Margin Notes

Conferring During Reader’s Workshop PL


Earlier this semester, we met with a group of wonderful middle school teachers who were interested in building their capacity for conferring with students during their reading workshop time.  To get the day started, we practiced some informal reader-to- reader conversations focusing on the question, “How’s your reading going?” as a way to model how simple it can be to start the conferring process. This led into our opening activity, a Compass Point (a routine best used for decision making and planning), where we discussed our current stance on conferring, what we were excited and worried about, along with what we needed to know more about, to set the stage for the day.  We came back to these initial thoughts later in the day to see how our thinking and ideas had changed through our learning.

Throughout the day, we supplemented our learning with a number of essential readings and watched videos of our favourite literacy gurus conferring with students so we could listen to the conversations they had and notice the different approaches. Penny Kittle’s YouTube channel and Cris Tovani’s, “Talk To Me DVD” are terrific resources if you want to see conferences in action. We ended each video by asking, “What do you now know about this reader?” which led to insightful discussions.

Teachers also received a copy of Pernille Ripp’s, Passionate Readers.  We used this book to look at our own reading identities and to consider how we are a reading role model to our students.  A concern that always comes up when chatting about conferring is how to make the time for it.  We tackled this together by discussing conferring in groups, making and using anecdotal notes, and creating a classroom environment that supports this.

Interspersed through the day were many book talks on current YA novels that we have enjoyed reading this year.  The day ended in the best way possible-teachers were given a stack of new YA books to bring back to their classrooms to book talk, create excitement, and add to their classroom library.  What a great way to end a day of learning!

Later, we followed up with teachers with reflection questions about our day together and how they have implemented some of their new learning, and we wanted to share some of what they wrote:

Professional Resource-Passionate Readers by Pernille Ripp

Overall, teachers loved this book. It is a quick read and Pernille Ripp’s writing voice is engaging and authentic.

“Yes, love it!  Pernille’s examples are practical, and she offers things to ponder.  The appendix is very useful.  I like the graphic organizer on page 146 for anecdotal notes when conferring.”

“So far I have used it two ways.  First, I have had success getting to know my students’ reading lives by using the Reading Survey at the back.  Secondly, I have also reconsidered how the physical space of my classroom affects my students’ reading.   I have rearranged my bookshelves beside the door as they enter.  I have also tried my best to use anchor charts near student work and the conferencing space.”

“I try to keep it more casual, like a real conversation friends or people in a book club would have.  I used the ‘Reading Habits Self-Reflection’ as well as implemented the ’25 Book Challenge’ with my three classes.  I have also realized how much my reading identity can impact my students.  I am honest about my reading habits, and we work through our challenges as readers together.”

New Books for the Classroom Library

“I book talked the new titles and then sent them out into reader land.  My students started to argue about who wanted which book first so I had to do a draw.  They are still circulating those books now.  Now the students are book talking them and recommending them on our list of ‘Books We Recommend Page” which is posted in my classroom.”

“I spent a good chunk of a class showing book trailers…and really hyped the books.  Now, I can’t keep them on the shelf.   Towers Falling and Crossover-every single class has someone reading them.  Awesome!”


“Continued with conferring in groups and students have continued to respond positively.  They love meeting now, always eager to share their book and what they love/dislike about the characters, plot, etc.”

“I tried group conferring according to the genre of books, whether they were a part of a series, etc.  The students really seemed to enjoy discussing as a group.  They asked one another questions and really seemed interested.  I also changed my questions according to the list we were given, and I use them as springboards to real dialogue.”

“I have tried carefully to make my conferencing more conversation based.  From the videos we viewed, I noticed that students seemed more at ease with informal discussions.”

Other responses included topics such as the success they experienced using different types of questions when conferring with students, how teachers incorporated the Compass Point activity into their classroom, and how the enthusiasm experienced when they started conferring in groups.

As always, any day spent talking with teachers and building our capacity together, is a day well spent.


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