The importance of reading conferences (and November celebrations!)

Each link of the blue chain represents a choice novel finished in November.
We read 120 books in American Studies and 14 books in Intro Writing last month!
That’s 362 so far this year! 

It’s not magic.  It’s hard work.

Our choice reading time is non-negotiable.  
We read for ten minutes at the start of class every day, no.matter.what.  

“Not having a book” is unacceptable.  
Reading something you hate is also unacceptable.  Reading a magazine or “something on my phone” is also unacceptable.  (Kindles, WattPad, or other eBooks are cool, though.)  I’m relentless with book recommendations.  I’ll pull piles and piles and piles of books, until my student(s) find the book that doesn’t make them miserable.

…and I try to conference with a handful of students almost every day.
My goal with conferencing is to make sure that (1) my student actually comprehends what they’re reading and (2) that my student actually likes what they’re reading.

If I find out that their book “isn’t making pictures” or that they’re just tolerating the book, that’s my cue to pile up a new stack of recommendations on their desk.


A small recommendation pile for one of my boys.

This year, in our American Studies classes of 40+ students, reading conferences have become much more valuable.  In a class that large, even with two teachers, it been tough trying to get to know our students on an individual level.  Because of this, I’ve made conferencing a priority.


Every day, I try to visit at least four students and ask them three simple questions:

What are you reading?  

What’s it about?
What’s going on right now?

They are not graded on their answers.
Usually, the answers to those questions come easily, and we talk for a minute or so. I take a few notes on a chart I keep in a binder, and I move along to the next student. Sometimes, we have more personal conversations, and I get to know my students so much better.  I love it.

story-of-a-girlOther times, like last week, I talk with a student who is on page 107 of her book.  She cannot tell me a single thing about it.  She can’t tell me what it’s about, or whether the main character is a male of female.  She can’t tell me anything that has happened.  At all.

And my heart breaks.  
I felt so guilty.  How could I have let  her slip through the cracks?  How did she get so far without me noticing?  WHY AM I SUCH A HORRIBLE PERSON?

But really, she’s a great student who has had a tough year, and her lack of comprehension probably has nothing to do with her actual skills in reading.  I can’t blame myself for not noticing her struggle sooner.  Because at least I noticed.

She might just need a “break-book,” which is what we call books that don’t take a lot of sustained effort to enjoy.  So I pulled some short novels, some graphic novels, and a few verse novels for her to check out.

She ended up selecting a verse novel as her new choice book.
Verse novels are great when your mind is swimming; you can reread poems and find your place again easily when your mind drifts.  She’s had to restart the novel a few times, but I’m really proud of her for sticking with it, despite her struggles.

TL;DR:  Choice reading takes work.  Conferencing is good.  



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