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Conferencing

The single most important element children need to grow into writers is the belief that they are writers. Lucy Calkins 

 

Conferencing is one of the most important ways for teachers to provide individualized feedback and instruction to student writers. Conferences usually take place during the independent writing time of the Writer's Workshop. It does not need to take a lot of time, sometimes as little as four or five minutes per student. The idea is not to spend the conference time going over an entire piece of writing, rather, isolate an area in the content of the writing that needs work. 

Try to give student writers the kind of support that will allow them to grow as writers. Asking questions is an effective way to structure the conference. The purpose is not to provide answers, but to  guide and support students as thy explore possibilities. 

Sample comments/questions for a conference include the following:

  • What are you working on?
  • Can you tell me what problems you had?
  • Can you read some of it to me?
  • I like the part where... What else can you tell me?
  • This is what I heard you say that I liked, or stayed with me.
  • These are the questions that came to mind as you were reading to me.
  • I don’t understand what you are trying to say here.
  • What’s the most important thing you’re trying to say?
  • How can you build on this?
  • Does your lead draw you reader right into the piece?
  • What do you want the reader to know or feel  at the end of the piece?
  • Here is one suggestion for you to think about...
  • What are you going to do next?
  • Do you remember the mini lesson on... Can you use any of those ideas?

Conferring helps you with ongoing assessment of learning. What do you notice that your students need help with? Do you need to teach a lesson on adding interesting details to a narrative or organizing informational writing? Should this be done with the whole class during a mini-lesson, or with a small group of students? Your observations can provide you with mini lesson topics based directly on the needs of your students. 

Peer Conferences

During peer conferences students share drafts of their writing with a partner. The partner usually says what they like about the piece and gives one of two suggestions about places in the text that did not make sense, or where they needed more detail or stronger verbs. It is up to the writer to decide what to revise. 

Teachers need to teach students strategies for peer conferencing so that it is a positive and supportive resource. Effective peer conferencing is a learned skill and requires lots of practice.

Take time to read Peer Conferences: Strategies and Consequences by Jack Wilde. In this article you will find some concrete suggestions for teaching students effective, non-threatening conferencing skills.

Additional Resources

Lucy Calkins quote taken from Education World. Conferencing with Young Writers: Time, Content, and Purpose. Read more here

Conversations Among Peer Writers is a 30-minute video showing examples of students of various ages engaged in peer conferencing. The video also gives ideas for how to prepare students for successful conferences. 

3 Secrets to Great Conferences with Student Young Writers by Suzanne Klein.

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