Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Effective Conferencing With Young Writers

One of my favorite parts about teaching writing is the conference time with my students.  You can learn so much about a child's thinking, direction, motivation, path, or vision during this crucial time. 

A simple glance over a student’s shoulder, alongside a few inquiring questions, can make for a successful conference. You will start to read the students’ entries quickly and skim the writing. You may meet with students individually or in small groups.  

You may ask the writer/s some overarching questions:
Do you have any questions?
Please explain this...
Where are you going with the next step in your writing?
Compliment positive observations!

I have had one-minute conferences with major success. I scan the writing sample and I give necessary feedback. If a student is struggling with detail, I ask her/him to add a few adjectives. If the writing contains simple words, I ask the students to use more synonyms. I don’t ask the students to change too many things at once because they will return to their desks confused.

During this time, you don’t need to break out a red pen and correct every single mistake. Giving students a post-it note with one word, question, or comment that inspires them to revise, is truly effective.  Try to narrow the focus.

"What are you going to do when you return to your seat?"
"I am going to a write a more interesting hook and a add few more adjectives to my writing."

Remember, writing is a process, and most corrections can be made during editing and revision time. I don’t allow my students to make too many simple spelling, grammar, punctuation, or organization errors when the final copy is due. Try to keep the purpose of the lesson as a focal point.

I know it isn't easy finding the time in the day to meet with students, but I have some suggestions for you.    

Several teachers have asked how I manage to meet with all my students. I always let them know it is not easy, but these are my suggestions:

Once you teach your lesson, give the students a few minutes to get started. Remember to make a game of this. “Class, you wrote for 15 minutes yesterday, let’s go for 17 minutes today.” Believe me, there will be a student who will keep track of time unsolicited. Start walking the room after a few minutes. 

Additional Conference Time Suggestions:
  • Silent reading time (Pull a Group)
  • During Morning Work (Pull a group)
  • When students finish assignments (One on one time)
  • During the actual writing activity (Walk the room)
  • When a transition is going on and a student is clearly ready, pull him or her aside and have a quick conference.
I understand you may not have much free planning time. I noted some possible time-slots above, but you still may find it difficult to make time. This is why I conference in my own classroom throughout the day, whenever there is a spare moment. By the end of the day, I will have an idea what most students are working on as a writer. 

You don’t have to conference with every student every day; you only need to have a conference when you feel it is necessary.

Use the knowledge you gain about your students’ writing to help drive your instruction.  If the class seems to misunderstand a concept, make that your next writing lesson. 


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