November 29, 2011

Child-Centered Reading Conferences

by Carolyn Wilhelm, Guest Blogger
Oh, the joy of a really great novel with just enough suspense that the reader can barely put it down.  Teachers work so hard at getting to know which books will really grab individual children. We learn about their lives, their interests, and their reading habits. We are so happy to match a reader with the just-right and just-perfect book, and observe the silent reading with a smile.  Job well done!

Screech, put on the brakes . . . as soon as our students are happily engaged in reading, we slide a teacher stool up next to the absorbed reader to begin a reading conference. Then we brightly ask, "What reading strategy are you using today? Will you explain how this strategy is helping you be a better reader?" Smiling and hoping to jot some notes on our charts or report card forms, we hope for an insightful and elaborate answer.

The student, wanting to please, stops the marvelous reading experience to try to answer. He pauses to think, "What can I say to get the teacher to leave so I can just get back to reading?  Let's see, she was happy when I said I was inferring the other day, so I can't use that again. What can I say today?"

When seen from a child’s point of view, reading conferences may sometimes appear to be an unwelcome interruption. However, we know that individual reading conferences are critical in order to determine if our students comprehend the text. So how can we confer with them in a child-centered manner that meets their needs rather than focusing on our objectives?

After giving this some thought, I created the Child-Centered Reading Conference chart shown above with some strategies and possible questions to ask without interrupting the reader and ruining the reading experience. Begin the session with a general question such as "What is something you have just been thinking about while reading?"  Then try to follow up that question with one that matches what the child just said with a similar reading strategy. We should not make children fit their thinking into the strategies we are teaching when they are delightfully engrossed in reading. Be as unobtrusive, quiet, and thoughtful as you can when conferring with an engrossed reader . . . and be quick!

Yes, teachers have to gather notes and information about readers, but we also have to be careful not to spoil the reading experiences of our students.  Happy reading!

Carolyn Wilhelm has a Masters in Gifted Education, another Masters in K-12 Curriculum and Instruction, and is a National Board Certified Teacher in the area of Middle Childhood Generalist. She has taught grades 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5, gifted education K-6, and remedial math grades 1-6. Carolyn is the creator of The Wise Owl Factory website and Book-a-Day blog.


  1. Very good point! We have to do our conferences in a way so the child is still engrossed the books!

  2. These are great ways to help a child with comprehension! Sometimes it's hard to know what to say to help children do the kind of thinking that helps them understand what they read.
    Your chart is a helpful tool for parents and teachers to help a child focus on thinking while reading.

  3. What an insightful post! Many of us forget to look at what is going on from the student's POV. I love the idea of asking open-ended questions. The hard part for me is always giving the student time to think! It is hard not to be impatient sometimes, but then they come up with the most interesting answers.

  4. Thank you to Brian, pacrapacma, and Rachel for writing thoughtful responses. Thank you for reading the post. Carolyn

  5. That's a great printable. For me, it take a lot of practice to learn these skills of conferring with kids. I guess you just need a lot of reflection and thinking about how you might say it differently the next time in order to not interrupt the reading or whatever else you might be doing. I think this article does a great job of helping us to reflect on things we might not even realized we were doing. And the printable helps refocus our thinking onto what might work better! Great article!