I have been a huge believer in Lucy Calkin’s writing workshop for a long time. I used a writing workshop model during my student teaching and instantly fell in love. I have used the workshop model for writing ever since. As wonderful as the resources and trainings are, it can be complicated to structure your classroom and be an “effective” workshop teacher. I’m hoping this post will shed some light on an important element of workshop teaching; the conference. If you stick with me through this post I promise some freebies at the end!
If you are unfamiliar with Lucy Calkins writing workshop it follows the philosophy that writing is a process. You should teach the WRITER not the piece. This was a huge aha moment for me and becomes important during your conferences.
During a summer training at the Teacher’s College Reading and Writing Project, the idea of getting conferring right really stuck with me. I have been conferring from the beginning but always felt lost at what to say for each writer and where to go next. If you feel the same way, I hope this post offers some guidance!
First off, I organize my conference notes in a binder that I carry around with me throughout workshop. It has tabs for every students name so I can easily see how often I confer with them and who I still need to see.
My district is lucky enough to work with a staff developer from TCRWP and has offered fantastic insight into conferring with young writers. While you’re conferring instead of trying to teach to the piece the writer is working on, you should focus on teaching the writer. In order to do this, wait for it…TURN THEIR WRITING OVER! So simple yet so effective!
When I pull up next to a writer I start to ask them questions to conduct research. After I figure out what my teaching point should be during the conference, I turn their writing over so I don’t focus just on the piece they’re currently working on. Ideally, you want what you’re teaching your student to stick with them no matter what piece of writing they’re working on.
Speaking of the research aspect of the conference, it’s so easy as teachers to jump right in and start telling the student what to fix in their writing. More coaching than teaching. To make sure that you’re listening first to the writer, I have compiled some questions you can ask to make sure that you’re speaking less and listening more.
I keep the questions with me in my binder so I can refer to them often! They can be as simple as “What is your plan today?” or “How long have you been working on this?” The idea is to get the writer talking so you can research what they’re using correctly from mini-lessons and what they’re “using but confusing.”
Once the research portion is finished you can decide on what kind of teaching point you should focus on. Our staff developer suggests, which I found sooo helpful, thinking about what aspect of writing your student needs help with? Is it behavior, process, or qualities of writing? For example, do they need help with the process of writing like skipping the planning by writing first and NOT sketching? Do they need clarification on the qualities of the kind of writing they’re working on like using procedural voice for how-to? Or do they need support in the behaviors of writing like what to do when they finish a piece? Once you decide what category the writer falls in, I start documenting. Here’s a template for how I sort my conferences by category.
Once you develop your teaching for the conference, leave your writer with a “gift.” It could be a post-it note that reminds them of what you taught them, a sketch of something you had done from your own writing, or a mentor text example to use.
My most difficult hurdle with conferences has been learning to go back to my notes and use them for small group instruction and follow-up. That is still a goal I’m working on this year! But keeping my notes in one place has been a step in the right direction!
For more questions to help guide your conferences and a writing workshop conference form like the one above, visit my tpt store for some freebies by clicking caption below!
Keep calm and write on!