Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Conferring with a Reader

When teachers use the workshop model for reading and writing instruction, and they believe wholeheartedly in the power of choice, independent reading, conferring, and other elements of workshop, they usually experience high rewards in their students' motivation for reading and writing.  But sometimes, students are not quite fully engaged in books, no matter how hard we try.

In Reading in the Wild, Donalyn Miller describes specific techniques for identifying "fake" readers in her classroom.  She outlines the process of a three-day observation of a given student, along with notes she takes on the reading behaviors/non-reading behaviors she sees with them.  As I was reading this section of the text, I realized how blessed overall I am that my students are truly engaged most of the time in good-fit books for them.  For the most part,  they are interested in what they are reading, and they know that they are expected to always have a "next book" ready to read upon finishing their current book.  But upon further reflection, I realized that I do have a couple of "fake" readers in my classroom, even at this stage in the school year.  These readers do not show these behaviors all of the time, but often do.  These students "look" busy, and show some behaviors that look like reading, but for the most part, they are not engaging with their books in real ways consistently.  One of my students has many books to read stacked on her desk, almost as a "badge" of sorts, showing all that she is about to read in due time.  But those books often just sit on her desk, seemingly forgotten.  The same books have been sitting in the same stack for a week or more now.  Most of my voracious readers are showing lots of reading progress through school and home reading, and turn over a new book within a few days' time.  This is not the case with this student.  While she shows reading behaviors during independent reading (checking out books, turning pages of her book during independent reading, keeping up with the reading lists in her binder, etc.), she sometimes acts busy flipping through her binder without purpose, organizing her papers or folders, or using the restroom.  I think it's time to evaluate with her why she is not progressing more with her reading.

I like how Donalyn uses a reading conference to get to the point of the conversation.  The intent here is to truly uncover what is driving the non-reading behaviors so that the real reading and motivation may begin.  My starting point in conferencing with this student will likely be to ask some of the following questions to get to a better understanding of that child's reading struggles:

1.  Do you like the book(s) you are reading?
2.  Why did you choose those books?
3.  Do you enjoy the genres of these current books, or are they books you are trying to fit into one of the requirements for the required genre list?
4.  How much are you reading at home?
5.  Are you planning your reading time at home around your after school activities?
6.  Can I help you with how to preview a book so you are more likely to read it from cover to cover?
7.  What are your interests or hobbies?  Is there a nonfiction title that would be interesting to find to read about that interest or hobby?
8.  Do you need assistance with how to pick a "just right" book for you?

After taking time to confer with this student, I will take time to regularly check in with her, and observe again how she is using the suggestions we discuss to make good progress toward book selection, gains with her reading goals, and an overall sense of ownership and motivation for pleasure reading in general.

I look forward to continuing to read more in Donalyn's book in order to reflect more critically about workshop practices.  So much of her workshop beliefs and tenets are ones I practice and "preach" as well, so a next step like this in conferring with this student just makes perfect sense to me.


  1. I enjoyed reading about "fake" readers in Donalyn's book as well. It made me look at my readers in a different way. Hopefully you can learn some good things about this student when conferencing to help her become a "real" reader!

  2. Aaa..... The fake reader, there's always at least once. I appreciate your direction in regards to your conferences with this reader... A few things I've tried or noticed in this instance: are they truly picking books at their level? Handing them a copy of a class read aloud - either one previously read so they can feel confident or one currently readibg so they feel excited. Observation conferences- spend a few minutes of workshop for a few days documenting their every move (when the look up, switch books, etc.) - this data is really good for those fakers who disagree with you. I've often taken their book home in the evening, telling me where to read to and conference every day (more like a book chat) and lastly peer book clubs really hold readers accountable! I love that workshop always keeps us reiterating the habits of good readers! Thanks for sparking my thinking!

  3. I loved The Boom Whisperer and can't wait to read this book.

  4. I loved both of Donalyn's books. I have few of those fake readers in my classes, too. Some of them are quite good at it.