Diverse readers? Eight Ideas to Consider

The needs of my readers are so diverse. How can I manage it all?  

Sandy’s first grade classroom is comprised of students who read everything from Elephant and Piggie books to Clementine and beyond.  Within Sandy’s classroom of 26 readers, she has nine students who are learning English, a student with Asperger Syndrome, several students on IEPs, and at least three students who are working through the social/emotional effects of trauma.  Her current assessment shows 10 different independent reading levels ranging from what her school considers kindergarten to third grade and beyond. She often worries she won’t be able to meet the needs of these diverse learners.

Does Sandy’s classroom sound familiar?  Every  classroom is comprised of children with diverse strengths, needs, interests, backgrounds, and experiences, and therefore Sandy’s worries are common to most teachers. 

We don’t pretend to have a quick or slick answer to doing this important work, but in today’s post we share eight starting points for creating conditions to support a very diverse class of readers. Perhaps a couple or all eight might resonate with you. Continue reading “Diverse readers? Eight Ideas to Consider”

Conferring with Students Who’ve Experienced Childhood Trauma

Mrs. Anthony is a third grade teacher with a classroom of 26 diverse students. This year, she has more students than ever who seem to struggle with emotional regulation, attention, and peer interactions. During recent professional development in her school, she and her colleagues have had the opportunity to start to learn about how the effects of childhood trauma can present themselves in school. Through the lens of trauma, Mrs. Anthony is working to take a careful inventory of her own practices and decisions in the classroom, working to create a calm, predictable, and safe place for learning to unfold every day. As she does so, she begins to wonder about how her conferring practice might intersect with the needs and/or triggers of her students who are experiencing chronic trauma in their lives. 

No matter where you teach, what your class size, or how long you’ve been in the business, chances are you’re working to build more skills yourself for meeting the needs of students whose exposure to traumatic life experiences is interfering with school success. Continue reading “Conferring with Students Who’ve Experienced Childhood Trauma”

Some of my students just hop from book to book! What can I do to support them?

Question: A few of the readers in my class just seem unable to stick with a book from beginning to end. What can I do to help them commit?

Daniel, a fourth grader, seems to have picked up and put down more books than almost any other student in his fourth-grade class this year.  In fact, his teacher worries that he may not have finished a single book all year aside from the ones read in small groups or with book clubs. Daniel’s ability to read is on par with his grade-level peers, but he just doesn’t ever seem to find a book that he really wants to commit to. His teacher knows Daniel needs support with this, so she decides to investigate the issue a little further through conferring… 

We all know those readers who have a difficult time committing to a book. In fact, as readers ourselves, we both know we’ve sometimes been in Daniel’s shoes; buying or borrowing a book we couldn’t wait to dive into, and then later finding our interest or attention waning. In reading as in poker, knowing when “to hold ‘em and when to fold ‘em” is a very real challenge. Students like Daniel, who abandon book after book, are sending a definite signal for help. Offering a series of focused conferences can be a lifesaver for these students.  Today, we offer some ideas about how you might structure a series of conferences to support readers like Daniel. Continue reading “Some of my students just hop from book to book! What can I do to support them?”

How can I use conferring to connect with students who are very new to English?

Since arriving in the country with her family just a few months ago, Renata’s days are filled with new and sometimes peculiar settings, people, smells, tastes, and expectations. Because Spanish is the language she’s grown up with, there are added layers of complexity that she must navigate in her new school as she tries to find entry points into conversation, social structures, and the academic curriculum of her second grade classroom. Since Renata isn’t yet reading or understanding much English, her teacher worries about how to help her make the most of independent choice reading each day and feels a bit stymied about what to say and do in a conference, since the two of them have so few words in common.

With an estimated 5 million English learners (ELs) currently in US classrooms (US Department of Education, 2015), roughly 1 out of every 10 students has a home language other than English. Embracing the presence of these immigrant, refugee, and US born language diverse learners into our classrooms is an opportunity to welcome world in, modeling for all students what it means to be a member of a culturally and linguistically diverse world. In today’s post we offer a few simple entry points for using conferring with English learners to build relationships, help them grow as readers, leverage their interests and strengths, and help them to help them become thriving members of the classroom community. Continue reading “How can I use conferring to connect with students who are very new to English?”

How can I support readers who pick the same types of books over and over again?

Question: I have some readers who pick the same book or types of books again and again. Shouldn’t I be pushing them toward more variety?

Juan is on a mission to know as much as he can about outer space. Day after day in his second-grade classroom, he immerses himself in books about space. Every single informational book he’s read in the past month has been about space. When he reads fiction, he prefers books that take place in space. If he can’t find a new book about space, he chooses to reread one he already spent time with. When Juan’s teacher suggests it may be time to move to a different topic, encouraging him instead to try out an ocean book or something from the sports bin, his interest in reading takes an immediate dive. It seems as though if Juan can’t be reading books about outer space, he’s not that interested in reading at all. 

Sometimes students fall so in love with a topic, a series, an author, or a genre that it seems nothing else will do for them as readers. As teachers who know the importance variety can play in developing well-rounded readers, it’s not uncommon that we try to push students in another direction and in doing so, unintentionally create disengagement. 

We worry less about about what many perceive as a reading rut – reading the same topic, book type, or title over and over again – and more about the level of engagement we see in a reader. Because Juan is so intentional and committed to his book choices, we don’t think he’s really in a rut. We think of a rut as a place we get stuck because we don’t know a better option. Students in true ruts look very different. They are students who aren’t truly engaged or excited about their reading. They are simply choosing the same types of texts over and over because they haven’t found or don’t know how to find a better or different option. These students will definitely benefit from our use of conferring time to support book choice. Continue reading “How can I support readers who pick the same types of books over and over again?”

