Avoiding Reader’s Conference Hell

In self-selected reading, “teachers holding regular conferences with students to discuss what was read” is a primary form of formative assessment (Krashen, 1993, p. 2).  A common mistake is to make reader’s conferences so formal students feel put-on-the-spot.  Beniko Mason avoids the word “conference” and thinks of these exchanges as “story talks.”  Here are some ways to avoid stressful readers conferences and inspire more genuine and joyful “talks.”

  1. Don’t grade readers conferences.
  2. Avoid “factual” questions.  Ask students  how they felt about books.
  3. Use Post-its while reading. As they read, students may use a post-it to bookmark their favorite part(s). Afterwards, use the flagged passage as a talking point.  Students may write on the post-it or let you write an important reflection for them.
  4. Don’t over-do the Post-its while reading.  Gallagher and Allington explain, “…no student ever achieved reading flow from placing a blizzard of sticky notes in a book” (65).   Allow students to stay lost in a book during reading,  then later add a Post-it or two afterwards.  Encourage students to simply record ideas at natural pauses in reading- at times they would have turned to a friend to exclaim “Wow, look at what just happened!”
  5. Chat in a natural setting.  Don’t march students across the room to conference at the teacher’s desk.  Keep it casual by going to where they are; sit on the reading rug with them or pull up a beanbag as needed.  If you can catch a confused student browsing the shelves, go to them and chat informally as you browse books.  Make it a natural part of the lesson to circulate around the room discussing books.
  6. Don’t use rigid timetables. You may have set “check in” times for the class, especially at the end of the class period.  But don’t mark your calendar for individual student “conference days.”  That is nerve-wracking, inauthentic, and not responsive enough to support students when they need help.
  7. Allow non-response as a response. Some days they will have less to say.  This may tell you they are not inspired by their book.  Don’t press them to talk, but do use this to decide how to guide them to books.
  8. Less paper. The less paper in front of you, the more relaxed and genuine the discussion.  After the conference, you may record notes to show parents or administrators, but not while talking with students.

 


Cited:

Allington, R. & Gallagher, K. (2009).  Readicide : how schools are killing reading and what you can do about it.  Stenhouse Publishers: Portland, ME.

Krashen, S. (1993).  The Power of Reading. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann, and Westport, CT: Libraries Unlimited (1st edn.).

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Gross-Out Books

Why are blood and guts, gross out humor, and enormous spiders so endlessly fascinating?  Because they’re cool, that’s why.  And the idea of pursuing your curiosity despite it being taboo or displeasing to adults is empowering.  

As students gain knowledge about the gross and weird, they proudly think, “‘Listen to me.  I know what adults know too, and I am brave enough to speak of the unspeakable!’ They are pushing the edges of their knowledge as they push the edges of acceptability,” according to Jobe and Dayton-Sakari (73).

Students feel empowered as they build a special knowledge base through narrow reading.  When possible, encourage students to find a single subject to read narrowly on (yes, even if that subject is the later stages of digestion).  

Single-Topic Gross-Out Books

  • Gross-Out Animals That Do Disguisting Things by Ginjer Clarke 
  • Bugopedia by Discovery Kids
  • That’s Disgusting series by Connie Colwell Miller
  • Poop: a Natural History of the Unmentionable by Nicola Davies
  • Sanitation Investigation Series by Capstone
  • Icky, Sticky Gross Stuff series by Pam Rosenberg (warning, the Icky, Sticky, Gross Stuff in Your Food book is in fact quite gross)
  • Real Scary Spiders by Animal Planet

 

*The following books jump from subject to subject.  They don’t have the same effect as true narrow reading in a content area, however, they allow students to browse until they find exactly what they are interested in reading.

  • Grossology by Sylvia Branzei
  • Almanac of the Gross Disgusting and Totally Repulsive by Eric Elfman*
  • National Geographic’s Ultimate Weird but True series*
  • The “Guiness Book of World Records” series*
  • Oh, Yikes! History’s Grosses Moments by Joy Masoff

 

 

Free Voluntary Websurfing:

 


Cited

Jobe, R. & Dayton-Sakari, M. (2002). Info-Kids: How to use nonfiction to turn reluctant readers into enthusiastic learners.  Ontario, Canada: Pembroke.

Struggling-With-Life Readers

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Llama Llama Misses Mama by Anna Dewdney; Llama Llama refuses to read with friends because he misses Mama.

Marco* was a challenging 6th grader with a chip on his shoulder.  He was resentful and rude with most teachers and students.  When I read aloud and shared book suggestions, he tried hard not to care.  When it was Marco’s turn to conference, he felt empowered stating “I hate reading.”  I replied confidently that he just hasn’t found the right book yet. No power struggle or blaming?  Marco was confused.

