Quick Start Guide to Reading Conferences

You may have heard some buzz about reading conferences, but you might be wondering exactly what they are and how to do them. Wonder no more, here is a quick start guide to facilitating effective reading conferences in your classroom.

What is a Reading Conference?

A reading conference is a quick conversation about a book that a student is reading, that usually takes five minutes. Generally teachers meet with each student once per week during independent reading time. They discuss whatever book the student has been reading. Often teachers like to move around the room and stop to visit a student to have their conference. Usually the student reads a page or so in the book so the teacher can check on their fluency and then ask about what has happened, what the student thinks, or other questions targeted at specific skills the student is working on. Here is a helpful video of a teacher conducting a reading conference. My favorite part about reading conferences is the opportunity to give specific individualized feedback in the form of compliments and tips. Reading conferences are an excellent strategy to keep in your reading instruction tool kit. They are flexible, quick and they give you a ton of information with very little planning.

Benefits of Reading Conferences

The biggest benefit for the teacher in having a this quick strategy is it’s utility on those days when you get knocked off your schedule. If you run out of time for that 20 minute small group you planned, you can squeeze in 2–3 reading conferences instead. While it’s important to have a system for capturing notes and keeping track of your conferences throughout the week (more on this later), you don’t have to plan much at all. Once you get your systems in place for keeping track of reading conferences, you will be able to gather lots of useful data on your students’ reading which will inform whole or small group instruction.

There are so many benefits for the kids too. For starters, they love reading conferences because they love getting all your attention. It is so important to give each child one on one attention to build relationships and increase the joy factor in your classroom. They are also getting immediate feedback on their reading which is one of the best ways to help them grow. It is also 100% differentiated. You give feedback based on what you see during the conference, so that students get exactly what they need in real time.

The Method: Research, Decide, Compliment, Teach

When you are starting out to confer, it’s helpful to follow the research, decide, compliment, teach method. Once you’ve got the basics down, you can tweak and adjust your conferring style to meet your needs.

  1. Research: The first step is gathering research on your students reading. Listen to students read and talk about their book and notice what they are doing and not doing as a reader. Jot down the things you notice so you can reference them later.
  2. Decide: When you’ve gathered enough information in the research phase, it’s time to decide what feedback to give. Think of one complement and one teaching tip. Jot these in your notes, too.
  3. Compliment: Now it’s your turn to talk and give feedback starting with a compliment. Let them know at least one thing they are doing really well. It’s important to be specific so they know to keep doing that thing as they read.
  4. Teach: Last, give a teaching tip to help them with a challenge you are noticing. This is also a good time for goal setting and checking on goals they are currently working on. Often teachers will even leave a post it with some type of record of their tip with the student that they can reference as they continue reading.

Staying Organized

By now you might be thinking how do I keep track of all the conference information and data I collect? Or what if I can’t think of something to say? It’s important to come up with an organizational system that works for you so that your conferences run smoothly. Check out this video of a teacher conferring and keeping track of data.

There are tons of forms you can buy on Teachers Pay Teachers, but I always like to make things on my own. Here are my tips for designing an effective and easy to use reading conferring organizer.

  1. Space for each student: It’s important that there is space for you to jot notes on the research, compliment and teaching tip for each student during each conference.
  2. List of skills and concepts: I always include the skills and concepts we’ve been working on as a class and sometimes I might even add specific skills and concepts students are working on individually. Individual skills and goals can come from your reading assessments, observations from small group instruction or reports from programs you are using like Lalilo. I usually keep a list of the whole group and small group skills and strategies we’re currently working on in my conferring binder and use it as a reference during my conferences.
  3. Track data over time: Make sure that there is a way for you to quickly see your notes over time. When you sit down with a student for a conference, you’ll want to quickly be able to see when your last conference was and what you talked about. This allows you to see if they have started implementing the tips you gave them at your last conference.

They sky is really the limit with reading conferences they should be as individual as you and your students are. Comment below with your favorite tips and tricks for making reading conferences easy, effective and fun!

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