Reading conferences are, as stated above, excellent. The students benefit measurably from the opportunity to receive immediate feedback from their teacher, get one-on-one instruction on reading strategies and discuss their reading in general.
Strengths and weaknesses
The regularity of the reading conferences allows us to monitor what the students are reading, how often and how much they are reading and how they are reading.
What the students are reading each conference can be very revealing. We will be able to pick up on students who are reading a different book each conference for example. This is great if they are finishing books every two weeks but it’s not so good if they are flitting from one book to the next or forgetting to bring their book. At the upper end, teachers are able to work with voracious readers to expand their reading into untested areas. At the other end of the scale teachers will be able to connect readers with appealing texts and also present the positives of reading, the benefits of regular reading and set goals for more consistent reading.
We can also get a picture of how much time the students are spending reading. The upper limit of this is open-ended although students should be allowed time outside of school to eat, see the sun and go to the toilet. The lower limit is also fluid as more reading is better but telling a student that they need to start with 15 minutes per day is unrealistic. It is about setting achievable goals, like starting with 15 minutes three times per week. Once the student is reading regularly, we can increase the frequency and time.
Conferences give us a chance to gauge the rate at which the student is reading as well. In addition to being able to understand at least 90% of what they are reading (the five finger test), our students should be getting through a page every minute or so. If this sort of progress is not being made then it is possible that the text is too hard or undesirable and it is unlikely that the students will engage with it. The student’s reading log will provide insight into how much the student is getting through during reading time.
Listening to the students read lets us hear how they are reading too. We can determine if a book is too hard for them, detect problems with fluency and provide direct instruction with reading strategies, teach vocabulary and provide feedback and encouragement.
Goals set during conferences may be made by the student, set by the teacher or created by consensus.
Reading goals might be about:
- The type of reading that the student is doing (e.g. reading more fiction or non-fiction, reading longer or more challenging books).
- The amount of reading a student is doing – either by time (per day, week) or words (number of pages, chapters, books).
- Implementing a particular strategy: reading aloud to practice fluency, using a dictionary to develop vocabulary, re-reading to aid comprehension, making and checking predictions, etc.
Finish on a positive
Reading independently is and should be a pleasurable experience. Students should feel gratification from the reading experience: the achievement of finishing books, adding words to their vocabularies and becoming stronger readers. They should be reminded of their progress and should have their strengths affirmed as specifically as possible. Both reading and reading conferences should be a positive experience for the student.