A student-teacher writing conference involves short, one-one, informal, teacher-student conversations about the students’ writing. Emphasis is usually on guiding students through the writing process to ensure that students have adequate support in producing the final product. There have been several studies claiming that writing conferences make better student writers and improve their ability to internalize the writing process. This essentially leads to improvement with “on demand” or timed essay performance.
Here are some tips to get you started:
Know the Difference Between Product and Process.
Sounds simple but not everyone is familiar with the differences between the writing process and the writing product. As you will see on this chart created by Kristina Smekens, the writing process conference should take less time, occurs during any stage in the writing process, addresses a single area of improvement, occurs within a small group (i.e., teacher and writers), is held at the students’ desks and most importantly, occurs daily/regularly. In comparison, the writing product takes longer and occurs in preparation for final-draft publishing.
Give the Student a Chance to Talk!
Successful writing conferences consist of focused discussion between teacher and students that allow students to create their own ideas and solutions for their writing challenges. During the conferences teachers and students have equal chances to talk, share ideas, ask questions, describe, explain, and summarize, and when it comes time for the product conference, analyze the writing. Allowing students to find the answers themselves helps increase student confidence in writing, as they become more independent in diagnosing their own writing needs. You can also check out your Launching the Writer’s Workshop book for conference starters and other tips.
Focus on a Few Points
The key is to hone in on a few points. Focusing on only one or two of the six plus one traits each time you confer with the students during the writing process not only encourages the students to be more familiar with the characteristics of good writing, but it eliminates the overwhelming feeling of becoming expert writers in just one sitting. If you are stuck on areas of focus, another idea might be to use the rubric that is helping guide these students. Encourage the student to reflect on areas of the rubric that they are working towards.
Use Google Docs Commenting Feature!
Google Docs is a great way to increase efficiency of student-teacher conferences. Writing comments and offering suggestions to the student on Google Docs allows them to reflect and ask questions as they are writing. This increases the effectiveness of the one-on-one conversation because you are already truly immersed in the student writing process and answering their questions along the way.
Raise Student Self-efficacy in Writing
Research has suggested that high self-efficacy leads students to motivate themselves, set goals, and increase effort to achieve their goals. In particular, John Hattie states in his 2017 research on effect sizes that raising student self-efficacy has an effect size of 0.92! That’s more than two years of growth. As we are doing these writing conferences, offer verbal praise for genuine effort (not forced) and specific accomplishments related to the task. Remember the more they reflect on what they write, the greater their own belief in what they can accomplish. Your Launching the Writer’s Workshop book has a mini-lesson dedicated to holding teacher-writer meetings with ideas on specific comments you could give to students.
Provide Writing Models
By providing models for students to improve their writing, you are essentially helping students better understand the writing process. Anchor papers or exemplar writing, digital writing resources (perhaps even in the form of a hyperdoc) and six plus one traits resources can be helpful when conducting these conferences. Developing these resources takes time at first but will certainly be helpful in the long run! Here is an article by Kristina Smekens explaining the benefits of using anchor papers.
Lastly, I strongly recommend taking a look at this resource by Carl Anderson, a literacy consultant and writer. There are some fantastic ideas here that will give you the kick-start necessary to have effective writing conferences with students. Good luck and please feel free to leave a comment here with any further suggestions, insights or ideas!