Interview with Jennifer Serravallo about her new book: A Teacher’s Guide to Reading Conferences. Interview conducted by Dr. Sam Bommarito.

A teachers guide

Interview with Jennifer Serravallo about her new book: A Teacher’s Guide to Reading Conferences. A very special thanks to Jennifer for doing this interview.  The book should be out in about two weeks. This interview will also appear in the February issue of the Missouri Reader.

  1. What key things you would like teachers new to conferring to learn from using this book? What are the key things you would like those experienced with conferring to learn?

If you’ve never tried conferring with readers before, this book will help you get started immediately and will introduce you to the types of conferences I use in the reading classroom. I’ve worked with many teachers new to conferring as a staff developer, so I know what questions are most common and what aspects challenge them most, and I have answered those questions and addressed those challenges in the book.  I describe various conference types clearly and offer video examples online. When I was learning to confer, I always found it important to not only read about conferring but to see my staff developers and coaches model them for me. And now when I present about conferring I always get comments that the videos were so helpful—so they are a part of this book!

For those who have been conferring for a while, there is a lot in this book that will help elevate conferring time, making it more meaningful for you and students – strategies for being more goal-directed, ways to offer students opportunities to self reflect, progressions of skills on printable note-taking forms to help teachers focus within goals but move students along, considerations for emergent bilingual students, as well as interviews with some practitioners who have been mentors to me and have wise words to offer us all.

I find there are some universal questions I get about conferring from those new to it and those experienced with it that I address in the book. For example: how to manage conferring, how to fit it in, how many children to aim to see each week in conferences, how long to spend with each conference, how to know what the perfect strategy is to teach a student, and how to keep conferences short and focused, to name a few.

  1. I was taught that conferring is the heart of workshop. How would you react to that? What might you say to convince teachers who feel there is not time for conferring to include it in their literacy program?

I say in the book that “conferring is where the magic happens” so I agree with whoever told you it’s the “heart!” I believe that every reader in your classroom is unique – the two kids reading level J books don’t have the same strengths and needs, the two kids in your class who are your strongest readers might not be strongest with the same things, the children with IEPs likely don’t have the same plan. It’s crucial then that we spend some of our time each week working with children one-on-one to set goals, support them with strategies for those goals, and monitor their progress. I also describe strategy lessons (or “group conferences”) in the book, and these are going to be important to include in your repertoire for efficiency’s sake when kids would benefit from learning the same strategy and it makes sense to do so.

  1. As a follow up to question 2, what advice do you have for making time for conferring? What support materials do you include to help with scheduling and managing it all?

I think sometimes there’s a struggle to find the time because it’s not clear what the rest of the class is doing while the teacher is conferring. My advice? While teachers confer, students read. This does a few things: first, it helps the students have ample time to practice strategies independently that they learned during their last conference with you and give them a chance for more reading volume which will help them grow as readers, and second, it frees you up to meet with students one-on-one and in groups. In the book, I offer sample schedules and a simple process for scheduling the conferring time (while the rest of the class is reading) to help teachers get to each student a couple of times a week, as well as tips for pacing each conference so they don’t run too long.

  1. You discuss different kinds of conferences.  Could you give some examples of how and why to use a particular kind of conference and good ways to decide on the content of a particular conference.

Each conference type I discuss in A Teacher’s Guide to Reading Conferences has its own purpose and structure. For example, a goal-setting conference is the sort of conference you’d conduct to help a student reflect on their work and set a goal, with the teacher as a coach/support. By contrast, a compliment conference is a conference where you offer a student positive feedback by naming something they are doing that will be helpful as they work on their reading goal. The goal-setting conference usually takes about 5 minutes because there is some time spent looking at a student’s work together while the teacher offers guiding questions for reflection, then once the goal is set the teacher provides a strategy and gives the student a chance to practice with some feedback. The compliment conference is really quick—usually just 90 seconds or so—because in that type the teacher spends a short amount of time checking in to see how the student has been doing with their goal, offers some feedback, and then moves on.  No new strategy, no guided practice. What I want teachers to do is to feel like they have a repertoire of ways to work with students so that they can be responsive and flexible—matching what a student needs to the strategy they choose to teach as well as the method they use to teach it.

  1. Your extensive support materials are one of the things that make all your works so popular.  What support materials will be available on line for use with this book? How do you see this book being used in conjunction with your other books e.g. The Reading Strategies Book and Understanding Texts & Readers? Where can we go to get a copy of your book?

As I mentioned earlier, there are videos featuring children in grades K-8 to show each conference type discussed in the book, as well as written transcripts of all of the conferences in case you prefer to read along or read instead of watch. I think the support material that folks will get most excited about are the note taking forms. There is one note taking form for assessment conferences that has questions and prompts that go with each of the 13 goals that form the framework for The Reading Strategies Book (i.e. Emergent Reading, Engagement, Print Work, Fluency, Plot and Setting,  Main Idea, and so on) and then thirteen note taking forms unique to each goal with a skill progression right on it. This way, once the teacher has identified a goal for a student, she can then use the corresponding note taking form and have the skill progression right in front of her as she confers. This will simplify decision-making and help keep the conferences focused. I’ve been using these forms with teachers in some of my study groups and they are absolutely loving them and finding them so helpful.

For those who have The Reading Strategies Book, they know that the book is set up by goal. I intended teachers to figure out a goal, then flip to the chapter that corresponds to the student goal. So with the note taking form that is goal-based with a progression, and the Strategies Book in their lap, they can easily identify the next step for a reader, flip to the corresponding chapter, and find a strategy.  Understanding Texts & Readers offers more detail and depth around leveled texts, and in that book I use the same goal categories in RSB. So in essence, they all work together (though they also each work individually do if you don’t have the other books you can still get everything out of each individual book I intended).

You can order a copy of A Teacher’s Guide to Reading Conferences wherever you get your books – Amazon, Barnes & Noble, your local independent bookstore. The book is out on Jan 31, and orders that are placed with HEINEMANN directly always ship first, and there is usually a 1-2 week delay with third party resellers. (Dr. B’s note: I’ve already pre-ordered this book through Heinemann, can’t wait for it to arrive. Should be here in about 2 weeks!)

Jennifer Serravallo is a literacy consultant, speaker, and the author of several popular titles including the NY Times Bestselling The Reading Strategies Book and The Writing Strategies Book. Her latest publication, Understanding Texts & Readers connects comprehension goals to text levels and readers responses. Upcoming publications include A Teacher’s Guide to Reading Conferences (January 2019) and Complete Comprehension, which is a revised and reimagined whole book assessment and teaching resource based on the award-winning Independent Reading Assessment (due out in Spring 2019). She was a Senior Staff Developer at the Teachers College Reading and Writing Project and taught in Title I schools in NYC. Tweet her @jserravallo.

Jennifer Serrvallo’s other interview- link to Mo Reader Article On Understanding Texts and Readers (Use link then click on the article title on the cover page of the journal to go to article) 

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A Teacher’s Guide to Reading Conferences Copyright 2019 by Jennifer Serravallo 

Blog Copyright 2019 by Dr. Sam Bommarito. Views/interpretations expressed here are solely the view of this author and do not necessarily reflect the views of any other person or organization. 


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