Reading Conferences With Students Within the 45 Minute English Class; Yes, It’s Possible

Confession time; I am terrible at conferring with my students.  This once proud foundation of my elementary classroom is now a crumbling pillar in my 7th grade English class.  Call it a victim of the 45 minute I have to teach everything in.  A victim of the so much to do.  A victim of not quite knowing how to make it productive.  Whatever it is, the conferring that I know I should be doing has simply not been getting done.

Yet a few weeks ago, I realized that the one thing I needed the most (besides more time, more books, more knowledge) was the simple conference.  The one to one interaction with every single one of my students if even for just a few minutes.   Because conferring is the one way I can really reach all students.  Is the one way we can connect the best.  Is the one way that I can really see what each child needs.  Conferring is the best way for me to be a better teacher to all of the needs must of us are faced with.   So even within the 45 minute English class, with almost 120 students spread over 5 classes, there had to be a way.  There had to be tweaks that could be made to make it work so an experiment began.

So what has worked and what have I discovered?

Reading conferring happens within the first 10 minutes of class.  Every day we start with 10 minutes of independent reading.  While nothing new, I now am much more purposeful with how I spend the time. So that 10 minutes is a perfect time for me to confer with students., therefore when the bell rings and the timer starts, so does my mission.

That my individual reading conferences focus on reader identity rather than on typical mini-lessons.  There is no way for me at the moment to do one-on-one lessons and still make it to all of my students within about 2 weeks.  So I instead focus on their reading identity and gather clues for what types of mini-lessons I need to create for small groups.  That being said there are exceptions to the rule if I uncover a particular dire situation where a child is then given the full 10 minutes of time.  This purpose for the conferences allows me to do quick check-ins and get to more kids.

That within those 10 minutes of independent reading I can shoot for meeting with 3 students.  I come to the students, equipped with my binder and pen, ready to ask them questions.  By me moving we save time and they can get as much reading time as possible until we meet.

That I need just one question to start every conference.  I used to prepare for all of my conferences by coming up with several questions aimed at a specific child.  Now every conference starts with, “What are you working on as a reader?”  The direction of the conference then is directed by their answer.

That I need a simple system to keep track of notes.  I used to take a lot of notes during my conferring but now find the need really just for three different things; my observations, their answers, and next steps.  Every student therefore has a sheet with three different conferring boxes on it, each class has its own 1-inch binder for me to keep track and I write down only what I need to better teach the child.  That means I am working on writing down only the essentials, in the moment, and still try to think of what to help them with.

So how has it been?  Pretty amazing actually.  The concentrated 10 minute effort means that I am fully attentive to what the students are saying ant thinking of other things.  The short note-taking sheet means that I am ore focused in what I write down as well as what we need to work on next.  The students seem to like it because they are getting more attention and still getting reading time.  And the things I have uncovered?  They are things I would not have uncovered no matter how many reflections I had students do, no matter how many small group lessons I would have conducted.

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So while the 45 minutes of English class will never be ideal, it will never be enough, it will never feel like I can provide each child with the type of learning experience they deserve, it cannot hold us back.  It cannot hold me back.  And I cannot be the only one that is trying to do this.  What has worked for you?

PS:  As far as writing conferring, I use the entire class-time when we write meeting one-on-one with students.  This has proven to be more effective for the students than doing a mini-lesson for the whole class since their needs are so diverse.

If you are wondering why there seems to be a common thread to so many of my posts as of late, it is because I am working on two separate literacy books.  While the task is daunting and intimidating, it is incredible to once again get to share the phenomenal words of my students as they push me to be a better teacher.  Those books will be published in 2017 hopefully, so until then if you like what you read here, consider reading my book Passionate Learners – How to Engage and Empower Your Students.  Also, if you are wondering where I will be in the coming year or would like to have me speak, please see this page.

19 thoughts on “Reading Conferences With Students Within the 45 Minute English Class; Yes, It’s Possible

  1. Fantastic post, Pernille! I will share this! Any news on your conference keynote in Philadelphia? I am hoping they will let me come. I would love to meet you and hear your talk. All best!

  2. Thank you for posting. I, too, feel that I should confer more with each student individually but struggle to find the time. I teach 80 minute classes, and I still find it difficult to achieve. There are just so many standards. Your post makes me think I can do it. I might as well start Monday, right after Spring Break. Thanks for sharing.

  3. Thank you for your post. I too am struggling and experimenting with ways to more effectively confer with my readers/writers. Could you give an example of how a typical conference might go like? What kinds do things do you write down about observations?

      • Looking forward to those pictures and explanations. I have a 40 minute 5th grade ELA period, but I’m concocting a plan to get my Assistant Principal on board with independent reading every day. Your success has inspired me!

      • Hi Pernille, I just wanted to follow up on the comment I made here a little over a year ago. It’s a thank you follow up.

        Last year, during the summer, I came to my meeting my assistant principal about the upcoming school year with nervous excitment. With your blog post and two articles on the value of independent reading time in hand, I told her that I wanted to spend the first 8 minutes of my 40 minute period with everyone reading books of their own choice, with no reading log, no written reflection, and no other check-in other than one on one confrences with me on individualized goals. She didn’t want to see the research, but she did ask me to explain my thoughts:

        “Are you really ready to spend one 1/5 of your class time on this?”

        To her credit, she listened to me passionately outline why this was worth such a significant portion of my class on a daily basis. She asked pertinent questions of logistics, and in the end we settled on a compromise. I would get to have independent reading time twice a week, read-aloud twice a week and one day with neither, on a trial basis. I was also excused form having to assign a reading log, as long as the independent reading time and confrences worked out. It wasn’t exactly what I had hoped for, but I was still thrilled.

        Thank G-d, I can say this year’s trial run has been a smashing success! Not everyone loves reading, but this year’s grade has transformed from a majority of non-readers to kids who beg for independent reading time. I am moving out of state, so I won’t be able to continue what I started in this school, but my AP told my replacement what a great thing independent reading and read-aloud have been. It seems hopeful that the school’s policy has shifted!

        So, thank you. Thank you for showing how it could be done and encouraging teachers to stand up and try what they know to be right.

  4. I love this! Great suggestions, especially about having the teacher move to students while they are reading, in the first 10 minutes of class. We’ve focused on writing conferences this year, but I love extending this concept to reading conferences, too. Helping students take ownership of their own learning is fabulous! Thanks for sharing!

  5. To know that a teacher of your caliber faces the same frustrations with time constraints, well, it makes me feel better! Thank you. (I’ll try this tomorrow!)

  6. This series of posts on meeting with real students with real problems is speaking to me. This type of action research is what we all need to do. That is teaching.

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