A readers conference is “teachers holding regular conferences with students to discuss what was read” (Krashen 1993, 2). Readers conferences can be informal, spontaneous conversations, or formal to record progress toward good reading habits.
1. Conferences develop autonomous readers. The “I don’t like reading” mentality is a hard one to shake. During conferences, students can speak out about insecurities and obstacles, feel acknowledged, then receive guidance from a caring adult. Students who used to find reading defeating are empowered with an individualized action plan.
2. Conferences are authentic assessments.
The typical vocabulary worksheets, tests, and comprehension questions limit language acquisition and make reading uncompelling (Krashen 2011, 85). Reading conferences are an alternative, low-accountability way to collect qualitative data. Teachers can track growth over time and eliminate the need for traditional tests. The descriptive feedback from one-on-one conferences affirms and celebrates growth, not with points, prizes, or grades, but with a sincere “Look at how far you’ve come. I’m proud of you.”
- Start with a beginning of the year self-assessment and set goals.
- Sit together, make eye contact, and seek out growth (no matter how small).
- Do not require student writing during the conference. Let them talk; listen and take notes.
- In the beginning, ask more “leading” questions and offer more guidance, but work towards increasing student autonomy.
Optionally, after a student feels comfortable with conferences, you can add informal miscue analysis. Let students bring any book they are reading, pick their favorite part, and read aloud for one minute. Then calculate words per minute and note miscues. This option is not graded, low-pressure, and may just be fun.
What will I need?
1. Prepare questions. Here are conference questions I use. Also, be ready to throw them out and follow a conversation wherever it naturally goes.
2. Set a time and place. Conferences can be scheduled or impromptu (ideally a mix of both). The most practical conferencing time is during independent reading time. If students are struggling, have a very relaxed rescheduling policy. Find a comfortable place to sit next to students and look them in the eye (unless this is a problem for special students).
3. Create portfolios. Document Readers Conferences and collect them in a portfolio over the year (or years). I use paper copies of this worksheet for conference notes and individual student folders. Here is more on portfolio assessment.
Between conferences, what happens?
Between formal conferences, circulate during daily reading time and have impromptu, informal mini-conferences to guide students to books.
Readers Notebooks are a good way to let children reflect and express ideas on reading between conferences. Before a conference, I ask students to pick their best reflection and be ready to share.
Krashen, S. (1993). The Power of Reading. Libraries Unlimited, Inc.: Englewood, Colorado.
Krashen, S. (2011). Free Voluntary Reading. Libraries Unlimited, Inc.: Englewood, Colorado.