In three short weeks, the new school year kicks off in our household. No one thought at the end of last school year that we would be going back virtually but I am so grateful that this is the decision my district has made. The notion of doing everything we normally do in our day-to-day lessons virtually has been overwhelming but rather than get stuck in the emotions, I have decided to prepare as many tools and processes as I can. After all with everything I prepare, I can breathe a little easier, not because it is perfect by any means but because it gives me a pathway forward, a structure to try as I get to know the 80 or so new students that I will try to create a community alongside.
Our daily reading conferences have been a cornerstone of our literacy community for years. Just like the work we do in as we dive into our reading identity, sitting down with a child to discuss who they are as a reader and how the book they are currently reading plays into that journey is something I love and hold sacred. I know it is something I want to continue doing but also face a much different reality; going from 90 minutes a day of in-person instruction to 70 minutes twice a week virtual live instruction, going from sitting next to them and being able to hand them a book to connecting through a computer or a phone call. The coming quarter will certainly be an interesting educational experience.
So how do I plan on conferring with students?
The focus continues to be on their reading identity rather than individual skills. I have written about this before but I usually do not use my individual reading conferences to teach skills, I reserve that for our small groups which I will also be using in some way but that’s another post. Instead, we use this reading check-in as a way to hear how they see themselves as a reader and how the book they are currently reading is helping them work on their selected goal. There is a much deeper discussion of all of this in my book, Passionate Readers. This means that time-wise, I can keep these conferences to less than 5 minutes in class. Online, I envision them to be less than 10 minutes depending on tech access etc. This may need to change once we get going. I also have them choosing whether to meet with me virtually or over the phone on this form.
Students will choose their every third week time. Students are “only” in live instruction until noon every day, after 1 PM they have time for asynchronous learning and I am hoping to have students select a time slot that works for them every third week for our conferring. I used a shared Google Doc for an easy way for them to select their fifteen-minute slot that also sends them a reminder of it. The slot they choose the first week will stay the same for the quarter. While I normally do reading conferring while my students are independently reading, which they will still do as a part of my live instruction, I am choosing to keep the conferring separate from that for now. I have a feeling that at least the first few weeks will need a lot of extra attention and so while we are live, I will not be conferring with students then. For my students who have me 70 minutes a day, they will have 20 minutes of reading time each time, for the block that has me 35 minutes every day, they will have 10 minutes reserved for independent reading. I cannot ask students to read independently and tell them of its value and then provide no time for it while we are together.
After they have selected their time, I am sending them a Google calendar invite with a meeting link. Because it is recurring, I can schedule all of their first semester conferences that way.
I may use a form rather than my normal conferring sheet. While I normally take all of my notes on this conferring sheet, the first quarter I am considering using a form to fill in their information. This will hopefully allow me to organize our conversation a little better as students will not be met with alphabetically and I want to make sure I pay full attention when I am meeting with them. The form linked here is just a working example as I do not know the names of my students yet and the form I would use would have their names in a drop down menu for easy retrieval. I am also not sure I like the form quite as it is so consider this a rough draft.
We will discuss their next read and book access. While this is typically an ongoing conversation and a casual one woven throughout our classroom time, I know that virtually, I need to make space for it. This is why it will be a specific question asked during our reading check-ins so that I can guide them to the right step to make sure they have physical books to read. Our fantastic district librarians have created a safe plan for all kids to be able to pick up books from our collections, this will happen twice weekly and will be one of the components I will showcase to students in first two weeks. The pick up times also provides me with an opportunity to add any books from the classroom that they might like and I have a book request form that looks like this housed on our class website. Our awesome librarian, Christine, is creating a hub for the students that we can use with students in order for them to be able to pick up their books. We also have options in place in case students are not able to pick things up and we need to get it to them instead, all following CDC guidelines for safe handling.
Throughout the years, I have tried to hone my conferring skills, moving away from “just” focusing on the practical skills to looking more at the whole child and what they may need to discuss when it comes to their reading identity, centering them in their goals and the habits they have formed. These brief conversations, while never enough, offer us both an invitation into a partnership and relationship that is centered on the needs of that individual, their hopes for our year together, and the specific needs they have for me as their teacher. While the tools and access may look different, the heart of what I am doing does not. This is still about human connection, about finding time to just meet and discuss who they are and how reading fits into their life. This is one of the components I am looking the most forward to as the new year kicks off; meeting all of these new students, speaking books with them, and hopefully traveling on this 7th grade journey with them.
Do you have any questions or ideas? Leave them in the comments or join our Facebook community for Passionate Readers.
Also, if your district or conference are interested in bringing me in virtually throughout the school year, please see information here. I have been supporting teachers remotely and in-person as they plan for meaningful literacy instruction in an in-person, virtual or hybrid model throughout the years and would love to help others as well.