prepared if we know it really well. If we know, what are the types of thinking my students should be doing or could be doing? So, in each of the grade level companions that we wrote, it actually takes a major skill like understanding characters, for example, and it breaks it down into a look and listen for a chart.

Gravity G.:    So, if you see this kind of thinking with an example and names, the qualities of that, then here's the next step. And if you see this kind of thinking, here's the next step. So, for example, if they're just sort of saying general character trait kind of words like, my character is nice, my character is good, my character is a bully, then it lets you know, what's that one next step? And I think that's really helpful as teachers because I feel like even myself sometimes I think like they're doing work with character, or they're not. But that's never that simple, right?

Gravity G.:  There's this whole range of what it means to actually think about characters, or think about big ideas and nonfiction texts, or think about research questions that are going to propel your research forward. So, we tried to help us think about this more in a progression of thought, as opposed to they've got it or not, and I totally put that chart right on my lap and I give myself permission after a student speaking to say, "Let me think about that for a moment," To look down, identify where the student is, and then sort of know what to teach next.

Gravity G.:   So, we tried to really put these resources on one pagers for teachers, and for ourselves, frankly, so that we don't have to have every single text in our memory, we don't have to read every single text. Instead, we need to know the types of thinking that students tend to do. And I think that has been really freeing for me personally, and for the many teachers who piloted the tools in this book.

Renee H.:    I wish I would have had this tool because quite frankly-

Gravity G.:   When you were a classroom teacher?

Renee H.:  Yeah, when I was a classroom teacher because I feel like, okay, that's a fiction book. I got good advice, I think it was probably from Marianne, again, one of our mentors at TC. I'm not even quite sure. But the point is, I think that I got advice from someone along the way of, "Just think about yourself as a reader," because I feel like I stepped into the classroom not knowing a lot of what we're talking about now because, again, it's decades worth of research.

Renee H.:      But thinking about, oh, yeah, I do actually have all of these thoughts about character, and that's what we tried to capture in this look and listen for a tool. And it makes me think that not all readers are going to fit into "a box" But the look and listen for are more of a guide, as a tool to kind of help us see around. So, it's not really meant to be a checklist like, yep, the student got this, I hear it, but more of, I think they're thinking is right around here, and let me name it for you.

Gravity G.:   So, maybe the question that we get is, what do I do if I've never read the book? How do I have a conference? But maybe the real question is, what do I look and listen for when I haven't read the book? And that's really the question that we've answered in this specific grade level guide. Because when you know what to look and listen for, we can free ourselves up to have a conference with a book we've never read because we have that right there.

Gravity G.:    And it makes me think about this metaphor of if you go on a trip and... Like a good friend of mine just went to Paris. I'm like, oh, that sounds lovely, right? And she did not prepare for her trip by knowing every painting she was going to see in the louvre, right? But she knew, here are some key paintings that I want to see, some key sculptures, but I also just know how to be in a museum.

Gravity G.:      I know the kinds of things to look for, I know, the kinds of art I want to spend my time appreciating. So, we don't need to memorize and having studied the guide of every painting, we just need to know how to be in a museum. And it's the same kind of a thing, when we're in a book, we don't need to read every word of a book. Frankly, even if we did, we wouldn't remember. It would be kind of jumbled in our head if we read 500 books in a year.

Gravity G.:    But we need to know the landmark, so to speak, in these books to look for. And I think, honestly, it's made my conferences so much more enjoyable, but also, so much more impactful because I feel like I'm actually teaching something that's taking the students thinking to the next level, as opposed to like, good job, keep it up, kind of conference, and walking away and then thinking to myself, "I don't really know what I just did. I don't know if that had any impact at all." Like they're actually learning new ways of thinking.