Help! My students want to choose books I’m afraid are too hard!

Help! My students want to choose books I’m afraid are too hard!

As Carmen looks around her third-grade classroom, she sees her peers reading chapter books like Clementine, The One and Only Ivan, The Spiderwick Chronicles, and even Harry Potter. She mentioned to her teacher, Mr. Chen, that everyone’s books seem “so fat and brainy” and the books she’s reading look like “baby books.”  Most of her peer’s current reads exceed 100, 200, and even 300 pages. Carmen longs to read the same books as her friends. In Carmen’s opinion, most of the classroom library books at her current “level” look like they’re for much younger kids. Mr. Chen is at a loss. He knows that if Carmen is to grow as a reader, she’ll have to spend lots of time with books she can actually read and comprehend. But, Carmen is so determined to read what her friends are reading. Like many kids in her position, she just wants to fit in.

The last message we want to give readers is, “You can’t read this book. It’s too hard for you.” So, what can teachers like Mr. Chen do to help readers like Carmen find books they love, can read, and feel proud to hold in their hands?  Continue reading “Help! My students want to choose books I’m afraid are too hard!”

How do I Confer with a Student Who’s Reading a Book That I Haven’t Read?

Question: I haven’t read the book myself, so how will I be able to confer with a reader about it?

Sylvie’s fifth-grade students are voracious readers. On most days, at least one of her students brings a book into the classroom that is completely unfamiliar to her. Even though Sylvie has tried to keep up with her students’ book choices, she has found that it is just not possible to know every book that every child in her class is reading. She wants to confer with her students, but she isn’t sure how to talk with them when they are reading a book that is unfamiliar to her. 

Trying to read everything our students are reading is a noble goal, but it’s simply not realistic. In fact, if you have read every book your students have read, your students probably aren’t reading enough. There are just way too many great books in the world to limit the choices of our students to those we’ve read ourselves!  So, in this post, we offer some suggestions for how to engage in meaningful conversations with students, when they are reading something you have not read.  Continue reading “How do I Confer with a Student Who’s Reading a Book That I Haven’t Read?”

Tips to Help Students Develop the Independence They Need So You Can Confer

Question: I want to regularly confer with every reader in my classroom. But, how can I respond to students who persistently seek my attention while I’m trying to confer with others?

Aaron, a second grade teacher, is working to establish both independent reading and conferring in his classroom. However, as soon as he starts to dig in with one student, he finds himself interrupted by other students who want his attention. Joey needs to go to the restroom; Ava has can’t find her book bag; Isaac keeps tattling on the kids around him. Aaron is beginning to wonder if  his kids just aren’t ready for this level of independence yet, or if maybe they need something “more structured” than independent reading to do while he confers.

Because conferring calls on us to be wholeheartedly present with just one student at a time, What will the other kids be doing? often comes up when we talk with teachers about conferring. Our answer is clear and simple: they’ll be reading self-selected texts. After all, conferring is our primary means of reflecting on what students are doing as they read independently, so we can find meaningful ways to cultivate thriving reading lives. In other words, conferring is something we do while students read independently, in order to understand, affirm, and extend how they read independently.

However, helping your students learn to carry on with engaged independence is not something that just happens overnight. This is tricky, ongoing work that takes clarity, patience, and persistence on your part. To get you started we offer a handful of strategies that will work with any age or stage of reading development.  Continue reading “Tips to Help Students Develop the Independence They Need So You Can Confer”

Welcome from Kari & Christina

Screen Shot 2018-02-20 at 8.41.01 AMWelcome to our blog, To Know and Nurture a Reader! We’re so glad to have you join us.

A couple years ago, we began a writing journey together with the goal of supporting educators in creating a joyful conferring practice to support all of their readers. Fast forward to now, and we’re excited to say that our book, To Know and Nurture a Reader; Conferring with Confidence and Joy is available for preorder and will be in the hands of teachers in May.

As a complement to our book, we decided to launch this blog. To begin we offer a series of posts dedicated to supporting teachers as they tackle some of the predictable challenges of developing a thriving conferring practice.  Each blog post in the “Tackling the Tricky Parts Series” will focus on a common challenge we’ve encountered ourselves or that we’ve heard about in our work with teachers across the country. Each of the posts includes a question, a classroom scenario, and some ideas you might consider when tackling this challenge. The posts will fall into one of three categories:

  • Setting the Stage for Success
  • Meeting the Needs of Every Reader
  • Embracing the Messiness of Choice

But this isn’t a one way conversation.  We’d love to hear from you as well! What are the reasons you value conferring with readers? What do you find tricky or troublesome?  What works for you? What ideas do you have to share with other teachers that we haven’t thought of or included?  Please help keep the conversation alive by reaching out in the way that suits you best:


Here’s a preview of what you can look forward to in the coming weeks: 

Sunday, April 1st: Helping Students Develop Independence so You Can Confer

Sunday, April 8th: Conferring with Students Who Are Reading Books Unfamiliar to You

Sunday, April 15th: How might I use conferring to support students who are reading significantly below grade level?

Sunday, April 22nd: What can I do when students pick the same books over and over again?

Sunday, April 29th: How might I support English language learners through conferring, especially those with very limited English?

Sunday, May 6th: What do I do when a reader has trouble committing to a book?


We look forward to learning with you and hearing from you on this journey!

Kari & Christina