Students are expected to step fully into the writing process and enhance their writing to final draft effortlessly. As we know, it’s not as easy as it sounds and requires guidance and modelling from the teacher.
As teachers, we want our students to do more than improve a writing piece, we want them to become better writers and hone their craft. One purposeful way of doing this is by an engaging in a conference between teacher and student. This gives both teacher and student the space and time to listen attentively, learn from each other, and move forward with actionable and realistic steps.
A conference is a collaborative conversation where the teacher leans in attentively, and listens to the students explain their process. The teacher simply poses the question, “How’s it going?” These three words ignite the conversation and provide the space for the students to express their thoughts and feelings about their writing. When a teacher confers with a student about writing, they are creating the space for openness, communication and risk taking. It’s slowing down the process and zooming in on what’s important to the writer and guiding them.
In a video based on Carl Anderson’s book, How’s It Going, a teacher discusses how conferring a student is like coaching a youngster how to play a sport. There are two parts in a conference. During the first part of the conversation educators must:
- Invite the student to set an agenda for the conference
- Questions posed by the teacher sound like this: How’s it going? What are you doing today as a writer?
- Get on a line of thinking about the student’s writing work by asking research questions
- The job of the teacher is to help the student become a better writer, not improve a writing piece. The goal is to prod students to say more about what they told us at the beginning of the conference, or by prodding them to provide us more information they may have not have shared previously.
- Decide what to teach the student (keep this targeted on one or two teaching points)
- By looking at the student’s writing, whether in their notebooks or a rough draft, we can develop a line of thinking while keeping the student as the lens.
During the second part of the conversation, teachers must:
- Give the student critical feedback
- Once the teacher has enough information, they need to support the student, and the teacher decides what to teach. This is where the heavy lifting comes into play. The teacher provides the student with an explanation of how writers do their work.
- Teach the student
- The teacher can also review a mini-lesson and/or strategy that was taught and model it for the student.
- Nudge the student to have a go
- This is where the student can try out what they just learned from the teacher during the conference. Let the student make the necessary decisions about their writing and provide feedback, just like a golf coach provides a golfer feedback after he drives the ball.
- Link the conference to the student’s independent work
- This is where the teacher lets the student know the expectations of what was learned and to apply them right away in his writing.
Keep in mind conferences should take place during the entire writing process: rehearsal, drafting, revising and editing. Collaborative conversations during a conference will provide insight to the teacher about his/her students’ writing craft and provide individualized and differentiated learning for all students.
For more information on conferring with students, check out Carl Anderson’s book, How It’s Going at the Heinemann website. Workshops on conferring with students can be provided by Jacqueline S. Frangis at Elevate Educators.