Literacy expert Sharon Callen reveals the key questions teachers should ask students to assess their literacy development.
Sharon recommend teachers use the Reading Conference method to evaluate the development and needs of students and help structure teaching practices better.
On episode 35 of The Teacher’s Tool Kit for Literacy, they talked about the benefits of a Reading Conference as opposed to a simple ‘multiple choice, question and answer’ testing process.
“[This] isn’t letting us have our eyes and ears on what the student is doing. It doesn’t give us insights into their thinking processes, their actions and what they’re choosing to do as a reader as they read. So the reading conference is an integral part of our reading workshops,” Sharon said.
For educators who are unaware of what a Reading Conference is, Sharon explained that it is an assessment and opportunity to gather information for teaching and learning.
“A Reading Conference is a meeting between a student and a teacher during which time a teacher tries to learn as much about the student’s reading,” she said.
“[This] includes things like what are their reading interests? What are their reading processes? We want to know about their fluency, their vocabulary, their decoding knowledge. So lots of reading process comprehension and what interests them as a reader. Why have they chosen this book?”
To gather extensive knowledge and have a truly purposeful Reading Conference, Sharon recommended five key questions to ask.
“These five questions are really the essentials of what I need to have in my mind if I want my reading conference to focus on what actions they are taking. What actions have they got under control and where do they need more and in what area?” Sharon said.
Reading Conference question 1: ‘What strategies do students use to help their reading?’
“So we should be looking for and observing ‘oh, I can see that they’re doing this, this is what is helping their reading’. But what if they stop? What if they reread? That’s a strategy they’re using to help them as readers. So we’re really looking at what do we see that they’re using that helps them as a reader?” Sharon explained.
“Sometimes we see children using strategies that aren’t helping them as a reader. So a student that I was conferring with the other day, he came to a word that he didn’t know, and I said ‘so what do you do? What strategies have you got? What do you do when you come to a word you don’t know?'”
Reading Conference question 2: ‘What do the students know about comprehension strategies?’
“So sometimes when I say to a teacher, ‘choose me a child that you want me to confer with’. And they’ll say ‘this child because they can read every word, but they don’t seem to know what they’re reading’. Well, what does that child know about comprehension strategies?” Sharon said.
“What does that child know about what they can do to make meaning from what they’re reading? So that’s a critical part. If they don’t know what to do to make sense of what they’re reading right there, there’s a strategy [they need to learn]. And as a class, I’d be absolutely focusing in on teaching comprehension strategies in the next mini lesson.”
Reading Conference question 3: ‘What do the students do when they come to a word they don’t recognise?’
“So this student I was talking about, he came to the word ‘layers’. He was reading about rainforests, and he didn’t know how to read the word. So I said, ‘what do you do to try and work out a word?’ And he said, ‘I sound it out but I still don’t know what that word is’. So he didn’t have another strategy for that word,” Sharon explained.
“So working towards those things is what we want to find out. How many strategies have they got for these things and do their strategies serve them to tackle words that they don’t recognise. If they’ve only got one strategy, it’s not enough.”
Reading conference question 4: ‘How do the students clarify the meaning of a word?’
Reading conference question 5: ‘Do the students self-correct to clarify the meaning?’
Part of understanding the text is clarifying the meaning of a word and self-correcting to clarify the meaning, both of which are covered in the fourth and fifth questions.
“So [continuing the example] this student also needed to clarify the meaning of ‘layers’, and to do that his book gave us a little gift. It was in bold and because it was in bold, it meant that in the diagram it gave us more information. So that text gave us information to work out what was the meaning of the word, so I was able to bring a whole new strategy there for how to work out the meaning of a word in a nonfiction text that has bold print,” Sharon said.
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