You might find it helpful to review the "Conferences" section of our Writerly Life Unit, as this unit established the predictable routines, expectations and responsibilities of both students and teacher in the writing workshop. Go to Writerly Life module.
We confer one-on-one with students throughout every stage of the writing process. Through these conversations, we identify what each student is doing well and also gauge and deepen comprehension of the strategies we teach. This is where we gather the information we need to assess student progress and determine what else to teach—not only what we will teach each student before we leave the conference with him/her but also what we might need to address in whole class or small group lessons.
One-on-one conferences are also an ideal time to help writers learn that their texts affect readers. When a writer reads a work-in-progress to us, or even when he/she describes generally what he/she is writing about, we can respond first as a reader, pointing out what resonates with us personally, reminds us of something similar we've experienced, or helps us understand an experience we haven't had (e.g., "I was the youngest child in my family, but your story has shown me what life might have been like for my sister. She took care of me the way you take care of your sister.") This kind of feedback reminds students of the larger meanings we can find in literature, allows them to test the efficacy of their language ("Is that something you wanted readers to feel/experience?") and models ways in which they can respond to peers' writing.
Here our writer-in-residence confers with a student working on a poem:
Below we've included some samples of student poems with remarks about what the writer is doing well and what we might teach him/her next. These examples mirror the kind of feedback we might give in a conference. You may need to click on the icon of the yellow sticky notes inside the PDF to view the comments we've provided.
It is also important for teachers to think about how they will take notes about the conferences they have with students. Conferences are a great assessment tool, and the notes we take provide us with documentation of students' writing development over time. One example of a teacher's conference notes is provided below.
Sharing your writing with others can be scary. It is important for teachers to experience "sitting on the other side of the table" – that is, for teachers to know what it is like to be in the student's shoes in a conference. You can experience this by sharing your work with a colleague who is also striving to improve his/her writing workshop.
Meet with the colleague, each of you bringing one or more works-in-progress of your own writing. Then take turns being the "teacher" and the "student" in a conference. Even as you review a peer's writing, stick to the structure of a good writing conference — allow the writer to set the agenda and ask for the type of help needed/wanted, give the writer positive feedback, teach the writer something he/she can try to further develop the text.
When working with a peer (as well as with students), keep in mind that you might not be teaching something brand new to the writer but simply reminding him/her of a strategy that can help accomplish what he/she desires in the writing.Previous Chapter
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