Renee H.:  It makes me think that this can be really fun to do with colleagues, right? Having your own book clubs. Taking on a novel would be amazing, but also, taking one of the teaching text and the teaching texts bundle, if that's what we're saying, collection, and just studying it together like in a little mini book club. I remember we did this a lot too in preparing, but the idea of, oh my gosh, I never thought of it like that, and just exchanging literally patterns of thinking is a really fun... It's interesting once you start analyzing your own thinking, you can't really turn it off. Yeah, but that could be fun to do with colleagues.

Gravity G.:    And then that allows you to really be a mentor to your students, because your meta cognitive of your own reading process, you can share that.

Renee H.:   And it's weird at first. If that's like a new practice, it feels like, what do you mean? I mean, when I first came to Teachers College, I had no idea of the kinds of thinking that could happen, but I realized I'm actually doing it. But again, my dad in the golf metaphor, once I had somebody tell me that's the kind of thinking I did, oh, kind of gave me a little bit of confidence. So, I feel like doing that together with your colleagues could add to your confidence

Gravity G.:  As we're talking about all these tools and resources, my brain is thinking like, "Oh, so you need a suitcase with four wheels and that big expandable part of the suitcase when you like go shopping," and then you buy too much on your trip, and you need to... But we did not... In fact, we're not selling this in a suitcase, right? We got this down to a manageable size that you can actually carry around with you. So, I know we spent way too many hours, us and the team at Stenhouse, coming up with the right organizer. Do you want to describe it a little bit? And people can go on the website to see it.

Renee H.:     Yeah, absolutely. We do like gear. We appreciate gear.

Gravity G.:     We love gear, we love a good stationery store.

Renee H.:   Triathlon, or whatever, kind of store, So, the organizer is created to have it all in one, right?

Gravity G.:   All under one arm, right? And still carry your coffee, your tea, or water on the other hand.

Renee H.:     And it really is to so you can kind of toss in your bag if you need to kind of take a couple extra minutes or you're going to a team meeting, but also, just to be mobile, to move around the classroom with you. So, it is really kind of an under your arm when all in one system. It has its part accordion. So, there is a section that kind of has accordion dividers so that you are teaching text collection can fit in one, your teachers reading notebook can fit in one, the professional book.

Renee H.:      It's spiral bound, so whatever question you're interested in, or you're studying, whether it's how to start or how to end, you can kind of have that right there and accessible to you. So, part of it is organized by an accordion, so all of your tools can be with you, and you're not frantically searching your classroom or your bag for them. There's also a section that's a three ring binder, and we've provided individual tab sections that have writeable tabs that you can write every student's name on them.

Renee H.:    So, every student has a spot for you to record notes on just what that student is doing. So, you really do remember their journey as an individual.

Gravity G.:  And we have the note taking forms, right?

Renee H.:       Right. So, we have note taking forms that are reproducible. You can make your own, or you can use ours to start. Oh, there's also a pencil pouch included, or an organizing pouch to keep your sticky notes.

Gravity G.:          You always need a pencil pouch for that.

Renee H.:             Your favorite pen or pencil pouch.

Gravity G.:      With the stickies in there, right?

Renee H.:    With the sticky notes in there, and it's just kind of closed with elastics, so it's sleek.

Gravity G.:      Yep, pretty.

Renee H.:      Pretty and functional. Beautiful and functional.

Gravity G.:    Yes. We found the right gear.

Renee H.:   Absolutely. So, it really is all you need to feel prepared, so you can be present and curious about students.

Gravity G.:   So, let's end by talking about, what are the main benefits for teachers and the main benefits for students when it comes to conferring? So, regardless of the tools, just the practice of saying, I'm going to commit to sitting down every week with students and having these conferring conversations. We've been late along the way, but to me this is the part we get teary, sometimes literally. We're changing students worlds in a lot of ways in this way. So, what would you say would be some of the benefits, Renee?

Renee H.:     I often say that a lot of reading work is life work. And so, I feel like when we're sitting down side-by-side, there is the payoff of I'm creating a curriculum based on what the individual students I need like, that without a doubt is a huge payoff.

Gravity G.:  So, say more about that, because that could feel overwhelming to me, the C word, curriculum, which people don't always love.

