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.”
- Don’t grade readers conferences.
- Avoid “factual” questions. Ask students how they felt about books.
- 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.
- 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!”
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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.).