Reading conferences

A reading conference is a scheduled discussion between a teacher and a student, which draws upon the principles of dialogic teaching. The focus of the discussion is based around a text independently selected by the student. Texts are sourced from a range of 'just right' books which have been tailored to the learning needs and reading interests of each student. 

A reading conference follows independent reading and offers students the opportunity to:

  • share their thoughts about what they have read 
  • set goals for future reading and 
  • receive feedback from the teacher. 

Reading conferences allow the teacher to monitor students' reading. They provide formative data about the students' progress, this includes their decoding, fluency, meaning-making, level of reflection and engagement.

Reading conferences complement and operate concurrently with the core teaching practices of modelled, shared and guided reading, guided reading-reciprocal teaching, literature circles and/or close reading. They are an effective and individualised way to focus on an aspect of reading that will benefit each student such as the knowledge and understanding of:

reading strategies (e.g. rereading or self-correction)

  • phonics
  • fluency 
  • vocabulary 
  • comprehension strategies
  • critical thinking. 

A typical reading conference

A typical reading conference will take about 10 minutes and will occur while students are involved in reading or other independent work.

The teacher and the student both come to the reading conference prepared. The teacher has thought about the student, the reading goal and what may be the next step in the student's reading.

There is no set time between reading conferences, but the student does need to have had time to complete some reading. Realistically, teachers conference most students once a month, meeting more regularly with students who have specific reading needs. 

A reading conference sequence

This sequence is circular and repeating.

  1. Students independently read a text, monitoring their reading goal.
  2. The teacher prepares for the reading conference, checking notes from the previous session, ensuring that she/he has a clear understanding of the student's goal and prepares some prompts to address the goal.
  3. The teacher and student meet. The student shares the goal and their learning related to the text, through a dialogic interaction. The teacher may use prompts to focus the discussion. 
  4. The student usually reads a section of the text aloud. The teacher takes anecdotal notes on the observed reading behaviours, both those being used and not yet used by the student. The teacher gives individualised explicit feedback about the reading or what the student says/understands. Together the teacher and student decide if the goal has been met. 
  5. Together set a new reading goal or continue with the same one. Help the student articulate what he/she will need to do, in order to reach the goal. If a new text is selected for the next session, discuss with the student what this text will be and if necessary, guide the process of selection. 

The teacher's role in ​a reading conference

Before the reading conference the teacher can plan by:

  • learning about a student's reading interests and their attitude towards reading (See Student Reading Interests and Habits Questionnaire developed by Molyneux and Macintyre)
  • ensuring there are several 'just right' texts for the student to choose from which include some of their reading interests
  • re-reading the student's reading goal and being aware of where to take the student next
  • looking over the anecdotal notes taken in the previous reading conference
  • preparing discussion points or prompts that address the student's goal.

During the reading conference the teacher can:

  • ​refer to the previous goal and information about the reading
    • Encourage the student to articulate their goal and determine whether it has been reached.
    • Use prompting questions and discussion starters.
    • Show genuine interest in the student's thoughts, ideas and opinions.​
  • hear the student read (this is especially important for younger readers, EAL readers or students who benefit from reading aloud. Independent readers may wish to read sections of the text relevant to their goal.)
    • Take some anecdotal notes of the student’s reading behaviours recording what strategies are being used or neglected as they work on text.
    • Monitor the student's use of their reading goal.
    • Provide the student explicit feedback about their reading goal and their reading in general. 
    • Provide explicit teaching as a result of the reading (if needed).
  • set new goals and further learning
    • Help the student articulate a new goal or consolidate their current one.
    • Negotiate what work needs to be done to successfully achieve the goal. Record these details.
    • Set a date for the next conference and ensure the student records the details
    • Suggest texts that students may wish to investigate.
    • Record student responses, achievements and areas for improvement.

After the reading conference the teacher can:

  • determine if there are like needs between students that should be addressed in group situations, such as during shared reading or guided reading
  • evaluate the conference and note student progress
  • plan for the discussion and prompting questions for the next reading conference.

In this video the teacher conducts a one-on-one reading conference to check how the student is progressing with their goal, and their understanding of the text and vocabulary.

The student​'s role in a reading conference 

Students also come to the reading conference prepared. They need to refer to their goal recorded in their reader's response book/notebook and their notes about the work which was needed to achieve it. The reader's response book/notebook acts as a collection of thoughts, responses, ideas and connections that a student has had whilst reading.

It is useful for students to have their reader's response book/notebook on hand when they are participating in independent reading so that they can record new learning, wonderings, evidence or questions.

Before the reading conference the student can:

  • read their text
  • revise their reading goal and check to see whether they have completed the work needed to achieve it
  • think about whether the goal has been achieved or is yet to be achieved.

During the reading conference the student can:

  • begin the discussions by articulating their goal
  • read aloud
  • work with the teacher to determine whether the goal has been achieved, is yet to be achieved and set a new reading goal if appropriate
  • articulate what they have done well
  • determine what will be read before the next reading conference and estimate how much reading will be achieved
  • record the new or consolidating goal, date for next conference and what is required for them to achieve the goal in their reader's response book/notebook.

After the reading conference the student can:

  • continue with independent reading
  • work towards achieving their goal, by checking progress against notes made in their reader's response book/notebook
  • record any learning, wonderings, questions or evidence in their reader's response book/notebook in preparation for the next conference.

Text selection​​

It has long been established that success in reading correlates with engagement (Krashen, 2011) and time spent reading correlates with reading achievement (Wu & Samuels, 2003). For students to be engaged readers, they need to feel they have the autonomy to read material they find interesting. 