Renee H.:  Like I'm creating lessons, right? I'm creating next steps teaching. My teaching is focused on what students needs. So, our today's conversation is going to lead to tomorrow's teaching.

Gravity G.:    And that to me is the kind of curriculum I could get behind, not some district paper or a file that someone hands me that feels pressurized, but the idea of at least part of our reading curriculum is co-created with students. I just want to pause on that for a moment because I think that's a very radical, different way. I think curriculum is often sort of framed in schools.

Renee H.:     There's a whole thing here, but there is.... So, if you are handed a curriculum, which happens a lot, the overview in the toolkit can accompany that, it can match that. Because we guarantee you that everyone is teaching some work around character, right, or some work around putting ideas together and nonfiction. So, whether you are creating your own, or whether you're following one that's been kind of handed to you, there's a real benefit into having side-by-side conversations with students, influencing wherever your teaching decisions are coming from.

Renee H.:  I think that goes without saying, right? Because a lot of us as teachers, a lot of our time goes to "planning" curriculum. That maybe is the mind work, I think the hard work is what I referred to earlier, that idea of I really do believe that reading work is life work on multi-levels. So, when students really are excited to read about a character on the pages of the book, they're learning to be empathetic with the person on the book, which may be...

Renee H.:    The idea that they can learn to be empathetic with somebody in the playground, or somebody who's a lot like them, or somebody who's not at all like them, or they secretly fall in love with somebody. So, I really do feel like we're helping kids bring out all that they should be as people.

Gravity G.:  Well, and as you're saying that, I could list benefits; for example, that students feel safe and known, that teachers feel more confident that what they're teaching in any instructional context is going to match students because they know their students so well, that we can bring joy and curiosity into our teaching, that both the scary but also exhilarating part of this is we have no idea what this humans are going to say.

Gravity G.:   These little human readers are going to say surprising things every day, which I would be bored out of my mind if I knew exactly what each day was going to look like, right? So, this idea in which each moment of a conference can be fresh and new. You literally are teary right now as we're recording this. But I'm thinking back to, and I mentioned this book, Bridge to Terabithia, before because it was like every reader has a turning point book.

Gravity G.:    I remember reading this by myself all like... You know my Mickey Mouse quilt that my mom had made when I was a kid, cuddled up on the sofa. And I remember I get to the part... I'm going to spoil this, if anyone wants to know, where one of the main character dies, and I was sobbing uncontrollably. I felt like my best friend had been taken from me. It was the first time I had experienced real loss, and it was with a character in a book.

Gravity G.:    And my mom came running in the room because she wanted to know what was wrong. She thought I had been injured. And I said like, "Oh, no, I can't believe she's gone." And my mom held me. I remember this like it was yesterday. And my teacher had no idea. So, how this beautiful moment with my mom, which I always treasure, but I think about these times what brings us together is our humanity, is our shared connection, our shared feelings of loss and grief, but also of joy and happiness and hope.

Gravity G.:   And when we can share those with students, there's no bigger gift as a teacher than having those moments. And what would it have been like if the next day I could have gone in and said to my teacher, "I'm really sad, and let me tell you why. But I'm really hopeful because I know you're going to help me find another book where I'll get to have another best friend." So, we are literally helping change students lives when we have these kinds of conferences.

Gravity G.:  And if we focus on that, we can give ourselves permission to not be so perfect, and know it's a practice that's going to continue to grow and develop. And we hope our resources help you to sort of take that step, and make that commitment to making conferring daily practice in your classroom.

Nate Butler:    The Teachers Toolkit for Independent Reading will be available at the end of the year, and you can preview and pre-order it now at And be sure to check out Gravity and Renee's site at We'd love to hear from you, please send your questions and comments to us at Next time on Teachers Corner, [inaudible 00:42:16] and [Allison 00:42:17] share what they've learned from a recent project they worked on together about the importance of listening in the classroom. Thanks for listening.




Topics: Literacy