In author Dan Feigelson's new book, Reading Projects Reimagined, he shows us how conference-based, individual reading projects help students learn to think for themselves. Feigelson raises an important question about the larger goal of reading instruction: while it’s our job as reading teachers to introduce students to new ideas and comprehension strategies, shouldn’t we also teach them to come up with their own ideas? In today's blog, Feigelson explains how to let students know what is expected of them during a conference.
Understanding What a Conference-Based Reading Project Is
Although a conference-based reading project is based on a student’s thinking, the teacher plays an important role in helping to recognize, name, and extend that thinking. The trick is to match individual students with appropriate work to do that will make them better readers and to do so in such a way that they buy in and feel excited.
Most people are more invested in a task when they feel a sense of ownership. For this reason, we want the lines of thinking students explore in their projects to be their own. This is easier said than done; many children aren’t even aware that they are having thoughts as they read, let alone be able to name what they are, or tell a big idea from a small one. The teacher’s role is to help them recognize the ideas they are having, and how to extend them in order to come up with new understandings. “I am not in their heads, nor should I be in their heads,” reflects Joanne Searle, a fifth-grade teacher at Manhattan New School. “I have to take what they’re starting out with and help them shape a project that grows their own thinking.”
As with any effective pedagogy, it is always a good idea to let kids know what is expected on
1. Notice something in the text that you find interesting—and talk about it! For example
• what a character is like, or what she does
• something you agree (or disagree with)
• something you like (or don’t like) about the way the author wrote it
• a part that seems especially important.
2. Keep track of it as you read, and see how your idea grows or changes. Use
• sticky notes
• graphic organizers
• reading notebooks
• margin notes.
3. Look back and (briefly!) record your thinking. Once you are done, sum up what you think. You might do this by
• writing a few sentences
• choosing a few sticky notes that go together and writing a few lines about why
• making a timeline
• making a diagram, web, or some other graphic organizer.
The teacher’s primary job in a reading conference is to help the student recognize and name his or her own idea. To do this well, we must develop our own ability to listen for and name what children are noticing and thinking about as they read—in a way that is bigger than just the one book. If a student is retelling the plot of a Judy Blume book and commenting on Peter’s complicated relationship with Fudge, a teacher might point out that he or she is paying attention to places where a main character seems to be feeling opposite things—an important thing to do in any narrative text.