Talking about Books: Student Conferencing in the Library

Three years ago I started to notice that many of the third-graders I was working with were not checking out a book when they would come to the library. My schedule is such that we have a twenty-minute fixed time for students to come to check out books to take home. They would come and enjoy the space but would not check out something to read. I found myself wondering why. Did they not like reading? Did the library not have the types of books they wanted to read? What was the disconnect? 

In order to answer these questions, I decided I needed to talk to the kids individually. Student conferencing became the best way to do that! Below are the questions I had to answer in order to make this work in the library!

Who do I conference cith?

I work with students in preschool through third grade. Currently, I conference with the second- and third-graders on a monthly basis. I talk with them about what they checked out that day, what they might be reading at home, and what genres they prefer to read.

Of course, I continue to make suggestions to students in preschool through first grade. I often ask them questions about what they are reading or what book they are interested in, but I am not as intentional about how and when. It is done based on the needs of the child and I do not write anything down.

How do I fit this in?

This was my biggest challenge! The first step was opening up time for me to meet with students. To do that, students in second and third grade use self-checkout. This makes it so I do not have to stand at the computer and check out books so I can talk with students instead.

Since checkout is not part of a larger library lesson it keeps the purpose and expectations of the time consistent. This allows student behavior easier to manage. Students know they start by looking for their books. Then after they check out they can choose a station in the library. The expectations for each station have been shared so students know what they need to do.

I try to talk with students only for a minute or two about their books. On occasion, our conversations might last longer especially if I find out they need a recommendation, but for the most part, they are quick. I also only try to get to a few students each day. If I have time for more than great, but this takes the pressure off trying to get everyone in. It gives them the freedom to make the conversations not feel rushed.

What do I use to keep track?

To keep track of when I have met with a student I have a binder with each class in it. I have a recording form that includes the students’ names, some basic questions that I ask, the type of genre they enjoy, and a spot for notes or recommendations. The students are listed in ABC order by last names so they are easy to find. The forms are divided by class. I can just print additional forms as needed. Here is a blank form so you can see how it is set up.

What impact has it had?

You are probably wondering the answers to my questions at the beginning of this post. Well, it is actually not as exciting as you would think. I did not really find anything earth-shattering, but I did begin to understand my school community a bit more. Most of my students were reading regularly. Interest in reading was not the problem! They just have access to books and/or the ability to purchase them. So they would often be reading the same books that were in the library at home. They would get the first book in a series from the library and love it and then the rest of the series would be purchased for them to enjoy. Now, this was not the case for everyone so I can never make an assumption, but this was the general discovery. 

So the conferences have shifted to finding those students who are not reading and figuring out the perfect book for them. It has also led me to understand what I need to purchase. The students are able to make suggestions about the types of books they are looking for that I may not have recognized without our conversations.

Another huge positive that I did not know was missing, was the connections I would be able to make with students and understand what they are looking for as a reader. This has helped me to make more intentional decisions about the books I am recommending, putting on display, and sharing with the wider community.

The impact goes beyond me as well. I was recently conferencing with a third-grader. When I approached, he shared what he had checked out, and we discussed his choices. In our conversation, he shared that the library needed more Big Nate books. As we were talking, another student overheard us. The second student shared that he loved Big Nate too and that he had a bunch of them at home. He offered to bring them to school the next day. After they left I reflected on the interaction. What I decided was, one I needed to buy more Big Nate books and this conversation went from being a teacher-led discussion to something where I could step back and let them share. It was so simple but so positive and it all happened because we took a minute to talk about books!


Author: Kelly Hincks

I am the librarian at Detroit Country Day Lower School in Bloomfield Hills, MI. I have worked as a school librarian for the past eleven years. I was a classroom teacher for four years prior to that. I have worked in charter, public, and private schools. My favorite thing about being a school librarian is the opportunities I have to work both with students and teachers. I love the co-teaching opportunities and connections I have been able to make! I have served on AASL committees as a member and chair. I currently serve as secretary of my state association, Michigan Association of School Librarians (MASL).

Categories: Blog Topics, Student Engagement/ Teaching Models

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