The writing conference is my favorite part of writing workshop. It is a special time to meet with my writers individually, hear their thoughts, see their growth and set writing goals together. I remember feeling intimidated by the conference when I first started teaching, thinking “what will I say?” The unpredictable part of conferring with young writers can be off-setting at times but when we focus on the writer and knowing our students, the teaching flows naturally. Lucy Calkins reminds us, “The single most important guideline to keep in mind in a conference is that the writer should leave wanting to write.”
I was asked to share some clips of writing conferences in my classroom by teachers are working to fully implement a writing workshop in their classrooms. Since I am the only adult in my room this year, I asked students (5 year old students) to use the flip video camera to record a conference during our workshop on a few different occasions. Please excuse the swaying camera at times. However, for 5 years old, I think they did really well.
In these conferences you will see me working with kindergarten writers. In these clips you will see me:
1. Observe, ask questions, listen.
2. Focus on a teaching point(s) based on each writer. (Because I know my students well, I know whether it is time for one teaching point, several small points or simply time to celebrate and reflect on how they have grown.)
3. Summarize how they have grown and what they can do to continue to grow.
This first clip was taken at the end of the last school year and we had lots to celebrate. When I see Charlie’s smile and him lean over to hug me, I’m reminded of Donald Murray’s words. He said, “Above all, in a good writing conference, a writer’s energy for writing should go up, not down.” In every conference I want each writer to know that I see and acknowledge their efforts and their growth and that I believe they are capable of great things. Here’s Charlie.
In the next clip, I am meeting with Harper. I know Harper and what she is ready for so you see me focus on a couple of teaching points. You also see me using a dry erase board that I carry with me during writing conferences. I use this to write on because I do not write on the students work. I feel that this sends a message to the student that my writing is correct and their’s is not and I always want to honor the student and the efforts they have made in their writing. I end this conference by focusing on the hard work Harper has done each day in writing workshop. It is important for teachers to praise things students can quantify. I comment on their hard work and efforts, things they have control over, not their IQ and being “smart” which is not something they feel they have control over. Here’s Harper.
Here is a picture of Harper’s writing.
In this last clip, I am working with Gabi. I am focusing on her as the writer and what she is trying to tell her reader. I ask her some questions for clarification and then support her in adding words to her illustration. I then look back with her at other pieces of writing. We predict what her writer may wonder about and want to hear more about. She uses this thought process to add more details to her writing. I love that at the end of the conference she wants to turn back to another piece and share it and add more to it. Here’s Gabi.
Don Graves said, “The conference is the heart of teaching the writing process.” I agree and am so grateful to witness the growth of these young writers each day!