Teachers may suggest or guide choices, helping students to make 'just right' text selections, which fall within their 'Zone of Proximal Development' (Vygotsky, 1978). In order to select texts, students need access to a range of texts.

This includes texts from school and classroom libraries: fiction and non-fiction texts, decodable texts, levelled texts, picture story books, online reading material, popular culture texts and books from home. Fountas and Pinnell (2001, p.118) suggest "We need to fill our shelves with fiction, non-fiction, and poetry at various levels of reading difficulty so that students can immerse themselves in books they understand and enjoy".

It is also necessary for teachers to have a sound knowledge of the types of texts students are interested in or texts with which students have the potential to be interested.

Teacher questio​​ning

Teacher questioning is an integral part of the reading conference. However, it should not dominate it. The teacher needs to make conversation moves to guide the student to articulating the meaning they have made about the text, and discuss the goal they have set.

The reading conference should be dialogic in nature, where both the teacher and the student can ask questions, make comments and share thinking. By the teacher asking questions (e.g. Why do you think that…? Can you tell me about…? How do you know…? What can you use to help you?) the reading conference becomes a guided conversation . 

Goal setting​

Setting challenging, yet achievable goals has been identified as a key factor in student progress (Hattie, 2009). Students' confidence, perseverance with learning and students' involvement in the learning have the potential to increase in classrooms where goal setting is used (Self-Brown & Mathews, 2003).

Student goal setting is an important part of the reading conference cycle. The goals set can be expressed as learning intentions, and should be accompanied by success criteria, which provide students with the clarity needed to determine whether the goal has been achieved.

Students should be involved in the setting of their goals for reading, but might need guidance from the teacher to select or articulate their goal.

The reading conference provides the teacher the opportunity to model the language of goal setting, and through careful questioning to illuminate the aspects of reading a student has accomplished and is yet to accomplish. It is important that students leave the reading conference knowing:

  1. What is my new reading goal?
  2. How am I going to go about achieving my reading goal?
  3. How will I know I have achieved it?

Reading goals can be set around phonics, fluency and phrasing, comprehension, critical thinking, vocabulary development or application of reading strategies.

High expectations​​

Expectations form a role in the goal setting and achievement of students and in the development of students' self-efficacy (Hanover Research, 2012). Hattie (2009) posits that setting goals, expressed as learning intentions help to define expectations. The goals provide students with clarity as to what is possible for them to achieve. Discussions with students, as they work towards their goals provides formative assessment for the teacher, while providing students with specific feedback. 

"…teachers' expectations have the potential to influence student achievement both directly and indirectly by affecting the​​ amount of material that the student learns as well as their motivation to try to learn."

​​Hanover Research, 2012 ,page 3.​

Why use reading conferences: Theory to practice​

Meaning making must be central to the teaching of reading. Students are independent meaning makers when they can select texts for different purposes, make meaning from the texts, use the texts to fulfil a purpose and discuss the texts with others. 

Reading conferences complement and assist:

  • the core reading practices (e.g. modelled, shared, guided, independent reading, reciprocal teaching, literature circles, close reading and reading and writing connections)
  • other instructional scaffolds the teacher puts in place for all students, as they work through the process of becoming independent readers (cf Bruner, 1986) 
  • students who are working towards reading independence, who may find aspects of reading difficult, or for those students who lack motivation to read. The reading conference affords the benefits of assistance with text selection, microscaffolding of reading strategies and guidance with goal setting (Fountas & Pinnell, 2001). 
  • students who are advanced independent readers. The reading conference affords the opportunity for these students to make deeper meanings around the text, through the intersection of thought and dialogue (Vygotsky, 1978) 
  • EAL and diverse students. The teacher can use the reading conference to assist students to understand the social, cultural and linguistic nuances that appear in texts (Christie, 2005). It is important to be aware that teachers need to take opportunities to give EALD students "stronger, more explicit attention to how language features are used within texts - that is focus on input is needed" (Cross, 2012, p. 217).

The importance of dialogic interactions​​

  • The interconnectedness of language and thought has long been recognised (Alexander, 2006; Clay, 2015; Mercer, 2008; Vygotsky, 1978). Dialogic interactions capture the relationship between thought and language (Vygotsky, 1978), and place students in situations where they consolidate their meaning making about a text, through their use of oral language. 
  • More recent research has highlighted what Alexander (2006) terms 'the pedagogy of the spoken word', that is, how discussion assists understanding, reasoning and engagement. The reading conference provides the opportunity for students to engage in extended talk and build upon their thinking, as they adopt higher order thinking in response to teacher questioning and prompts. Mercer (2008) recognises the importance of teacher/student dialogue and its potential influence on the development of students' 
"The reader's first response is 'in the head', but talking enables the reader to put thoughts into words. When we value our students' oral respo​​nses to reading, they become more conscious of their own thinking as meaningful and important."

​​(Fountas & Pinnell, 2001, p. 164)​

The role of the r​eader

  • The role of the reader in the process of reading is acknowledged in the vast academic literature about reading. The meaning making that occurs depends upon the purpose for reading the text. Through reading conferences, teachers can help students articulate the purpose of their reading and guide them in constructing their own meanings. 
  • The reader brings past experiences, linguistic knowledge, memories and values to the text, which help connect the reader to the text. It is then the role of the teacher to help students realise these connections and explore them to deepen their understanding of their reading. Rosenblatt (1982) states that "after the reading our initial function is to deepen the understanding…we should help the young reader return to, relive, and savour the experience" (p. 275). The reading conference provides the scope and means for a teacher to help students connect to their reading.

"Guided talk abou​​t books is an important strategy for teachers to develop comprehension of literary texts." 

(McDonald, 2013, page 3)​

Downloa​dable template

R​eading conference template​ (docx - 25kb)


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