The Power of Talk Deepens my Understanding About the Reader While Conferring
As a teacher of literacy it is my duty to instill a love for reading in my students. Reading is a life skill and it is my goal to have all of my students confident in their ability to read, as well as their ability to understand what they are reading. Serravallo and Goldberg (2007) share this same idea but go on to say, “To do this, I believe I need to create opportunities for them to feel successful with books right away…” (p. 7). From the beginning of the year I was amazed and curious about the power of conferring. While sitting and talking with my lowest reader, I was impressed at his ability to comprehend the text as well as his talent at making inferences and comparing books. This student wrote the minimum in his response journal; without having that conversation with him, I would never have realized how capable he is and how much he connects with what he is reading. Through conferring I was able to realize his success as a reader and he was able to feel successful as well as proud about his reading. This student inspired me to pursue the power of conferring and the effect it has on the student as well as the relationship with the teacher.
For my colloquium I asked the question: How does the power of talk deepen my understanding about the reader while conferring? The focus was on one-to-one conferring during Readers’ Workshop with a concentration on four particular students. Each of these students had different literacy needs that I hoped to help them with through our meetings. “The reading conference is a time for me to explicitly teach students reading strategies. I demonstrate how to use a strategy, coach the reader through difficulty, and release supports as appropriate. In a reading conference I have a skill in mind and teach an appropriate strategy for how to perform the skill” (Serravallo and Goldberg 2007 P 12). These students each had different skills they needed to work on. They were all at very different reading levels and at different stages in their confidence and excitement to read. It was my goal to understand these students better as readers, instill confidence in their ability and grow their comprehension.
Although I continued to confer with all the students in my class, I chose four students in particular whom I felt could use the frequent conferences for very specific reasons. I chose to focus on my meetings with Aidan because I find him to be an interesting reader. He loves reading and gets very engrossed in a story. Aidan can talk about his book nonstop. He loves sharing his book with others as well as the information he already knows about the topic. However, Aidan only shares his book through conversation. He is not driven to write on a topic. He rarely uses complete sentences, usually using one word answers. My goals for Aidan are to help him express himself more through writing as well as to have him work on his fluency. He reads with little expression and sounds like he is bored with the story. I want to make him aware of this and help him to read his book in the same voice he talks about it.
The second student I chose to focus on is Astrid because like Aidan she loves reading. Astrid always has a book on her desk and prefers reading to any other time of the day. She was tested at a level Z, but I am not too sure her comprehension always reflects her ability. She enjoys reading books with a lot of action such as Hunger Games and Divergent. However, when asked what is happening in her books she struggles to tell me. She is reluctant to share her book with a teacher and I feel this has to do with her lack of understanding as to what is going on. I want to make sure she is reading books that she can truly enjoy and that she is not simply trying to impress others with the words she can read.
The other two students I chose did not have a love for reading. I chose to concentrate on my meetings with Anne because she does not enjoy reading, nor does she have a good sense of who she is as a reader. She is an extremely hard worker and a very bright girl; however, she is a tier two reader. She does not like reading time and does anything to avoid reading. She enjoys sitting with a teacher and sharing her book, but often avoids reading on her own. She gets up from her seat and asks to do other things or if anyone needs help with anything. Anne often ditches a book before she gives it a chance. She has abandoned many more books than she has read. I want to help Anne enjoy reading and see how we can help her progress.
Lastly, I chose to focus on Dylan because he is a tier three reader. He does not enjoy reading on his own and does not read fluently. However, Dylan has impressed me greatly in the things that he says in a conference. He makes connections and infers based on the pictures and text clues. Dylan does not show his knowledge in his writing and is not inclined to read without someone to read with. I want to help pull out Dylan's knowledge and give him the confidence he needs in his reading.
Throughout this process, I met with my four students daily to track their progress as well as to grow a strong relationship with them based around conferring. I used a program called Evernote to keep track of all my meetings with students. Using Evernote I made some specific conferring sheets to begin the conversations and get a sense of who my students were as readers.
According to Serravallo and Gravity (2007), “Reading levels are just one part of getting to know my students as readers. It is also important to find out what they like to read, their history as readers, and their attitudes about reading” (p 44). Although the school year was well in progress, I started with a reading inventory to see what the students had to say about themselves as readers versus what I thought of them as readers. It was interesting to hear about what type of books the students said they liked compared to what they were usually reading. All four students were more than excited to share their reading with me as well as to discuss their thoughts on the book and how well they thought the book fit them as a reader.
Through my research I found there were many different types of conferring. Some days I would simply observe the student from afar and see how they were reading or if they were reading. I found Aidan gets absorbed in a book. He loves to read and has so much knowledge built up from his books, but he does not like to write his thoughts or findings down. I found Anne is very task-oriented and is more than willing to do the assignment in her Readers' notebook, but tries to be done reading the second her assignment is complete. Dylan avoids reading and tries to spend his time wondering around the room avoiding his book. However, while conferring with Dylan, I found he is driven to improve and impress. Astrid, like Aidan, gets absorbed in a book and truly enjoys reading; however, sometimes she chooses books that are too hard for her. By sitting down and having one-on-one meetings with these students, I was able to hone in on these needs and help the students grow as readers. Sometimes I simply listened to the students read, gave a compliment and a suggestion for them to work on. Other times I recorded the students and let them tell me what they did well and what they needed to work on. While still other days I asked many questions and probed the students to think about their book deeper and really see what they could take away from the book and how they were reading it.
Throughout this process of conferring, I found that the most powerful conferences only need to last a minute. There was one simple thing I did in the case of all four students to help them grow as lifelong readers. I truly believe conferring is a powerful tool to help students as well as to grow a bond between students and teachers centered around literacy.
Serravallo, Jennifer, and Doldberg, Gravity. (2007). Conferring with Readers:Supporting Each Student’s Growth and Independence. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.