Essay title: Romeo and Juliet
1. Keep an eye on the clock and remember you’re responsible to all the writers in the room.At first, as a teacher gets the hand of conferring, conferences may run longer than you wish.But it is important to remember that you are not asking to hear every single word every student writes.Instead, ask kids to tell you about the writing – what it is about and what is happening.Ask them to read or talk to you about the lead, a section that’s working well, or a part they need help with.Skim students’ drafts-just be sure to focus on content and craft, not conventions.
When teachers begins with long conferences, individual writers will come to count on this level of attention and will not learn how to identify and solve problems.Worse, the teacher will be able to meet with just a handful of kids each day.2. Meet with as many writers as possible each day, and make notes on the status-of-the-class chart of who you did not confer with; see those students first in the next workshop.3.
Go to your students’ desks, so you can control the length of conferences and the behavior in the classroom and see many writers.Circulate from one area of the room to another.4. Make the conference personal and intimate.
It should feel like a conversation.This means kneeling or sitting alongside writers as you talk, listen, and read their writings.5. Whisper and ask students to whisper when they confer with you and each other.Writers won’t be able to think, compose, or produce if the teacher’s voice is filling their ears and your words are filling their minds.Try not to be a distraction to the other writers in the room, and try to set a tone of quiet concentration: if your volume goes up, the volume in the room will rise to match it.
6. Strive for a balance between listening to students discuss their writing; listening as they read aloud texts that are relatively brief (e.g., a letter or poem) or passages from longer works; and, after the writer has told you what he or she wants help with, reading their texts silently to yourself.
7. Some pieces of student writing are too long to listen to or read during class, especially in the upper elementary and secondary grades, as students begin to write extended prose.Ask the writer if you may take the draft home.Read it and jot down questions or suggestion on a Post-it.
Return the writing to the writer in class the next day and confer about your response.8. Build on what writers know and have done, rather than bemoaning what’s not on the page or what’s wrong with what is.
Remember: kids usually write as well as they can.As you help them move forward, their best will get better.A piece of writing that isn’t working yet is not working yet; it is not bad.9.
At the other end of the spectrum, avoid generalized praise.It is a way many teachers were trained to talk-congratulating kids on their opinions, stroking verbally as a reward for desired behavior, deeming everything our kids do “Very good!” – and it is not a way human beings talk to each other.Praise by paying attention to the writer.Praise by becoming involved in the writing.Praise by congratulation writers who solve problems by dint of hard work.Praise by acknowledging writers who try something new.
Praise by describing the effects of specific techniques on you as a reader: “Your lead brought me right into the essay,” or “I like the way you built your argument: it anticipates the way someone who disagrees with you would argue back,” or “The images are so concrete I can close my eyes and see this,” or “I have goosebumps at the way you concluded this.”10.In questioning students about the content of their writings, ask about what you are curious about.Focus on meaning: What don’t you understand?What doesn’t make sense to you?What would you like to know more about?A string of inquisitions along the line of “When did you go there?Who did you go with?Did you have fun?What kind of day was it?Did you have anything to eat?What?” elicits a string of one-and two-word answers.But a more global question like “Tell me more about X” or “I don’t understand Y” gets a writer thinking and talking.
11.Come prepared to take notes and make notes. You may want to travel, as I do, with a pad of Post-its.Or you might want to adapt the peer writing conference record as a form for you to lean on as you get the hang of the rituals of face-to-face response.You will need a place to jot down your questions and observations so you don’t lose them; to demonstrate solutions to writing problems; and to transcribe for the kids the ideas and plans they describe to you-to serve as recording secretary.