In an earlier post, Matt covered the importance of reading ladders. Once you widely utilize reading ladders and book series in your classroom library, there are simply fewer library conferences that need to take place. This is great because it means we need to spend less time pitching books during Independent Reading, and we can spend more time monitoring reading habits and conferencing with our students. However, sometimes, we will have to work with kids to shop for books. In this post, I will break down some of the different phases of a library conference and give some tips about how to frame your conferences with your readers.
Who has ever had a library conference with a student before that went something like this:
Teacher: Do you want to read a science fiction book?
Teacher: Do you want to read a horror book?
Student: Nah, they look stupid.
Teacher: Okay, how about sports?
Student: Eh, I don’t really like sports.
Teacher: Geez, what kind of books do you like?
Student: I don’t know.
After getting some inspiration from my father – a salesman – and Glengarry Glen Ross, the raucous 90s movie about disgruntled real estate salesmen, I realized that I needed to stop asking kids yes or no questions and to start using the “alternative close.” An alternative close simply means that you give someone multiple choices that both result in a favorable outcome for the seller. So, for example, when I walk over to the library, I ask my student if they are looking for a book that is realistic (i.e. real teenagers with real problems) or fantasy (i.e. stories that have magic or lots of technology). Either answer is completely suitable to me and it quickly helps us to focus our search on just half of our library.
Once the student has chosen realistic or fantasy, I immediately pick out the 2 or 3 books that I know are best for the student based on their reading level and interest and then give them a short elevator pitch on each of the books. By taking the books out of the library and showing the kids the books, I’m still giving them an element of choice, but I’m subtly preventing them from going back into the library to look for books that I know aren’t right for them.
Below is a fairly typical conversation that I frequently have with a reader:
Me: Hey there, are you looking for a fantasy book or realistic?
Me: You’re on a Level V now, right?
Me: Awesome! Here are 3 V books that I love that I think are perfect for you – Esperanza Rising, The Skin I’m In, and Dork Diaries. Can I tell you a little bit about these?
Me: Aight, Esperanza Rising is awesome. It’s about a girl who was growing up in Mexico about 100 years ago. Her life was awesome, but then there was a whole bunch of drama that goes down that completely changes her life. The Skin I’m In is also awesome. The main character is this girl named Maleeka, who gets bullied by a bunch of people at school. She also starts hanging out with all the wrong kids because she wants to fit in. So, tons of drama! The last one is Dork Diaries. Dork Diaries is hilarious! It’s about Nikki, who is new at her middle school and she has to deal with all these snotty mean girls. Which one sounds best?
Student: I think I’ll go with Dork Diaries.
Me: Awesome choice! I’ll check in with you in like 5 minutes to make sure that you really like it!
That check-in a few minutes later is really important. Usually, the first few pages of a book can be pretty tricky since we are entering a new world as the reader. If our student can give a pretty strong re-tell and seems to like the beginning of their book, I can then praise their hard work and decision-making skills and officially sign their book out.