Conferring in Writer’s Workshop

  • During independent writing time, the teacher confers with students about their writing.  The teacher should keep anecdotal records which include the date of the conference, observations, discussion, and teaching points.

    Teachers should keep conferences short.  The purpose is to ask students how their writing is going and to teach them something that makes sense at the time.

    When conferencing DO NOT read all of what the child has written- it would take too long!  Instead simply have the child talk or read a portion and ask how is it going?  This will take some modeling.  Students may not naturally know what they are struggling with!   If you are not sure what they are struggling with ask how they are applying the mini-lesson.  For example, you might ask "What kind of lead do you have?" and try to have a kid explain the lead.  From there you can give tips.  Or you can ask "What is the story going to be about?"  It often helps students to talk a story out.   Or "Whose point of view is the story from?  Is there any other point of view we could write it from to make it more interesting?"   Sometimes use conferences as a time to give individual mini-lessons. 

    Always leave a conference asking a child to try something, whether it be reworking the lead, adding stronger more vivid verbs or use a thesaurus, make sure they have something that they need to be working on!

    Think about:
    1. What does each writer know how to do?
    2. What is the writer trying to do?
    3. What does the writer need to learn how to do next? 
    4. How can you support the writer during the conference?

    What the Conference Looks Like
    I sit next to them and I say, “Tell me what you’re working on today as a writer?”  And they are very specific.  But that comes also with the language that I use with them.  I always, I have high expectations for them, for the kids. So if they say, “I’m writing.”  That’s not acceptable. I say, “You need to tell me what are you working on right now, specifically.”

    They might say , “I’m writing a story about the time I went to Great America.”  And I’ll bring them back, say, “Do you remember today in the mini-lesson how I wanted you to try a story lead?” and they’ll say “Yes” and I’ll say, “Let’s think of a story lead, do you have one?” And they’ll say, “Oh!” I always give them one thing they did well, and then their teaching point.  Before I leave them, I always say, “Before I leave you today, tell me what you’re going to work on as a writer.” They reinforce it, they say it again, and I might even follow up, and say to them, “Is this your story lead?” And I might ask them to share in the author’s chair.

    Two Great Books
    Anderson, Carl (2000). How’s it going? Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.      

    Calkins, L., Hartman, A. and Z. White, Z. (2005). One to one: The art of conferring with young writers. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

    The Top 10 Rules for Teachers to Remember 
    While Conferring with Writers

    1. A conference should be more of a CONVERSATIONwith the student.  He or she should talk as much as you do.  To facilitate this, sit side by side.  The child should hold the work in between the two of you.

      9. Your goal for EVERYconference should be to teach a strategy or technique that will help THIS WRITER improve, rather than one that will just improve this piece of writing.  

      8. Have the student READ THE PIECE OR A SECTION OF THE PIECE ALOUD FIRST (when applicable).  Don’t look at the words.  This will help you FOCUS ON THE CONTENT of the piece and not get hung up on conventions.  

      7. Always begin with something POSITIVE.  Focus on what the student has done well.  
      •    I love the way your first sentence hooked me into your story. 
      •    You skipped lines so you could easily add details.  That’s great.
      •    I saw you look at the word wall to figure out a word.  Good for you.
      •    I love how you put a lot of information into your picture.  
      •    I like the way you used conversation to let the reader know exactly how you felt.  It seemed as if I were right there in the room with you.

      Tips on Compliments 
      •    React as a reader 
      •    Name the strategy the child used that is transferable  
      •    Use clear and consistent language 
      •    Say and point to the exact place where the child used the strategy 
      •    Make the compliment in the edge of proximal development 
      •    See students work in fresh new ways; allow yourself to see something other that what you just taught. 

      6. Follow these guidelines for the format of the conference:
      RESEARCH-observe and discuss the piece with the student.  Try to figure out what the child is trying to do as a writer.  Consider the audience and purpose.

      - What strategy will help this writer to improve what he or she is already trying to do?  Explicitly state ONE strategy or technique that you are going to teach.

      TEACH- ONE
       strategy or technique to help this WRITER
      •    Writers sometimes represent a story or an idea in pictures
      •    Writers share markers during writing workshop
      •    Writers sometimes model their writing after great texts
      •    Writers leave spaces between  words to make their writing easier to read

      - Ask the student to restate the strategy or technique that you taught and encourage him or her to use it in the future

      5. Use LANGUAGE that will be helpful to the student.  Speak in terms of  “writer to writer” or “author to author.”  Consider what you know and do as a writer.  Deliberately monitor the words you choose. 

      4. CONNECT your teaching point to the mini-lesson ONLY if that is the strategy or technique the student is already trying to use.

      3. Keep some kind of RECORD of your teaching points with each student.  After the conference, REFLECT.  Can you state what you taught the writer?  Observe the writer and re-evaluate the message you sent.  Be sure to revisit the strategy in the future to see if further instruction is necessary.
      •    Have notes! 
      •    Have a system of recording your conferences that is quick and easy.  You don’t want to waste time between conferences trying to write a lot down.  It should take you a maximum of 30 seconds per child. 
      •    Your notes need to be portable.  Keep prior week’s notes with you so you can refer to them. 

      2. Involve students in a VARIETY OF CONFERENCES:
      •    One-to-One Conferences (teacher and student)
      •    Whole-Class Shares (class observes you in a one-to-one conference)
      •    Quick Shares (celebrations)
      •    On-the-Run Conferences (1-2 minutes, teach the student something so he or she can quickly move forward)
      •    Peer Conferences (groups of students)

      1. PAY RAPT ATTENTION TO THE WRITER.  Let the writer know you care and are genuinely interested in him or her both as an individual and as a writer. 

      Management that Makes One-to-One Conferring Possible 
      • It works well to move among the children, conferring with them at their work places, dotting around the room with our presence 
      • Conferring with 5-6 children a day allows us to work with at least one child from every section of the room 
      • We can make our presence matter more if, when talking with one child, we encourage nearby children to listen in.  However, we deliberately ignore these listeners, looking intently into the face of the one child. 
      • We teach children that when we confer, we don’t expect other children to interrupt the conference.  Another child can come close and listen in, but he/she must wait until we have finished conferring to ask a question. 
      • Limit the length of each conference to 5 minutes.   
      • When children come to us hoping for solutions to problems they could have resolved on their own, we are wiser to take the time to put ourselves out of this job.  Ask the child, “What do you think?”  “So why don’t you do that—and next time, I think you could solve a problem like this on your own.” 
      • Pull together a small group of writers who might benefit from the same sort of help.  Small group strategy lessons lasts for 10 minutes. 
      • Remember that strategy lessons should not always take the place of individual conferences.  All writers benefit from one-on-one attention.  Marking your conference notes with an “SL” beside those that have had a strategy lesson that week can help assure that those children get a one-to-one conference the next week. 
      • If a child is always zeroing in on your conferences instead of working, hold him/her accountable for those teaching points as well. 
      • Be determined.  Don’t say, “I try to confer with each child every week.”  Make it a priority, and make it happen. 
      Adapted from The Nuts and Bolts of Teaching Writing by Lucy Calkins 
       Hold the kids accountable for what you’ve taught 
      •    At the beginning of a conference, remind the student of the last strategy you taught, and ask how it’s going. 

    No magic happens in a conference until the child speaks.
    Push yourself to ask open- ended questions

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