There is great grace in the teaching profession. Kind, giving, thoughtful, persistent, and devoted are some of the descriptive words that come quickly to mind about the many teachers I have worked with. It has been a privilege to work with so many gifted professionals and to watch what might be called love in motion, in the service of the many wonderful students in our schools.
Reading To Know and Nurture a Reader: Conferring with Confidence and Joy by Kari Yates and Christina Nosek suggests these qualities of an effective teacher as the authors gently scaffold the learner through a carefully constructed methodology of how to have an efficacious reading conference. It is apparent that they have spent thousands of hours thinking about and creating this method, and at the root of it all is the care and concern they have for their students and the desire to offer them the joy of becoming lifelong and passionate readers.
It struck me that this book could be taken both as a life manual and a methodology for how to hold reading conferences with students. Advice such as “Loosen up, have some fun and trust your instinct,” “Approach students with tenacity and heart,” and “It’s not helpful to be hard on yourself, so give yourself a little love,” create a hopeful and gentle space to learn or deepen the skill of working with a reader in the most effective way possible. It encourages the reader and supports the learner to take this risk.
There are many aspects of this book to like. The methodology these teachers have created appears straightforward on the surface but, like many skills worth learning, it has layers upon layers of complexity as one reads further into the skillfully crafted chapters. It is not overwhelmingly complex, however, with a careful learning scaffold that demonstrates master teachers and writers at work, spiraling back again and again to remind the reader of what has led to this point both with visual and textual reminders.
Teachers are presented with a decision-making map to follow while doing a reading conference with students. The first decision relates to determining what is going on with a reader (the know part of the conference) and whether it is related to 1) book choice 2) healthy habits 3) strategic process and 4) authentic response. More than ample details are provided on how to ask the right questions or use the right listening skills to determine what is challenging a reader. Once this information is determined, the teacher is encouraged to nurture the reader via their response which can be via 1) affirming 2) extending 3) reminding and/or 4) taking notes for future teaching.
Each chapter of the book delves into one of the eight aspects mentioned above with the first four chapters focused on the “how” of conferring, the next four on the “what” of conferring, and the last few chapters revealing the behind-the-scenes preparation work to bring it all together. The appendix provides reproducible templates to make the whole process easier. The authors remind us more than once that we are always dealing with the reader in front of us in this moment and of the consequences of over-teaching.
The book is explicit and provides very easy-to-follow questioning guides. It is so precise that it even has reflections on non-verbal cues that can be used by the teacher and what they might signal to a nervous student. It is repetitive in a helpful way when a lot of information is being provided. For example, the decision-making map is provided at the beginning of the book and reappears again and again with an intentional “you are here” arrow to help the reader move with ease throughout the landscape of the methodology.
“See it in action” videos, accessed via a QR reader, and previewing questions to focus the viewer help consolidate the techniques. It is reasonable to expect that a teacher new to readers’ conferences would be able to implement it successfully using this thoughtful manual.
“We want to be crystal clear that this is not offered as a checklist, a curriculum or sequence for teaching reading. It is simply a format for organizing all the complex and boundless possibilities, in a way that allows us to tidy up our thinking and proceed with more clarity and intention.” Reading conferences are challenging and sometimes it can seem difficult to record all that needs to be recorded. To Know and Nurture a Reader returns the focus to the heart of the matter.
Elizabeth Ann Walker is a life-long educator with a background in performance arts and wellness. A certified yoga teacher, trained sound therapist and meditator, Elizabeth has spent many years teaching literacy in Quebec and New Brunswick.