The nurturing, motherly thing that reading with children can be hurt Marco: his mother was in Honduras.  Marco’s father worked very long hours, always promising to bring his family together with the next paycheck.  Dealing with the setback of having to learn to read all over again on top of everything else he was dealing with– it was easier to just not read.

Eventually, his friend’s enthusiasm chipped away at him.  They roped him into a literary circle where he found his favorite series: Dragon Ball Z.  He toned down his earlier defiance with “I hate reading –except comics, I like comics.”  Soon this act wore thin too. He read enthusiastically and shared books with his friends. The last week of school, Marco embraced his reading identity and admitted what I already knew: “I love reading.”  With this statement, he accepted a lot more than just books.  Grumpy, aloof, or hostile feels easier at first.   Yet, given time, books help us accept what is good and joyful, even as we struggle with what is unfair and painful.

 


*I changed Marco’s name for his privacy.  However, Dragon Ball Z is a real manga series that my kids are really addicted to.

Effortless Reading: Free Voluntary Web-surfing

Free Voluntary Web-surfing is great source of comprehensible input (Krashen 2011, 64; Krashen 2005). There are many ways to adapt this to suit your classroom, but use these guidelines to protect children.

  •  Surf with a plan. Conference with students to create small group or individual web-surfing plans.   Use student interests to offer a list of safe sites and resources. The American Library Association has over 800 amazing kid-friendly sites, or you can talk to your school librarian.
  • Monitor use of social media and online interaction and never allow students to give identifying information (their name, their school, etc.).
  • Use settings to block inappropriate content.  Make sure your school filters block inappropriate content, use safe search, and consider blocking images for very young students.

 


Two simple approaches to Free Voluntary Web-surfing

1.  Read in a content-area or genre.

Shared reading and discussion about text in a genre or content-area can provide background knowledge, as well as set a purpose for Free Voluntary Web-surfing.  For example, to enhance a Sheltered Literature study in lyrics, my students surfed the web for lyrics and contributed to a class’s blog of their favorite songs.

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2. Create a Digital Magazine

Web-surfing and then contributing to a class magazine allows students to share enthusiasm for reading and creates a finished product students take pride in. Instapaper allows students to bookmark articles they love with one click.  Their bookmarks compile to create a beautifully visual “magazine” of articles, blog posts, and websites.

I allow students to sign up for roles like “sports editor,” “fashion columnist,” or “celebrity news reporter.”  Students familiarize themselves with online resources and then read narrowly in an area of personal interest.

 


Cited:

Krashen, S. (2011). Free voluntary reading. Santa Barbara, CA: Libraries Unlimited.  Also available at: http://www.sdkrashen.com/content/articles/2011_free_voluntary_surfing.pdf

Krashen, S. (2005). “The ‘Decline’ of Reading in America, Poverty and Access to Books, and the use of Comics in Encouraging Reading.” Teachers College Record.

Serafini, F. (2015).  Reading Workshop 2.0: Supporting Readers in the Digital Age.  Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

Effortless Reading: Comics

I once made the mistake of mentioning my love for comics in the classroom at a job interview.  I got the job… and an eye-roll.

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Comics have an undeserved stigma.  While students should eventually move on to academic text, Krashen notes “that comic book reading and other forms of light reading can serve as a conduit to ‘heavier’ reading” (3).

Comics lure the most reluctant of readers into a reading habit.  Artwork that allows them to actually see thoughts, faces, and feelings helps make connections with characters (so says my comic-fanatic son with ASD).

I have so many favorite comics I could not list them all, but these are the very best comics for first time readers, at 300 Lexile or easier: Continue reading Effortless Reading: Comics

Effortless Reading: Magazines

Dr. Krashen’s Effortless Reading Hypothesis: we acquire literacy best when we read whatever feels easy (84).  Nothing feels easier than flipping through a soft-cover magazine with brilliant, colorful photos to find an article that speaks to you.  The visuals, short blurbs, call-out boxes, and high-interest topics feel exciting.  Inexpensive to replace, magazines are perfect to send home with students, and easy for students to gather around and share with friends.

Some of my favorite magazines:

Scholastic
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Continue reading Effortless Reading: Magazines

Story Listening + Book Talk

Is it a Book Talk or Story Listening? Is sharing your favorite cars magazines Free Voluntary Reading or can it morph into content-based instruction?  When sharing books and stories that inspire genuine curiosity, my classroom will not be limited to a single method.

Here I combine Story Listening with a Book Talk on the book Cardboard by Doug Tennapel.  The overlap between Story Listening and Sheltered Popular Literature is obvious: there is no test or comprehension questions, just an invitation to join in a good story.  (Note, the book was swooped up by an eager reader before the end of the Book Talk.)