Thursday, February 13, 2014

Writing Conferences

Well, New Jersey is getting hit with ANOTHER Nor'easter, so here I am at home with a snow day. Now, I am actually a self proclaimed snow lover - but this is getting a little ridiculous. The fun of staying home is being compounded by the fact that the kids learning is getting interrupted!!!

In the meantime, let me share a little bit with you about how writing workshop works in my classroom! Our school follows the Teacher's College format of writing workshop - mini lesson, independent writing (while teacher confers with individuals or small strategy groups), mid-workshop teaching, and share time at the end. Today, I want to focus on the part of workshop that has the biggest impact on your student's growth as a writer - the conference.

Before getting into how a writing conference works, an important part of your writing workshop is management. Many teachers feel uncomfortable with the idea of conferencing with just a small group or individual while the rest of the class is given free reign to work. I admit, I was one of those teachers! When I first started "my version" of writing workshop, I wasn't allowing children to work as independently as they could and instead children were "waiting" for me to finish conferencing until I could meet with them so they could move on - it was a mess!

So, I now spend a huge chunk of my time in the beginning of the year teaching students the routines of independent writing to hold themselves accountable and how to be "problem solvers". This continues throughout the year, as new problems arise, or just depending on the group of students I have. Giving students the tools to solve their own problems will help stop them from interrupting conferences! That is very important - that your conference is one-on-one, undivided attention, student-teacher time. Many teachers use special hats or lights to show that they are busy and can't be interrupted. I find success using threatening teacher stares and over-the-top dramatics such as pretending to faint when a student "wastes their precious writing time". There are always going to be your less productive, distracted/distracting students, but it's also a good idea to use observations on these students to help find ways to help them manage their independent time better as well. Whether it's a responsible partner who can hold them accountable, a (reasonable) writing goal that they have to meet by the end of the period, or a reward system - do not give up on independent writing time! It is SO empowering to young writers!

Now, the conference. Your conferences should follow a predictable routine - Research, Compliment, Teaching Point, and Link. These components are all important in effectively making a writing goal and leaving the most impact on your student.

I like to conference with every child at least once a week, as well as check in with them during mini lessons and strategy groups. In order to keep track of my students progress during the unit, I use a "Conference Notes" page for each student, which I developed with help from our school's literacy coach and through my courses at Teacher's College. The notes page has a space for each component of the conference as well as a space for "additional notes" - where I mark down other areas I want to work on with my writer. This helps me pull strategy groups during the week. You can grab this freebie in my "Writing Conference Freebie Packet" - see below! My writing binder has tabs for every student so that I can monitor their progress towards certain goals over time.

I also like to leave behind notes for the writer, so they know what they should be working on to become a better writer! With the younger students, I've found using post-its most effective. I stick the post-its on the "Writing Goals" sheet below and when they meet their goal they can celebrate by adding their name to it and sticking it on a "Super Writers" chart in our classroom. I also created a "writing goals" worksheet for older students, too. You can snag both of those worksheets in my "Writing Conference Freebie Packet", by clicking the image below.

Many teachers have other ways to celebrate these milestones and have shared on Pinterest - here are two I thought were really cute!

If you wish to hear more about how a writing conference is structured, leave a comment below! In the meantime - if you live in the Northeast - stay safe in the snow!

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